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Ivanka’s ‘Women Who Work’ Inspires Nostalgia For ‘Lean In’

A Washington Post headline from last June read as follows: “Move over Sheryl Sandberg, Ivanka Trump’s new book ‘Women Who Work’ is coming out next spring.” Indeed, Ivanka’s new opus is often compared with Sandberg’s 2013 “Lean In.” The verdict goes something like this: If you thought Sandberg represented corporate faux-feminism, you’ve seen nothing. Nothing!

In Slate, Katy Waldman reminds of Ivanka’s rather specific political role:

In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg was rightly criticized for ignoring structural obstacles to women’s flourishing. But the blindness to systemic forces that plagued “Lean In” manifests here not as an oversight but as a kind of cruel joke. Surely Ivanka Trump is aware that, with her dad in office, women’s self-perceptions and lack of basic organizational skills are hardly the problem.

Earlier, also in Slate, Michelle Goldberg engages in some analogizing that may make a Sisterhood reader (or, ahem, editor) laugh out loud:

As the New York Times reports, “Women Who Work” was originally a catchphrase developed by her apparel company to make the brand seem accessible to ordinary women: “Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ had just topped the best-seller charts, and Ms. Trump’s team wanted its own catchy yet accessible slogan.” Sandberg has often been criticized for her privilege and for not paying sufficient heed to the structural forces that hold women back, particularly if they’re not rich, white, and heterosexual. (After her husband died, Sandberg acknowledged that leaning in is harder when you don’t have a partner.) Ivanka makes Sandberg look like Rosa Luxemburg.

For what it’s worth: I have read “Lean In,” for, uh, critical and self-help purposes. I have not (yet) read “Women Who Work”; if I wind up doing so, it will be for work. At this point there are already heap of reviews, all of which say about the same thing, albeit, in many cases, entertainingly. (I especially recommend Jia Tolentino’s New Yorker review. Tolentino also close-read Ivanka’s 2009 book, “The Trump Card.”)

But it’s the Sandberg angle I find somehow most compelling. The two books, two projects, sort of have to be mentioned in one breath, but are they of a piece? Is Ivanka the logical conclusion of a pseudo-feminism all about benefitting a handful of women at the top? Or — as is my hypothesis — do Sandberg and Ivanka two profoundly different visions? Is Ivanka’s project Sandberg’s repeated as farce?

The Sheryl Sandberg-Ivanka Trump comparison helps get at a bigger question, namely where elite feminism (or insufficiently intersectional feminism, or corporate feminism, or capitalist feminism…) ends and where anti-feminism dressed up as empowerment begins. In a great Harper’s Bazaar essay about neither Sandberg nor Ivanka, Jennifer Wright explains the difference as follows: “Feminism is a life raft. Unlike ‘girl power’ feminism is scary, because it demands change, and does not just entail sexily singing that women are terrific.”

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected] She is the author of “The Perils Of ‘Privilege’”, from St. Martin’s Press. Follow her on Twitter, @tweetertation

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