The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Women Who Work, by Ivanka Trump
(Portfolio 2017, 212 pages)

By Wendy E.N. Thomas

 I was willing to give Ivanka Trump a fair shake. After all, when she was on The Apprentice, we were led to believe that she was poised and accomplished, that she was a force to be reckoned with. After reading this book, however, I’ve lost that image forever. 

But let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? A preface is where an author gets to talk one-on-one with the reader. It’s a chance to let her hair down, to explain what might not be apparent in the book, and to be intimate. But when the author signs her name in full caps, which coincidentally is how she identifies her products, you know that what you have in your hands is no true memoir or insightful self-help book. Make no mistake, Women Who Work by Ivanka Trump is nothing more than a calculated extension of her brand. 
Chapter 1, first paragraph: with a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, Ivanka pauses during an eight-hour hike in Patagonia to view the scene below. She ponders whether she should join her father’s business or not. “What I didn’t know was what working for my family would be like.” Ivanka writes. “Could I thrive in an environment where there were such high expectations, tied to the most personal of relationships? … What would happen if I performed poorly? Or what would happen if, in spite of excelling, there wasn’t great professional chemistry?” 
Apparently we all want to know the answers to these burning (and, let’s face it, redundant) questions. 
From that mountaintop in Patagonia, I think it’s fair to say that the book goes downhill. 
Ivanka claims the reason she wrote this book was to “unleash the full power of women and girls both in our country and around the world.” She does this by employing some rather questionable techniques. 
The fonts: Each chapter begins on a right-hand page and is faced by a pink page (because what better way to empower women than to use pink) that presents an artfully designed quote complete with hashtag #ITWISEWORDS (suitable for Instagram posting). On one of these pink-powered inspirational pages, someone decided to use seven different fonts and bolding to get the point across. It is dizzying in its presentation. 
The quotes: Now it’s time to talk about all the quotes used in this book. I have taught writing classes. I have assigned research reports. This book reads like a (too long) research report. Quotes or stories from someone who’s famous are followed by a few paragraphs explaining how a particular quote fits into Ivanka’s life and then another quote is quickly introduced. Lather, rinse, repeat. There is very little original thought in these pages; instead what you get is personalized regurgitation. As you might have heard by now, Ivanka didn’t ask permission or even give a head’s up to the many, many people whose words she used. I would tend to place a wager that Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela would not have been overly pleased to know they were represented in this book. 
The voice: Trump is the book’s only author (no co-writer is listed) but the voice is not consistent and even breaks mid-sentence.  
“One life isn’t just about trying to achieve balance (it doesn’t exist!) or managing blended priorities; it’s about ….” It’s almost as if someone went through the finished text and added parenthetical comments after the fact. Hmmmm.
The message: To be honest, it’s a little difficult to relate to a woman who tells you that if you only wear the right four-inch heels or carry the best accessories you will feel empowered. I couldn’t really empathize with her complaining that while at the office she occasionally has to think about what to have for dinner (again!). 
The editing: I can’t blame this entire mess just on Ivanka — somewhere an agent, an editor and a publisher were involved. Well, shame on them. The formatting is horrendous, lists are not uniform, information boxes are scattered every which way, and do I have to mention the pink font-filled pages again? The editor must have been asleep. That’s really the only explanation. There are grammatical mistakes and unnecessarily long sentences (one particular sentence is a six-line paragraph.) The language is so heavy in corporate-ese (“Your mission statement is meant to codify,” “architecting your life”) that any chance at meaning gets lost by the time you get to the end of the sentence. 
The reading list: Of the 56 books, articles and TED Talks referenced, 42 are written by men and 14 by women. There are some very strong women who write about empowerment, but you have to want to look for them. 
Bottom line: To be fair, there are some fairly decent bits of good advice (nothing new, just solid advice) about work-related issues like running meetings (listen and have an agenda), but they are deeply hidden within all the vapidness that is this book. If the intent was to empower women and girls, I’m afraid that Ivanka sorely missed the mark. D- — Wendy E.N. Thomas 

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