Opinion

Ivanka Trump’s Self-help Book Deserves All the Hate It Gets

If you’re looking for insights into the mind of one of the most influential people in the Trump administration, you won’t find any in Women Who Work

A woman walks past a shelf displaying Ivanka Trump's book 'Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success' at a Barnes and Nobel bookstore in New York on May 2, 2017. 
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP

A week ago, the New York Times published a long profile of Ivanka Trump, in which the first daughter and assistant to the president was portrayed as her father’s “all-around West Wing confidante, an adviser whose portfolio appears to have few parameters.” As one of the “highest-ranking women” in Trump’s man-cave of a White House, Trump said she aspires to act as a “moderating force.”

What qualifies a 35-year-old former model whose entire professional experience can be summed up as working for her father’s real estate empire and putting her name on a bunch of fashion products to do any of that is something even Trump herself seems not entirely sure of. “I’m still at the early stages of learning how everything works,” she told the Times.

Nevertheless, as Trump’s long-time confidante and the wife of one of his most senior (and overworked) advisors, Trump clearly has at least some influence on the president’s actions, which makes her one the most influential women in America and arguably the world. As such, many people are extremely curious these days as to what Ivanka Trump’s agenda is, what she’s thinking, and how her mind works.

Those people would be well advised to avoid Ivanka’s new self-help book, which contains about as much insight into Ivanka’s mind or into contemporary gender politics as a $1, drugstore-bought greeting card.

Titled “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” the book has already been lambasted by critics and activists alike as a piece of duplicitous, self-serving schlock trying to pass itself off as a piece feminist writing, written by a woman born into immense privilege that is now pretending to be in tune with the struggles of ordinary working women. And it is all that, and more. But it is also, simply, just an awful, awful book.

First, it’s important to note: this is a self-help book, so it being terrible and hackneyed is a given. It should not be judged by the standards that other works of non-fiction or memoir have to live up to, but by the pretty low standards that the self-help industry, at least the least shameful parts of it, abides by.

Even in that regard, it’s pretty shameless.

Those hoping for details on Ivanka’s worldview, her relationship with her father, or the role she filled in his presidential campaign (the book was written while Trump was running, but was finished before he was elected) are bound to be disappointed. The book skimps on information in the same way that the Trump administration skimps on competence and human decency.

Instead, the entire thing is written in monotonous, corporate-approved brandspeak, which makes sense given that it’s rooted in a marketing campaign Ivanka’s company launched to sell shoes and dresses. People don’t live their lives, they “cultivate authenticity.” Life can only be lived “to the fullest.” In life, people should stop “negatively overreacting to [their] daily obligations and demands”—They should be “proactive,” “passionate,” and “productive” instead. Everyone can be successful if they “work really, really hard.”

Like other books in the self-help genre, this one contains very little original material and is mostly an amalgam of previous works on the issue of women empowerment, peppered with “inspirational” quotes by people like Oprah, the Dalai Lama, Sheryl Sandberg, and Mindy Kaling. (I know, I know, repackaging things that already exist and putting your name on them? That doesn’t sound like something a Trump might do).

Large portions of the book are also a not-so-subtle ad for Ivanka’s fashion brand. Then again, if the White House can shill for her products, then why can’t she?  

The rest of the text is so vapid it might as well have been written by an algorithm. “It’s easy to forget that communication is not just a means of relaying information but also a way of engaging with others socially,” Ivanka writes, thereby Trumpsplaning the concept of human conversation. In another section, she writes: “No matter your age, your background, your education, or your successes, we are all granted 168 hours a week.” (Fact-check: a week does indeed last 168 hours).

And there’s so, so much more. Success? It is “a team sport.” How do you build a “world-class team?” Well, first “you have to find the right people.”

The book’s stated mission is to “empower women in all aspects of their lives,” which explains why Trump repeats this phrase again and again throughout the book. Other repetitions, however, such as the line “I believe that we each get one life and it’s up to us to live it to the fullest,” are less excusable.

The biggest flaw of the book, however, isn’t that it’s a shameless knock-off filled exclusively with vapid, general platitudes—but that it’s a complete and total rip-off. Instead of a how-to guide to success for ordinary working women, it is a tone-deaf celebration of privilege—much like everything else Trump.

In the introduction, Ivanka places herself as one with her audience. “For the first time in history, modern professional women, like you and me, are openly embracing the fact that our lives are multi-dimensional,” she writes.

But the book isn’t really about working women and their struggles in male-dominated industries. Instead, it is a paean to “multi-dimensional” women like, presumably, Ivanka Trump herself. What is a “multidimensional” woman? Well, for one, they “express their personalities through their fashion choices while still being appropriately dressed for work.”

A prominent example of a multidimensional women in the book is Ivanka’s mother, Ivana, a former model who briefly supervised some of Trump’s projects (he later wrote in “The Art of the Comeback” that “taking [Ivana] out of the role of wife” was a “big mistake”). At length, Ivanka recalls how her mother would come to construction sites in 4-inch high heels. "It was my mother, unapologetically feminine in a male industry, who first embodied and defined for me what it meant to be a multidimensional woman — a woman who works at all aspects of her life," Trump writes.

“A women who works at all aspects of her life” is also a phrase that repeats itself throughout the book. Trump contrasts these women with the “cold, stoic caricatures focused solely on their career.” A woman who “works at all aspects of her life” is perfect at all things: her work, her marriage, her children, her fashion choices, and her health. She has a nanny and takes trips to Patagonia. Her biggest problem, judging by the book, is being so busy with her father’s presidential campaign that she has no time to treat herself to a massage.

It is an ideal that is as unattainable for ordinary people as being born to a billionaire father, being given cast as the face of his real estate and entertainment empires, and leveraging your fame into turning yourself into a brand that can sell hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise.

And that, really, is the crux of it. More than anything, Ivanka’s book is a cruel twist on the notion that women can “have it all” nowadays. Women can have it all, she is saying.

What she forgets to mention is that the only way to have it all nowadays is if you had the good fortune of being born a Trump.