There were plenty of political criticisms lobbed at the Trump administration for its decision to let Ivanka Trump sit in for her father at part of the G-20 summit in Germany on Saturday while he attended a separate meeting. But perhaps none sparked more debate than the conversation about what the president’s daughter wore for the occasion.
That back-and-forth began with The Nation‘s Joan Walsh when she appeared on MSNBC Live Sunday. “With big bows on her sleeve,” Walsh began her critique. “I mean, I don’t mean to sound sexist — it can be dangerous to comment on what women wear — but the fact that she sat in for her father in a dress that was so incredibly ornamental was such a contradiction in terms. … That’s not a dress that’s made for work. That’s not a dress that’s made to go out in the world and make a difference. That is a dress that is designed to show off your girliness — and, you know, God bless her, show it off, but don’t then tell us that you’re crusading for an equal place for women at the table, because you’re not.”
As predicted, commentators on the right immediately blasted Walsh for attacking Ivanka.
“Walsh’s remarks are yet another demonstration that there is no feminist principle left-wing commentators won’t throw overboard to attack the Trump women,” Inez Feltscher wrote on The Federalist.
Executive image consultant Silvie di Giusto explained one reason for these different interpretations: confirmation bias rearing its ugly head. “If people have a specific [belief] in their head that she is a feminist or not a feminist, they are looking for proof,” Di Giusto tells Yahoo Style. “One group of voters looks at this pink dress and says, ‘Wow, look at her, how feminine it is, and how much she supports women.’ Others look at the same dress and have the opposite opinion.”
In other words, it’s possible that Trump supporters and detractors would argue about what she wore no matter what it was.
The blowback Walsh received from more left-leaning writers, however, was slightly more surprising.
“Obviously, it’s sexist to use a woman’s appearance or outfit choice to disparage her,” Eve Peyser wrote on Vice. “But Walsh took it to the next level when she singled out Trump’s outfit’s overt femininity as a problem.”
Peyser characterized Walsh’s opinion as antiquated second-wave feminism of the bra-burning 1960s and ’70s. “But in 2017,” she wrote, “what it means to be a feminist has shifted radically, and wearing push-up bras or participating in the Miss America pageant or wearing a pink dress during an important meeting does not preclude you from championing women’s rights.”
Twitter users from both the left and the right found themselves in strange, unfamiliar ground of agreeing with each other.
The feminist movement wants to replace the old patriarchy that ruled women with a new feminist monarchy that rules women.
— Antonio Martinez (@djtechchicago) July 13, 2017
Though others agreed with Walsh, too.
— Jodi Jacobson (@jljacobson) July 13, 2017
Rather than weighing in on whether pastel pink and pink bows are proper attire for a global summit, Di Giusto says that the challenge the first daughter faces in these situations is to avoid any kind of sartorial distraction.
“If people start talking about your outfit, you have done something wrong,” Di Giusto said. “You want them to talk about the things that you fight for, that you stand for — the added value that you bring to such an important meeting.”
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