Sexist media coverage holds women back.

By Maureen Sherry
February 16, 2017

When it’s Valentine’s Day and the Reddit thread, “Find someone to look at you the way Ivanka Trump looks at Justin Trudeau” pops up, who can resist clicking? But the flurry of posts on the images of the president’s daughter looking at the Canadian prime minister that followed made me feel suckered, with many of them implying there was something sordid and steamy going on.

The source of all this fun was a roundtable discussion on women in the workforce that Ivanka had helped organize. Media coverage has described her as giving Trudeau “the golden look,” and describing her as “thirsty,” “swooning,” and worse.

 

Ivanka Trump, daughter of U.S. President Trump, participates in a roundtable discussion with female executives and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House, in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017.
Photograph by Sean Kilpatrick—AP

It’s tragically ironic that such sexist comments were used around a meeting of change makers and glass ceiling breakers dedicated to the empowerment of women. In a women’s power-fest like this, anyone excited about being a part of something so important would look happy. Is it so strange that Ivanka was smiling and making eye contact with the prime minister of a major U.S. ally?

Body language is an unconscious outward reflection of inner feeling and the gaze on Ivanka’s face seemed to scream, “We agree on this really important and overdue undertaking.” But because the exchange happened between two people with genetically blessed physical features, this somehow became a mating call, reducing a woman of real substance to be worthy of the most sexist drivel out there. When Trudeau spoke, Ivanka turned to listen. This normal reaction became interpreted as carnal instead of professional, and reduced the meeting to a late-night television free-for-all.

The initiative behind the roundtable, the United States Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs, aims at growing the percentage of women owning their own businesses, retaining women in the workplace, supporting working mothers, and helping women in private enterprise. The reason you probably didn’t know that is because the media takeaway was “Ken meets Barbie.”

Trevor Noah of the Daily Show obsessed over the nepotism that placed Ivanka in the room, even calling the meeting “bring your daughter to work day.” That’s funny! But for Ivanka to be dismissed so handily is a disservice to working women everywhere. Ivanka is a Wharton School graduate who, besides running a few businesses in her life, has written a book and done extensive work on empowering and understanding women in the workplace. This was not some cheek-kissing meet and greet, some passing whim of hers that earned her a seat next to the hunky guy.

It doesn’t take a big leap to think that other working women will now think twice before making eye contact with a coworker as a result of such sexist coverage. I’d add this to the list of things that hold women back at work. We don’t want a smile or direct look to be interpreted the wrong way, so instead of concentrating on the task at hand, we must also worry about our body language.

When we wonder why our nation falls behind many others when it comes to women achieving equality in pay, leadership positions, or number of female elected leaders, I’d dare to put a little of the blame on the media. Maybe an inkling of support could help where it is due. Cheap jokes are soon forgotten, but the tone of disrespect lingers.

Maureen Sherry is the author of Opening Belle.

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