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Ethics in CulturePolitics

Is Ivanka Trump Really “Complicit?”

By Kiara Goodwine
28 Mar 2017

Since the general election, the popular comedy show, Saturday Night Live, has had a Trump-themed segment every week. These segments are not just about Trump himself, but also poke fun at many of his family members, including his wife and children. Though Alec Baldwin has played a recurring Donald Trump and Cecily Strong often plays Melania Trump, Scarlett Johansson impersonated Ivanka Trump during the March 12 show. The skit, which took the form of a fragrance ad, portrayed Ivanka as complicit in her father’s wrongdoings. Though many found the skit to be hilarious and accurate, and even feminists applauded the portrayal of Ivanka, is it fair to assert that Ivanka is in part responsible for the actions of her father? Does Ivanka have a greater responsibility for the actions of her father because they negatively affect women?

Many who applauded the video would answer absolutely. In February, columnist Kylie Cheung of The Daily Trojan wrote an article entitled “The Trump Women perpetuate sexism, too.” In the article, Cheung asserts that it is because of the failure to “recognize and advocate for the many women who lack her privilege” that Melania Trump can be criticized on the basis of gender. Cheung believes that women themselves are not just complicit in sexism, but can also be perpetrators of sexism and misogyny. As Cheung explains, “Sexism isn’t just overt, self-avowed hatred of women, and sexism isn’t exclusively perpetrated by men.” One could even argue that Melania and Ivanka are more responsible due to the fact that they are close to Donald Trump and might even hold the power to discourage his misogynistic comments and behavior. In the SNL skit, the narrator even refers to Ivanka as “the woman who could stop all of this but won’t.”

Though some may applaud the skit’s criticism of Ivanka, others might argue that the skit itself is inherently unfeminist. Is it really fair to criticize a woman for the actions of a man? The skit not only implies that Ivanka is capable of stopping the misogyny that her father perpetuates, but also contains a scene in which Ivanka’s reflection in a mirror is actually Donald. This implies she is not only complicit, but is as responsible for her father’s actions as he is, and this is morally troubling. The video states that Ivanka “probably should have bounced after the whole Access Hollywood Bus thing.” But how exactly can Ivanka “bounce?” Is she more responsible for not cutting off Donald Trump because he is her father?

Additionally, Ivanka actually did criticize her father back in October, calling his comments “clearly inappropriate and offensive.” One could also question why exactly Saturday Night Live chose to single out Ivanka for her father’s comments instead of criticizing the entire family, or either of Donald Trump’s two adult sons. Is Ivanka more responsible because she is a woman? And if so, isn’t such reasoning inherently sexist?

This dilemma is not new to the political world, or even the presidential office. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary Clinton was considered by some to be complicit in his seemingly predatory behavior, considering the numerous sexual assault allegations and sex scandals piled against him. When Hillary ran for president, many criticized Donald Trump for calling Hillary complicit in Bill’s actions, and the majority of Americans agreed that Hillary should not be criticized for her husband’s actions. If Hillary Clinton isn’t considered complicit in her husband’s actions, how can Ivanka Trump be complicit in her father’s actions? Is the standing of the two women – Hillary Clinton as an experienced politician and advocate for women, and Ivanka with relatively little advocacy for feminist causes – make a difference in the level of responsibility we consider them to have? Should any woman, or person, hold any responsibility for the actions of a family member?

These are questions that need to be carefully considered when critiquing the women associated with Donald Trump. Though many would not deny Donald Trump should be responsible for his misogynistic comments and actions, whether or not his family, especially his daughter, should be held equally responsible for his actions is another question.

Kiara Goodwine is a 2019 alumna of DePauw University and a current law student at the University of Michigan Law School. Kiara first became passionate about ethics and philosophy while serving as a Hillman Intern at the Prindle Institute. Her research on the ethics of consumption culminated in her senior honors thesis "The Ethics of Single-Use Plastics." She has also served as a head coach for a High School Ethics Bowl Team. Her current interests lie in the intersection of human rights and environmental health, dilemmas surrounding collective responsibility, and the morality of law.
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