Ivanka Trump’s Cosmetic Feminism Won’t Make It Easier To Raise a Kid

She puts a liberal gloss on her father’s agenda, but can’t mask his policies’ effects.

Sady Doyle

Ivanka Trump, pictured here with her daughter Arabella, is pushing paid family leave. But advocates say her plan doesn't add up to much. (Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

The holy scrip­tures of Tay­lor Swift (Book of 1989, Chap­ter Bad Blood,” Verse 8) taught us that BandAids don’t fix bul­let holes.” Now, Ivan­ka Trump — the only woman on earth who could make Swift look like an inter­sec­tion­al fem­i­nist trail­blaz­er — has emerged with a child care pol­i­cy that proves the truth of this proverb. 

This is the real problem with Ivanka's cosmetic feminism—that it actively blocks progress while generating good PR for Trump.

Ivan­ka has long posi­tioned her­self as the lib­er­al, fem­i­nist” face of the Trump empire. While her father racks up an ever-mount­ing list of sex­u­al assault and harass­ment alle­ga­tions, Ivan­ka runs a taste­ful­ly pink lifestyle brand, with a Twit­ter cam­paign, #Wom­en­WhoWork, aimed at cel­e­brat­ing” the mod­ern work­ing woman.” She has also brand­ed her­self as a #thoughtleader on poli­cies that might ben­e­fit said work­ing women, like child care and paid fam­i­ly leave, though her poli­cies to date have been (let’s put this tact­ful­ly) half-assed, cos­met­ic pseudo-solutions. 

Yet Ivanka’s strat­e­gy has not gone unre­ward­ed. The New York Times recent­ly hailed her for build­ing a bridge” on the top­ic of child care from an excep­tion­al, and pos­si­bly sticky, posi­tion — work­ing on issues tra­di­tion­al­ly cham­pi­oned by Democ­rats by forg­ing alliances with Repub­li­can women.” Where­in lies the stick­i­ness? Well, appar­ent­ly Repub­li­can women in Con­gress, who often work at the fringe of their par­ty on fed­er­al child care mat­ters, have still found them­selves shunned by Democ­rats who dis­miss their child care and income equal­i­ty pro­pos­als as insufficient.” 

Here’s one rea­son those child care pro­pos­als might get dis­missed as insuf­fi­cient”: They are. Ivan­ka Trump’s, in par­tic­u­lar, is noth­ing more than a small tax deduc­tion, the ben­e­fits of which tilt pre­cip­i­tous­ly toward the wealthy. The Tax Pol­i­cy Cen­ter esti­mates that a fam­i­ly with chil­dren and an income of $200,000-$500,000 would get an aver­age annu­al sub­sidy of $450, while a fam­i­ly mak­ing $50,000-$75,000 would receive $150, and a fam­i­ly mak­ing $10,000-$30,000 would get a measly $10.

Even $150 is not exact­ly a life­saver, espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er the aver­age cost of full-time care for a child under 5: almost $10,000 a year (more, in some places, than the aver­age rent). A fam­i­ly mak­ing the medi­an income of $56,000 is still pay­ing almost one-fifth of their pre-tax pay­check sim­ply so both par­ents can work out­side the home. And they still have to pay their child care expens­es month­ly or week­ly, with the finan­cial aid com­ing only once per year. But, grant­ed, a $150 tax deduc­tion isn’t noth­ing. The prob­lem comes when you con­sid­er what else they’ll be pay­ing for. 

For instance, one well-known fact about hav­ing a baby is that you actu­al­ly have to get it out of you at some point. Pre­na­tal care and child­birth cov­er­age, which were dicey before the Afford­able Care Act made them manda­to­ry, are now a prime tar­get under repeal and replace. (“Men hav­ing to pur­chase pre­na­tal care” was, infa­mous­ly, Illi­nois GOP Rep. John Shimkus’ biggest com­plaint about the ACA.) The threat has been deferred with the fail­ure of the Repub­li­cans’ Amer­i­can Health Care Act, but, as with the repeat­ed efforts to defund Planned Par­ent­hood, we can rea­son­ably expect repeal to rear its head again. 

The aver­age cost of hav­ing a baby is $21,000, assum­ing no com­pli­ca­tions. Should there be com­pli­ca­tions, that price tag can go way, way up — to as much as $300,000. Pri­vate insur­ance typ­i­cal­ly cov­ers almost 90 per­cent (and Med­ic­aid cov­ers vir­tu­al­ly all) of it. But with­out the ACA man­date, good luck find­ing a plan on the indi­vid­ual mar­ket that cov­ers mater­ni­ty care, unless you pur­chase a spe­cial rid­er with a deductible of $10,000 or more. 

Once the child is removed from your body, you might want to spend some time with it. This, too, will cost you. Here, we get Ivanka’s much-hyped fam­i­ly leave plan. While a for­mal pro­pos­al is not yet on the table, it will report­ed­ly cov­er six weeks of absence for one or both par­ents imme­di­ate­ly after birth. This is admit­ted­ly bet­ter than Ivanka’s orig­i­nal plan, which would only have cov­ered the bio­log­i­cal moth­er. How­ev­er, the new pro­pos­al, which has yet to be intro­duced as leg­is­la­tion, still cov­ers only half of the 12 weeks rec­om­mend­ed by experts. (The FAM­I­LY Act, a far bet­ter plan that New York Sen. Kirsten Gilli­brand (D) plans to rein­tro­duce this year for the third time, would cov­er the full 12 weeks.) Under Ivanka’s plan, if our mid­dle-class fam­i­ly mak­ing $56,000 a year wants to take the rec­om­mend­ed 12 weeks, and their employ­ers (like most pri­vate employ­ers) pro­vide no paid leave, it will cost them about $6,400 in six weeks’ lost income — assum­ing they can afford it and their boss­es let them. 

Once you’ve invest­ed in your child’s birth, you may wish to train it to find employ­ment, that it may feed and clothe you in your old age. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, you could do this for free by send­ing it to school. Alas, pub­lic school fund­ing is also on the chop­ping block: Trump’s bud­get cuts $9 bil­lion in Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion fund­ing. Should our mid­dle-class cou­ple find that their area’s pub­lic schools have become too crowd­ed and under­fund­ed to pro­vide an ade­quate edu­ca­tion, the aver­age cost of a year of pri­vate ele­men­tary school (as of 2011 – 2012) is $7,770. Pri­vate sec­ondary school runs $13,030 per year. Trump has set aside $1.4 bil­lion for school choice” vouch­ers, but in Indi­ana, the state with the largest vouch­er pro­gram, the aver­age amount is only $4,000, leav­ing a gap for fam­i­lies to fill. 

There are oth­er costs that are hard­er to ascer­tain, or are spe­cif­ic to cer­tain fam­i­lies. Threat­ened cuts to the Children’s Health Insur­ance Pro­gram or the Spe­cial Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Pro­gram for Women, Infants and Chil­dren, for exam­ple, would force low-income fam­i­lies to spend more on health­care and food. Still, if we fol­low our hypo­thet­i­cal mid­dle-class fam­i­ly from con­cep­tion through kinder­garten — assum­ing they have an uncom­pli­cat­ed birth, need full-time child care and opt for a pri­vate ele­men­tary school — we can see that Ivanka’s fam­i­ly poli­cies would add a grand total of about $7,000 to their income over five years, while Trump’s oth­er plans could cost them more than $11,000. In all, they’d be spend­ing $63,000 over those five years — more than a fifth of their pre-tax income— for things that would be cov­ered by uni­ver­sal child care and health­care, ful­ly fund­ed pub­lic edu­ca­tion and com­mon­sense fam­i­ly leave plans. 

And, just to add insult to injury, most of that cost is still child care. Ivanka’s bad poli­cies won’t even work as a stop­gap mea­sure, accord­ing to experts. Some­thing is not bet­ter than noth­ing,” Helen Blank of the Nation­al Women’s Law Cen­ter says. You lose the mon­ey to real­ly pro­vide the child care fix­es that we need. You don’t get two shots at this.” 

Not only that, but the $500 bil­lion-per-decade price tag of Ivanka’s plan would divert mon­ey from invest­ments that are actu­al­ly rec­om­mend­ed by experts, such as increas­ing fund­ing to the Child Care and Devel­op­ment Block Grant for low-income families. 

This is the real prob­lem with Ivanka’s cos­met­ic fem­i­nism — not that it is grat­ing, or insin­cere, or even that her poli­cies are flawed, but that they active­ly block nec­es­sary progress while gen­er­at­ing good PR for Trump. They’re a can­dy coat­ing of fem­i­nism lite over an admin­is­tra­tion that is dead set on gut­ting sup­port for work­ing par­ents, and par­tic­u­lar­ly sin­gle moth­ers. Ivan­ka is the Band-Aid; Trump­ism is the bul­let hole. While we’re prais­ing her, work­ing fam­i­lies are bleed­ing out. 

Sady Doyle is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer. She is the author of Train­wreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beat­down. You can fol­low her on Twit­ter at @sadydoyle.
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