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28 April 2017

Render to Ivanka

Render to Ivanka

Grace Pengelly is secretary for church and society at the United Reformed Church.

Ivanka Trump's privilege irks me. As a young woman, I find it difficult not to feel bitter about the way in which she has been parachuted into one the most powerful political roles on the planet by her father, the president. 

And so it was with interest that I sat down to watch Ivanka's participation in the Women 20 Summit 2017 in Berlin this week. I was struck by two things: first, Ivanka was seated alongside Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, someone who also entered the public eye due to her familial connections as wife of King Willem-Alexander. Secondly, I found satisfaction in hearing the groans and boos that came from the audience when Ivanka Trump praised her father's record on supporting families and women. I think part of me wanted her to be humiliated. 

As a Christian, whose commitment to feminism plays an important part of my faith, Ivanka presents me with a big problem. On the one hand, she represents many things I think are wrong about modern politics. Through her appointment as an adviser to the US president, she has been given a platform to speak about issues she cares about. Many women, as educated and capable as Ivanka, will never be afforded such an opportunity, which seems to go hand in hand with her father's presidency. But as I sat there, feeling this pleasure at hearing her finally being booed and hissed at by the audience, I realised that attacking Ivanka is no way to make progress. 

Feminist author and theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether writes that "whatever diminishes or denies the full humanity of women... must be presumed not to reflect the divine or an authentic relation to the divine, or to reflect the authentic nature of things, or to be the message or work of an authentic redeemer or a community of redemption." 

Arguably, Ivanka is being used as a deflection tool by her father. She may be doing this of her own free will, but she undoubtedly feels pressure to defend her father, both as a family member, but also as the president. She is in a bind – a privileged and cosseted one, but a bind, nonetheless.
By focussing my anger towards Ivanka, am I falling into a trap? Ivanka is not the problem – she is a distraction. And however galling it may be for me to see her defending the actions of her father, I need to recognise that by channelling my frustration towards her, I play a role in diminishing her humanity. 

To conclude, I want to reflect on a passage from Mark – when Jesus told the Pharisees that they should "render to Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God's". This speaks to me as I grapple with my Ivanka problem, and it reminds me that God's vision of a new world involves a truly transformed understanding of human relationships. In this transformed world, our earthly understanding of domination and subjection is superseded by a community that is without rulers and without subjects. 

Ivanka reminds me to reflect on what kind of roles I want to see women playing in our political systems. I don't want women to be given a political platform for being married to a King, or for being the daughter of a president. And I absolutely don't want to live in a world in which a president who has made degrading comments about women is given a free ride.

Unsurprisingly, little has been written about the other women who shared the platform with Ivanka at the W20 summit. They include Kenyan high tech founder Juliana Rotich, who developed an open-source software program designed to democratise information sharing in Africa, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a former research scientist with a doctorate in physical chemistry who became the first female Chancellor of Germany. 

I want to see a W20 platform that has women who are there because they are the proven experts and democratically elected representatives of their nations. Booing Ivanka Trump will not help us to get to that place. We will get there by empowering our sisters, mothers and daughters to take up space in our political environments and encouraging them to show us just how brilliant this new world order can be.


Image: Michael Vadon