When I was a new mother, I needed a lot of advice. Even though I baby-sat from the time I was eleven and my husband grew up taking care of a younger sister, neither of us had ever been responsible for a brand new, squirmy creature whose grins and grimaces looked the same. Luckily, my sister came to help. When she taught us how to give the baby a bath, I took notes. She laughed. I learned and appreciated the advice.
Along the way I got a lot of advice I didn’t need and didn’t appreciate. When my kids were little, I worked for a big corporation in support services. The top manager of that division invited staff to meet with him in groups of 20 and ask any question we wanted. We wrote our questions on a giant sheet of newsprint when he wasn’t in the room to keep the process confidential. In my group, one person wanted to know why so many managers treated us like peons. The executive read off the question and gave this reply: “It’s all a matter of how you feel inside. If you feel good about yourself, no one can make you feel like a peon.”
“It’s not how we feel!” I wanted to scream at the time. “It’s how we’re treated!” We were angry about the disrespect, low pay, rules that punished us for being even a minute late and docked pay if our kid didn’t tell us in advance he was going to wake up with an ear-ache or throw up on the way out the door. But the manager didn’t allow any discussion.
I had a similar reaction to the platitudes in Ivanka Trump’s new book, “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success.” “I believe that we each get one life and it’s up to us to live it to the fullest,” Ivanka writes, as if all the women who are underpaid or forced back to work within two weeks of giving birth just need to manage their time a little better and learn to be bold in order to feed and care for their loved ones.
For Ivanka, time away from her kids is an “opportunity cost” that “elucidates my priorities in great relief, causing me to be tremendously focused.” Focus schmocus. To “live their best lives,” women need real change in public policy, paid sick days and paid family leave, affordable and quality child care, consequences for sexist and racist behavior — not tips on how to work smarter.
Ivanka Trump says she’s a champion of strong workplace policies, though she says little about this in the book. Yet until recently her company had no paid leave policy, and the one she designed for her father to campaign on would exclude most people who need it.
We could dismiss Ivanka’s advice as trite and tone-deaf. Her use of Toni Morrison’s heart-wrenching observation about the impact of slavery to ask, “Are you a slave to your time or the master of it?” exposes astonishing ignorance and indifference to the realities of black women. But Ivanka isn’t just a privileged woman who is out of touch with the lives of most women and their families; she performs a specific role in her father’s administration. During the campaign, she provided the packaging to make a man who bragged about predatory behavior palatable and electable. By declaring him a champion of women and waving promises of paid leave and child care, however flawed or puny, she provides protective covering for the administration’s vicious attacks on families — from slashing health care and tearing apart immigrant families to proposing huge budget cuts and roll-backs of equal pay and other labor protections.
She does not moderate the extremism, she camouflages it.
So here’s some advice for all of us on Mother’s Day. Be bold by joining with others to resist this administration’s assaults on women and families. Be successful by joining those who honor all mothers and all families. Make sure mothers aren’t the only ones responsible for caregiving by fighting for paid leave that applies to everyone. Be part of rewriting the rules so that not just the wealthiest few, but each of us can succeed.