Donald Trump's advice to Ivanka about sexual harassment tells you more than you'd think

If Trump is doing nothing more than parroting popular opinions in the US, then it’s not controversial to think women don’t deserve bodily autonomy or that they should give up their jobs rather than tackle an ingrained culture of misogyny

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The Independent Online

What would Donald Trump do if his 34-year-old daughter Ivanka was sexually harassed at work? In case you’ve been wondering the answer to this burning question, The Donald revealed this week that he “would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case”. Ivanka herself – widely credited with making her father’s campaign seem a lot more sensible than it otherwise might have been, which tells you everything you need to know about Trump’s potential – has stayed silent since the remark.

However, back in 2009 Ivanka identified herself as a feminist and said that she stood against sexual harassment in principle – although did a little backpedalling when she added: “What might be offensive to one person might appear harmless to another. Learn to figure out whether a hoot or a holler is indeed a form of harassment and when it’s merely a good-natured tease that you can give back in kind.”

And, of course, if you can’t work it out, then there’s always her dad’s option of leaving your workplace – or your career – entirely.

Ivanka Trump walks onto 'Here Comes the Sun'

When you bring up the subject of feminism in any context, people are always bandying this argument about. Getting catcalled in your workplace? Leave. Depressed by the Photoshopped bodies on the covers of magazines? Don’t buy them. Got a problem with superhero films that consistently portray the male superheroes as three-dimensional, strong and interesting, and the female superheroes as air-headed eye candy? Go see a Jane Austen biopic instead.

If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it, be there or have eyes.

This sort of amazing logic works in other areas too, usually applied to young people or the working class. Were all the places to work shut down in your area at the same time as you were made redundant? Get on your bike and find a new steelworks. Do you work in London but your landlord just raised your rent beyond viability? Go and live outside the city; if you can’t afford to live there, then you shouldn’t.

Seen racist or homophobic posters in your local bar? Go to a pub in a different area – you don’t have to be the patron of a place you now know is racist or homophobic. To carry on going on about it, really, is just petulant when you can remove yourself from the situation altogether. Society isn’t the problem; you’re the problem.

The flaw in this argument is that if the person who’s affected by the sexism, the harassment, the racism, the homophobia or the lack of opportunities in their area just keeps moving on, they eventually get pushed to the very edges of society and beyond. Ultimately they’ll have to disappear entirely. There isn’t space for us all to live if we keep just averting our eyes from what’s bothering us and passively allow those attitudes to multiply.

If every Ivanka Trump experiencing sexual harassment leaves their company or abandons their career, we’ll quickly end up with working world without women (again). And if every person who thinks it’s a bit off that Gap markets T-shirts for “little scholar” boys (“your future starts here”) and “social butterfly” girls (“talk of the playground”), or that New Look sells pyjamas to young girls adorned with pictures of pizza next to the dietary description “cheat day”, just quietly goes to shop elsewhere soon all we’ll be able to dress our kids in are hand-woven burlap sacks. Crazily enough, if you don’t challenge prejudice, it tends to escalate.

Of course, Donald Trump’s comments about Ivanka’s theoretical sexual harassment pale in comparison to some of the more outrageous claims he’s made about banning Muslims from entering the US, building a border wall to stop Mexican immigration and punishing women for having abortions (he later sought to retract that statement, after finding out that even anti-abortion groups in America don’t actually support sending women to prison for family planning). But, just as caring about your rights as a tenant in the UK doesn’t preclude you from caring about the human rights of political prisoners in North Korea, expressing distaste at sexist stereotypes in high street stores doesn’t preclude you from also caring about female genital mutilation, the glass ceiling or access to contraception.

Trump’s campaign has been a series of “misspeakings”, retractions and “clarifications”. Many have pointed out that his pro-gun control past (In 2000: “I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.” Yet in 2016: “Opponents of gun rights try to come up with scary-sounding phrases like ‘assault weapons’… to confuse people. What they’re really talking about are popular semi-automatic rifles and standard magazines that are owned by tens of millions of Americans. Law-abiding people should be allowed to own the firearm of their choice.”) and the pro-choice sentiments he used to have (In 1999: “I’m very pro-choice.” In 2015: “Planned Parenthood should be defunded if it continues carrying out abortions.”) clash so much with his 2016 views that we shouldn’t take anything he says seriously. He must be making it all up as he goes along.


That’s what’s scary. If Trump is doing nothing more than parroting popular opinions in the US, then it’s not controversial to think women don’t deserve bodily autonomy or that they should give up their jobs rather than tackle an ingrained culture of misogyny.

And if Gap and New Look do nothing more than reflect the opinions of people they sell to, then we need to start thinking seriously about the ambitions we have for girls and the hang-ups we want to bequeath them.

Letting things slide has never worked in feminism. I’ve lived and breathed as a woman long enough to know that if you don’t push back regularly, one day you’ll get engulfed by an avalanche.

Ivanka Trump, take note: women like you aren’t the ones in the wrong careers. Your father is.