One week from today, Donald Trump is going to be sworn into office. As he still struggles to convince us “liberal elites” that he is worthy of being the President of the Free World, I would like to turn our attention to Melania Trump, the incoming First Lady.
Melania presents a conundrum of sorts. Upon the declaration of Trump’s win, repostings of her nearly-naked photoshoots were seen and the words “gold digger” were thrown carelessly. There’s been a comparison to her and Michelle Obama, another proof of the misogynistic tendency to pit women against each other.
It’s hard to see the same people who tag #ImWithHer for Hillary Clinton call Melania names and slut-shame her for her modeling career in the same breath. Women against women is something Queen Bey should have beat out of you a long time ago.
If there’s one thing to look forward to, it’s how Melania is in a position to turn around the narrative for women everywhere. Instead of sticking to the “sugar baby” story thrown at her (in the same way any woman is labeled immediately), she can be an example on how we still have difficulty in giving equality for all women, regardless of race, background, and career path. In a peculiar twist, the way we look at Melania is a reflection of how we look at women everywhere.
Looking past the ugliness we’ve seen on Donald’s campaign trail, we can look at what Melania can bring to the table. She will be the only First Lady so far to hold a degree in architecture and to be fluent in seven languages. A woman of Slovenian heritage, raised in communist Yugoslavia, she is unique in being an immigrant and a witness to the struggles of displacement.
First Ladies have served the public in their own way. Hillary did as First Lady to Bill, Michelle launched various programs, along with the many others before them, making the image of the FLOTUS more approachable and in touch with women’s issues. Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, and Laura Bush among other First Ladies pioneered different advocacies during their term and proved their mettle even before entering a political life. If Melania will play her cards right, she can be a positive influence and prove that not all First Ladies, or women in general, should follow a certain pattern to be respected. They just should be, period.
Let us then remember this as Melania assumes her new role: If we must criticize her, let it be through merits and not through out-of-touch gender roles. That means no more slut-shaming memes.
This now brings me to how one of the main issues she’s been challenged with is her wardrobe. Designers have expressed various views when it comes to dressing Melania. It’s an indication of another role the First Lady has: a style icon. Jackie O is one of the best examples, Michelle Obama’s Vogue cover last December solidified that. Even Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits put a mark in our definitions of power dressing.
Melania, on the other hand, is getting rejections from Sophie Theallet and Tom Ford. Those who do like to dress her up (Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana) are being attacked for supporting her. It’s in this we reach an awkward intersection of fashion and politics: When does fashion become a political statement? When is a dress just a piece of clothing for functionality? Should designers back off the Melania train because of The Donald’s rants?
The vitriol over Melania’s fashion is indicative of how the First Lady as a style icon goes beyond her choice of designer or trend. It’s about the substance, how a woman balances being both attractive to the eye and ability to wield power. With no direct political hold but with equal visibility like the President, the First Lady is expected to go beyond standing in the sidelines, looking pretty. The irony is how we are debating which label Melania favors shows how we want to box women to fulfill certain lookist standards. Just like what we’ve mentioned before about Hillary, if our biggest problem with a woman is the way she dresses, it’s us who have the problem.
It’s one thing to think about how Melania will be as a First Lady. It is also another thing how we will afford her the same respect and equal treatment we cried for when Hillary lost. Plagiarized speeches and scripted answers aside, Melania Trump might just be the real test of how we will push our feminist ideals forward, for all women, liberal or conservative, model or lawmaker.
Good luck to us and good luck to you, Mrs. Trump.
Photo courtesy of Mirror