The First Lady of the United States has always been a face-value representation of the sitting President’s opinion of women, and by extension, how the United States views the role of women and family at a given point in history.
Earlier first ladies took on a hostess role, greeting guests at the White House and for the most part staying out of the public eye, while modern first ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama have advocated for causes like civil rights and children’s physical fitness and health.
In addition to fiery rhetoric and a few quotable sound bites about building walls and keeping hot sauce in purses, the 2016 election cycle has also seen what will become a split in the future role of the American First Lady: one election outcome sees a traditional, supportive wife, while the other brings the possibility of a First Husband. This split highlights shifting American attitudes —and hypocrisy — towards the role of women in the modern American family.
Melania Trump embodies many female characteristics and roles social conservatives favor — though she is a successful model with her own jewelry line, her primary focus has been motherhood, raising their son Barron while Trump has, to his own admittance, never changed a diaper. She describes herself as more traditional, stating in an interview with US Magazine that she voices political views at home, but in public she defers to her husband: “That’s my husband’s job. I leave that to him.”
In contrast, Trump’s daughter Ivanka is more modern — she is an independent businesswoman who has been the leading female spokesperson for Trump’s campaign. She was the one to introduce him at the Republican National Convention, and she is more relatable to younger voters, who are more accustomed to women working outside the home.
Despite the Republican Party opposing programs that would benefit working women, such as paid maternity leave and more access to birth control and family planning, Trump’s campaign team understands that the role of American women has evolved, meaning it is beneficial to Trump’s image if modern, independent Ivanka has time in the spotlight.
The comparison between the two is a symptom of American hypocrisy towards the role of women. Why is it that, in the words of New York Times writer Jill Filipovic, men like Trump marry Melanias and raise Ivankas?
He will treat his wife one way and his daughter another because an attractive, traditional wife and a successful, modern daughter are extensions of himself that reflect well on him in different ways. Even with both women’s accomplishments, Trump speaks more on their physical attributes: he tweets pictures comparing Melania’s face to that of Heidi Cruz, and on several occasions remarks about how he would date Ivanka if she were not his daughter, going so far as to state that she has the figure to pose for Playboy.
While these statements are just examples of the bizarre Trump comments we have grown desensitized to, it is important to remember that Donald Trump would not be popular if his views did not reflect the opinions of the millions who will vote in November and showcase their views on women with one check of the ballot.