Review: Ivanka Trump’s “Women Who Work”

At the beginning of Ivanka Trump’s cloying “book,” Women Who Work, the president’s daughter describes herself taking an “eight-hour hike through Patagonia….” That may be as far as you need to read, certainly as much as you need to realize that the first daughter’s book about working women is not a recognizable account of their lives. How many working women take trips to Patagonia in order to relax from their dreary jobs? They’re lucky to get any days of paid vacation at all, as plenty of other accounts of their lives have depressingly told us. I’m talking about serious accounts of working women’s lives such as Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer’s $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. There are others I could mention, but those two will suffice.

Here’s the major problem of Ivanka’s book: she confuses women’s careers with women’s work. Most working women do not have careers; they have jobs, terrible jobs that pay them a subsistence living (if that) that requires working at several places, plus food stamps, in order to survive. According to the United States Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, the most common jobs for working women are cashiers; managers and customer service representatives in retail; nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides (all low-paying jobs); followed by registered nurses, elementary and middle-school teachers, and secretaries and administrative assistants, typically paying salaries that can be called decent. Even that statement is hollow because we all know how poorly public school teachers are paid and how hard they work, but Republicans have never valued education for the masses and refuse to pay teachers what they’re worth.

Ivanka probably knows all this but writing an honest book about working women’s lives is beyond her. That’s not her objective. Rather, her self-help book is just like her father’s many rags-to-riches accounts of what you can to do to succeed in life, besides attending Trump University. You can begin by wasting $26.00 for a copy of Women Who Work and deny your family a couple of meals. Thus—to quote the titles of her chapters—“Dream Big,” “Make Your Mark,” “Stake Your Claim,” “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” “Tip the Scale,” and “Lead with Purpose.” The clichés are piled up one after the other, enough to make you gag: having it all, we each get only one life, identify your passions, see the good in the everyday, bla bla bla.

How can you do that if you’re a cashier standing on your feet all day long, listening to the gripes of customers, and when you finally get home you’ve got children to feed and care for and you’re always exhausted? Don’t worry, follow Ivanka’s suggestions: negotiate your salary, negotiate your severance, and be prepared to walk away if you don’t get the terms that you need. Sure, and then you’ll be out of work with no job at all. My favorite sentence in the entire book is “Get a massage to loosen and care for your body, or have a facial.” Extending the metaphor, Ivanka suggests that you, you poor working woman, should give your children “‘spa baths,’ when [you] run the shower for steam, play rain forest music on Spotify, lower the lights, and let them add bubble bath to the water.” She’s even got a profundity for breast-feeding: have a strategy for it (every-other day, perhaps?)

Throughout her “book,” Trump continually refers to herself and what she has achieved, tossing out these achievements clearly as hopeful goals for you, beginning with that trip to Patagonia. She sneaks in the fact that she has a country house in New Jersey, and that most New Years Days she’s in Florida. Try to emulate her, you sucker, and be certain to take seriously all of the great thinkers she quotes in her text: Walt Disney, Oprah, Lee Iacocca, and Deepak Chopra, to mention only four. (In fairness, she also quotes the Dalai Lama, and numerous legitimate icons, but she’s already run into serious trouble with others. Primatologist Jane Goodhall is offended that she’s been quoted in the book, ripped-off in fact; a quotation from Toni Morrison about slavery is another totally out-of-context example.)

The fact is, Women Who Work is not a book. It’s a PowerPoint presentation, cribbing the insights of dozens of other people. Thus, Ivanka will quote a passage from Sheryl Sandberg and then comment upon it for several paragraphs before moving on to the next passage. She reveals her process of “writing” in the “Acknowledgments” section at the end of her book, probably without being aware of what she’s done. She had a bevy of assistants (were they actually paid or unpaid interns?) in residence at who found the passages she chose to quote and, I suspect, they were also responsible for stringing them all together. That’s pretty much the way the Trumps construct their books, though I confess that Ivanka appears to have the brain her father is lacking.

On page 210 (out of 212 pages of text) Ivanka finally acknowledges that about two-thirds of working women work “in low-wage jobs that offer neither flexibility nor benefits.” Eureka! So she finally gets to reality. Most women who work have terrible jobs, but she’s going to be their champion. First they need to waste $26.00 purchasing a copy of her book.

I imagine she’ll be as helpful to these women as her father has been to the people who voted for him.

Ivanka Trump: Women Who Work
Portfolio, 243 pp., $26

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = Twitter @LarsonChuck.