This week, the First Family of the United States has been plastered all over national and international news media as President Trump made his first major trip overseas in his official capacity. The trip, which began in Riyadh on May 20th and will conclude in Sigonella on May 27th, has brought on a considerable amount of both negative and positive press from folks at all points of the political spectrum. Surprisingly enough, the commentary that dominated much of the Twitterverse and beyond was not centered around Mr. President himself, but rather two of the most visible women in his life, Melania and Ivanka.
Both Melania and Ivanka Trump accompanied Donald Trump on this nine-day trip and have made a number of appearances with him over the course of the last few days. Almost every day since the trip began, both women have made their way onto the front pages of newspapers.
Melania Trump was the first of the two women to make headlines this week. Cameras captured Melania seamlessly swatting her husband’s extended hand away from her as the two stepped off of the plane at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. The movement was so swift that it is easy to miss, but once the footage was slowed down, the swat became much more visible. The slowed-down footage went viral and generated a flood of positive responses from social media users, specifically white women.
I'm no fan of Melania Trump, but I have to admit that her instinctual, keep-walking-and-look-straight-ahead hand swat was killer
— Gloria Fallon (@GloriaFallon123) May 22, 2017
One media outlet went as far as to call Melania a “queen of shade” in a Facebook post.
The First Lady attracted more attention when she refused to hold her husband’s hand for a second time in Rome. While waving to the crowd as the couple prepared to get off of the plane, President Trump attempts to hold his wife’s hand. Instead of returning the display of affection, Melania swiftly moves her hand to the side of her face to move the loose strands of her hair behind her ear. This time around, in addition to the same types of praises she was met with the first time, many white women also offered up sympathy.
I truly believe she hates him for forcing her into this life. Being FLOTUS must suck when you want a peaceful life raising your son in peace
— Rena Sofer BoycottNRA (@RenaSofer) May 23, 2017
— L Johnston (@LJohn1023) May 26, 2017
Non-white women and other underrepresented groups expressed completely different types of feelings towards First Lady Melania Trump and towards the white women who were praising her and felt sympathetic towards Melania’s situation.
That white feminism is a muhfucka. Lol took two handslaps from Melania Trump for y'all to like her. Pathetic
— Mixcloud & Vimeo: ▶️ (@DJBLHolla) May 24, 2017
One Twitter user’s message went beyond addressing the way in which many white women warmed up to Melania Trump and also included Ivanka Trump.
Say it with me, Ivanka trump is not a feminist. Melania Trump is not a feminist.
— Laura ℒeigh (@ludivineboots) May 25, 2017
It was announced earlier this week that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a combined $100 million to World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund. The World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund was proposed by Ivanka Trump and is said to have been founded to help women in the Middle East start and run their own businesses. In a speech given by Ivanka Trump in Saudi Arabia she says, “In every country, including the United States, women and girls face challenges. Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging… but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Some, mostly white women, praised Ivanka for her perceived dedication to promoting gender equality across the globe and investing in opportunities for young women in the Middle East. Others were unimpressed and felt that Ivanka’s efforts were rather tone-deaf. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia is far from progressive when it comes to gender equality. As a matter of fact, Saudi female reporters were actually banned from attending and reporting the very discussion Ivanka hosted to address how progressive Saudi Arabia was when it came to women’s rights.
Twitter user @GhadaAloma, a Saudi woman, took to social media to speak out against the narrative Ivanka Trump has played a role in broadcasting to the world and attest to the oppression the women of Saudi Arabia are subjected to.
We "Saudi women" treated as 2nd class citizens! We don't even have a legal age for being adults, so we considered as minors till we die! ?
— غْ (@G1G1Jay) May 20, 2017
@IvankaTrump only met and saw some of chosen puppets who are from the royal or high class, and they don't represent the majority of us!
— غْ (@G1G1Jay) May 21, 2017
They were chosen for a reason to spread lies that Saudi women live a perfect life w/o issues, whereas many of us suffered behind the scene
— غْ (@G1G1Jay) May 21, 2017
You are not belonging to minority group, women, nor being under a strict culture, which being as a female is just a torture and a curse!
— غْ (@G1G1Jay) May 21, 2017
Saudi women and their allies dispelled the narrative being pushed by the Saudi Arabian government and encouraged by Ivanka Trump, but that was not enough for the white women celebrating Ivanka’s perceived dedication to gender equality. Nothing non-white women, people of color, LGBT+ identified folx said was enough, for white women had already declared Melania and Ivanka their champions. The reason why this is clear is echoed throughout a piece published in The Washington Post this week titled Melania and Ivanka Trump Show the World What Feminine Power Looks Like.
Kathleen Parker, the author of the aforementioned opinion piece, wrote, “Melania and Ivanka Trump stood as beacons of light in a part of the world that remains cloaked in the darkness of religious fundamentalism and oppression… they seemed to glide as apparitions above the sea of dark suits and white robes and must have struck fear in the hearts of men whose culture demands that women be publicly invisible… Despite their apparent ornamentalism, there’s little doubt both women made a lasting impression on Saudi women, who would have recognized and identified with their feminine power”. Parker concludes her piece with, “…I propose a toast to America’s first ladies for showing the world that despite our coarse, ham-fisted president, we have not completely forsaken class”
In that moment, it became abundantly clear what exactly bonded white women with the Trump women. It became abundantly clear that it was not Saudi women or Black women or Latinx women or Asian women who identified with the First Lady or the First Daughter’s “feminine power”. The only women who identify with Melania and Ivanka are the same women who smile in the face of my oppressor in public and then attempt to distance themselves from my oppressor in private, who will speak about a woman’s right to wear whatever she chooses and then in the same breath say that Muslim women do not respect themselves if they choose to wear the hijab, who preached solidarity after the election and then wore a Pussy hat to the Women’s March and discouraged speakers from addressing intersectionality, who are silent as police murder black and brown youth but have just enough time to argue the morality of punching Nazis.
These women have always been white women. More specifically, they have always been white women who fail to understand that their silence is consent to injustice and that their silence is an act of violence. They have always been white women who fail to understand that the role they take on, similar to Melania and Ivanka, are decisions that they have made and have chosen to stand by throughout thick and thin.
No one has ever had to force white women into a role of complacency. They have chosen that role time and time again and fully embrace it today. The complacency of white women in the disenfranchisement and oppression of others is as American as apple pie. It’s something that can be traced from the early white female suffragettes made physically ill by the thought of my ancestors being able to vote, to the Trump women who speak about female empowerment while their ticket to relevancy boasts about sexually assaulting women and works daily to strip women of their right to bodily autonomy. It is for these reasons that regardless of how many marches white women are part of or how many calls for solidarity white women make, I’ll never be able to trust them.