by Christina McDowell
I know what it is like to have a wildly disliked father. I know what it is like to be vilified— or ostracized rather— as a result of simply being my father’s daughter. It is never a fair assumption to make of a child (or an adult child of—), as we don’t choose our family. I was only nine years old when my father began his shady business dealings with Stratton Oakmont Inc. the now defunct company founded by real life “Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort. His story is a greedy one much like Donald Trump’s (And after Trump’s recent message to Wall Street, I can hear the misogynistic wolves pounding at their chests, salivating at their mouths as I type this, but more on that criminal behavior later.) Being the middle of three daughters, my father appeared to love and respect women. He wanted the best for his girls— the best educations, the best jobs, the best boyfriends. Never mind that he’d never let my mother look at a single bill or ever once call her by her actual name, she was just “babe” to him.
It was a strange dichotomy, watching him put my mother up on his “trophy wife” pedestal asking that she stay at home with the children, yet his expectations for his daughters were far different. How could we stay at home and just be housewives with our educations and backgrounds? In order to please my father, I remember at the age of seventeen, sitting at the dinner table telling him that my goal was to be a multi-millionaire by the age of twenty-five so that I could buy him a new gulfstream. He gave me a high-five. All of this, of course, I said because I wanted him to love me. I wanted to be enough for him. I wanted to always look up and be daddy’s favorite girl. I imagined us doing business together some day, maybe he’d produce a film and I’d write and star in it, and then we’d go laughing all the way to the bank together. But in order for this to happen, I needed my outsides to reflect his personal ambitions, his wants, and his needs, while my identity slowly eroded and sifted into his.
Kind of like Ivanka’s.
Only I rejected my relationship with my father after discovering that he wasn’t who I thought he was. At first, I wanted to give Ivanka a chance, to be the sound voice of her father’s mentally ill head. After all, no one was voting for her. But then she appeared on talk shows representing his campaign –even after he admitted to sexually assaulting women, while simultaneously playing role model for the modern feminist. She wrote a book called “Women Who Work” that will be published this spring, just after her father signed the executive order taking away funds for women’s rights and reproductive health care across the world (not to mention telling women they need to “dress like women” in the workplace). On Amazon.com’s description of her book, Ivanka (or her ghost writer) writes, “Our grandmothers fought for the right to work. Our mothers fought for the choice to be in an office or to stay at home. Our generation is the first to fully embrace and celebrate the fact that our lives are multidimensional.”
I agree, but do you know what else our lives are? Multicultural. We all know Ivanka’s dress incident was a serious misstep in the world of Washington, again a town that wants to pride itself on public service, or does it? If you haven’t already gathered, Washington, where I was born, is a town founded on image and strategy. Depth is irrelevant. The subtitle of “Washington Life Magazine” is: The Insider’s Guide to Power, Philanthropy and Society (yes, this kind of thing still exists—The American Dream, I tell you!) It’s all about image and status, and a lot of times, well, it’s empty. We’re watching a family obsessed with social hierarchy rather than a family of public servants. But the Trump’s are perfect for this kind of toxic swamp. Ivanka’s version of redeeming herself was by exploiting her young daughter, Arabella, by posting a little video of her singing a song about the Chinese New Year. Exploiting children is what narcissists do best. I actually know two sisters who got into a violent fight over who was more talented; the parents spent their lives pitting the two against each other. The police came and arrested one of them it became so violent. That’s the kind of culture I’m talking about.
My father loved exploiting me. After my mother left him, I became his surrogate wife, just like Ivanka: “Will she, or won’t she take the role of First Lady!?” Melania doesn’t want the job (she plagiarized for god sakes). So daddy’s girl would do what she was taught to do best, and be a “good girl” and make daddy proud, all of it, of course, being a reflection of said daddy, not girl. Forget about her wants, her opinions. Her identity is gone. The narcissistic family is a vicious cycle. Unless you break away from it, you are destined to repeat it. But at what point do we stand up and say this is wrong? You’re a fraud, and a liar just like your father, who have you become? Because what makes this dangerous, is her level of power and influence, her closeness to him. How long does one get to be a victim of their parents? For me, that ended in my mid twenties. Gloria Steinem stated at the Women’s March on Washington that we women must stop looking up, “no more asking daddy.” A friend of mine wrote to me on Facebook when I asked if we could blame Ivanka, she replied, “If we denigrate other women for not being feminists, it makes us misogynists,” to which I also agree. But I’m not angry at Ivanka for not being a “feminist” – because we agree entirely on the definition of feminism. I’m angry and frustrated that she’s turned into her father’s crony and won’t admit it, and won’t speak up on the things she believes deep down are right.
Silence gives voice to the oppressor. And what’s worse, and even more shaming to her, is that daddy didn’t even choose her to be a part of his administration, he chose her male counterpart –after all she did for him, defending him and pivoting hard questions with dignity and grace— or so it looked. Again, best husband makes daddy proud. But nothing is ever black and white. Ivanka has actively chosen to promote and defend her father still, and represent his presidency, yet not a word in defending the rights of women, if she’s even paying attention. You know what a feminist isn’t? A victim. Feminists are survivors. Feminists speak up, women who stay at home, and Women Who Work. I’ll end with this: one of my biggest lessons after breaking away from daddy, was discovering all that glitters isn’t gold – sometimes it’s just tinfoil.