The one image that has stayed with me throughout the Trump campaign for the American presidency is that of his daughter Ivanka standing by his side. More recently, she has been joined by Trump’s previously estranged second daughter Tiffany. Through the storm of revolting statements that typifies Trump’s rhetoric, Ivanka has presented a smiling, smooth-faced front saying the right things and evading the right questions about all the wrong things: her father has objectified her repeatedly in the crassest terms—he even went as far as to say he would have dated her if she weren’t his daughter. The man is clearly a testosterone-fuelled loon, and someone as intelligent as Ivanka Trump surely cannot ignore just how offensive her father is. And yet there she is, smiling and waving. There’s Tiffany Trump, dodging her father’s attempts to kiss her on the cheek after a debate, with a grimace turned into a smile for the cameras. What on earth are these women doing?
They are doing what is expected of women, what has always been expected of them since time immemorial (or around the time family became a binding social construct): standing by the men. Hillary Clinton did it after the world exploded around her husband and Monica Lewinsky: the sitting President of the United States, caught with an intern and facing impeachment: there is nothing more dishonourable for a married man to do than this. And yet there she was, Mrs. Clinton, brilliant lawyer and stateswoman, reduced to courageous wife supporting her cheating, lying husband in front of the entire world. She had no choice; it was a sink or swim situation and if she had left her husband, if she has separated or in any way shown her heartbreak and disgust, she would have been letting the side down. Never mind that the side was already destroyed by her spouse, that he had made the mess and deserved to be left to flounder in it. Hillary was expected to help in cleaning it up, and she did. Similarly, the Trump girls are expected to stand by their deranged father as he reduces them to the prettiness (or not) of their faces and bodies in front of the entire world, and still never say how disgusted they are, that they want to smack his smug orange face, that they want to run out of the convention halls and never come back. They don’t have a choice because they might work for him, like Ivanka does. They might be cut out of their inheritance if they don’t, which is probably what all the Trump children face. Or maybe it’s just as simple as Family Comes First. It’s too bad that somehow the meaning of ‘family’ comes to mean ‘father’.
Just think of it. How many errant women have their family staunchly standing by them? If the tables were turned, how many husbands would be expected to stand by and swear to the world that he was going to support his wife, that they would get through this together? Precious few, I imagine, because men who get cheated on or insulted by their wives are cuckolds and pansies, half-men who have been emasculated, Goliath vanquished by tiny little David. Men are expected to Get Even; it’s the foundation of every honour killing there ever was. Women who are insulted and cheated on are paragons of patience and virtue, are forgiving and generous. Women are expected to Grin and Bear It, and no woman, however successful, intelligent and rich, is exempt from that expectation.
What it all seems to boil down to is the role of a woman in a familial situation: primarily support. One is always the mother no matter what your actual position in the family is. In the sporadic presence of Melania Trump, the current Mrs., the Trump daughters have stepped into the fray to be the nurturing, murmuring, perfectly coiffed background. For all the senators and public officials who get caught sending dirty photographs to other women and caught in hotel rooms, there are all the wives and girlfriends standing tight-lipped to the side of the podiums of regretful speeches, making a show of holding hands. And then there are brief flashes of spirit, and hope—like top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who has finally left her sleazy husband after he repeatedly cheated on her. Boys are not just being boys, boys are acting like entitled cretins because patriarchies don’t hold them accountable for their actions. A patriarchy is designed to enable men, so it falls on women to enforce that accountability otherwise it will never happen. Family includes the women, the sisters, the daughters. If family sticks together, then it sticks together for everyone, otherwise no deal. It’s up to the women to draw the line, to say this is enough, no more. To place conditions on loyalty: you have my support because you have earned it, not because you feel entitled to it and I feel obligated to provide it. Family ties us together because of love, and that should never be used as a weapon of oppression.