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“While Ivanka smiles and vacuums, graciously, elegantly, willingly, for the duration of the performance, the viewer is the one who shifts the action, throwing a handful of crumbs from a pedestal onto the carpet. (It’s unsurprisingly pleasurable.)” . I threw a few handfuls and thought about an old quote by Ivana Trump recently picked up again given what we know about the current administration, “We need immigrants. Who is going to vacuum our living rooms and clean up after us?” . @jenniferrubell, #IvankaVacuuming, 2019
The artwork features an Ivanka look alike vacuuming up crumbs. It launched a series of responses, including from the First Daughter herself:
Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter. https://t.co/MFri4xKhNI— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) February 5, 2019
“Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter,” she tweeted.
It’s true that Ivanka posts many many Instagram stories which allude to this love of empowering women, with many helpful hashtags and empowering captions. And just today, it was announced that Ivanka is set to unveil a new, nebulous intuitive called the “Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative” aimed at helping millions of women “get ahead economically.”
But the initiative — like her overall brand — is nothing more than buzzwords and catchphrases. She is what you might call the Whitewasher in Chief. She whitewashes Trump’s anti-Semitism. She whitewashes his misogyny. She whitewashes every single one of his most dastardly impulses, with a smile and a ladylike clap.
In fact, like the Ivanka simulacrum in the artwork, Ivanka’s White House job is the equivalent of vacuuming.
She is given the jobs that the administration considers completely unimportant. She isn’t working so much as performing as a working woman. The White House website describes Ivanka thus: “In her role, she focuses on the education and economic empowerment of women and their families as well as job creation and economic growth through workforce development, skills training and entrepreneurship.”
Opinion | That Ivanka Trump Art Exhibit Is More Real Than She Is
The truth is, she hasn’t empowered any women, because that’s not her role. Her role is to clap for her father. Thus, at the State of the Union address, as Trump banged on about the foreign invasion of immigrants and “unborn children,” Ivanka smiled and clapped at just the right moments.
With her smiles and clapping, she was, as usual, vacuuming up her father’s racist and misogynistic crumbs.
Per Ivanka, “Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up.” But the truth is, she chooses neither. She neither helps other women nor hurts them. Because she doesn’t do anything.
In fact, Ivanka hasn’t even empowered herself. Like all the women in Trumpland, Ivanka is a passive observer, a smiling, clapping blonde whose role is to be just that.
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Global engagement is core to advancing #WomensEconomicEmpowerment. Thank you @StateDept Ambassador Lawler for convening the Diplomatic Corps and promoting an open + enriching dialogue on how we can collectively ensure women’s free and full participation in the global economy.
Even her business is gone. And in being a smiling, clapping blonde, Ivanka is not just a cover for Trump, vacuuming up his crumbs; she’s a symbol of a misogynist worldview that could give Jared Kushner an overflowing portfolio and Ivanka nothing.
The artist who created the Ivanka installation, Jennifer Rubell, says that the piece is “a questioning of our complicity in her role-playing.” The Ivanka stand-in smiles as she vacuums, just like the real Ivanka. Guests are invited to throw crumbs on the carpet and the model vacuums them up.
And in a sense, the artwork tells us more about Ivanka than she does.
Just because Ivanka is wealthy and doesn’t have to physically do domestic work doesn’t mean that she isn’t actually doing domestic work as a collaborator in her fathers’ regime.
As her blonde model surrogate vacuums, we become aware of the fact that the most powerful woman in Trumpworld has no power.
Molly Jong Fast is the author of two novels and a memoir. Follow her on Twitter @mollyjongfast