MSNBC analyst and Nation columnist Joan Walsh has weighed in on Ivanka Trump’s decision to take her father’s seat at the G-20 conference in Hamburg—at least she sort of did. Walsh’s specific beef appears to be with the clothing Ivanka wore to do it. According to Mediaite, Walsh claimed that Ivanka’s pale pink dress was too “ornamental,” and invoked days where women were still “property”:
“That’s not a dress that’s made for work. That’s not a dress that’s made to go out in the world and make a difference. That is a dress that is designed to show off your girliness, and, you know, God bless her, show it off, but don’t then tell us that you’re crusading for an equal place for women at the table because you’re not.”
Walsh later tried to backtrack during the same appearance, acknowledging that “you can be a feminist and be girlie.” Still, she doubled down on her criticism of Ivanka’s outfit.
It’s a strange way to criticize Ivanka Trump. There is one valid criticism of Ivanka’s sartorial choices: Her clothing line uses sweatshop labor. This is not a secret. China recently arrested three activists for trying to investigate conditions at the factories that make her company’s clothes. For this and many other reasons, Ivanka is no feminist hero. She is entirely complicit in her father’s corrupt, sexist administration. If she has “leaned in,” then that only makes transparent the intellectual and ethical bankruptcy that defines corporate feminism.
In other words, there is plenty to criticize—and Walsh neglected most of it. Instead of starting a conversation about corruption and nepotism, Walsh has started one about clothes, and in the process she has reinforced old patriarchal narratives. Men have regulated women’s clothing to bar them from school, the workplace, and the public sphere at large. Her rhetoric irritates open wounds: Should women avoid pastels to be taken seriously at work? Should we shun make-up and leave the open-toed shoes at home? If a woman says she was sexually harassed while wearing a pink sheath dress, should anyone take her seriously? After all, she was showing it off.