In the wake of White House Communications Director Hope Hicks’ announcement in February that she would resign, this weekend, New York Magazine published a jarringly candid feature about her work and relationships amid the cutthroat dynamics of the White House. Best known for her enduring presence on then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and in his subsequent administration, the 29-year-old’s silence, reclusivity and surprising influence over the president have rendered her arguably the most mysterious figure in politics.
And she’s confounded a number of feminists, too. Hicks is unlike the other high-profile men and women associated with the president because of her lack of offensive public comments — or any public comments, really. But her presence in an administration that has attacked and marginalized women, people of color, the LGBTQ community and other groups has indicated her complicity, nonetheless.
NY Mag’s report shed much-needed light on the motives that underlie Hicks’ loyalty to Trump, a man who has allegedly made repeated sexual comments about her body and relationships, according to other reports, in addition to dozens of even more unsettling allegations of sexual misconduct against him through the years. According to the feature, Hicks is uninterested in the president’s policy stances and politics in general; the article claims she’s swallowed her own unhappiness and discomfort throughout his embattled presidency because, to her, “the man himself” — Trump — “[comes] first.” This revelation was striking to me, as it seemed to raise a key question: What is the obligation of women to embrace politics and take stances on hot-button issues?
None of this is to say Hicks hasn’t already taken a stance, namely by serving and aligning herself with a politician who has attempted to ban immigration from Muslim-majority countries, incorporated blatant racism into immigration policy and denied women key health services. But in her capacity as a private woman, the report suggests she is apathetic about policy.
We tend to expect individuals of marginalized identity groups to be activists and shoulder the responsibility of fixing the very injustices they are subjected to, while we seldom demand the same of those who passively benefit from systems of oppression. And yet, members of the LGBTQ community have no obligation to walk the streets wearing rainbow flags, nor to be activists marching for policy change. In the same vein, one of feminism’s ultimate goals is arguably to empower women with the choice of whether or not to even identify as feminists.
Often people of marginalized groups, from women and immigrants to LGBTQ and differently abled people, tend to be more aware of political developments and active in demanding change, as they are often disproportionately affected by the decisions of lawmakers. They’re more likely to feel greater empathy for and be more aware of the identity-based oppression that other groups face because of their own firsthand experiences. But just as those with the privilege of not being affected by oppressive policy have the option of not caring, people from all backgrounds should similarly have that option.
To be clear, the act of not caring certainly isn’t to be glorified. But like all things in modern society, ideally, it shouldn’t be exclusively reserved for affluent, straight white men, and we should never pigeon-hole or generalize about the perspectives of all individuals in a particular identity group.
Hicks, like Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and most other women in the Trump administration, has done nothing for feminism in her public words and actions. All of the aforementioned women are complicit in enabling Trump, an alleged sexual abuser, vocal defender of sexual abusers and opponent of reproductive freedoms. By working in top positions under Trump, all of these women benefit and profit at the expense of thousands of women across the country who could lose health care or be denied justice in sexual assault cases as a result of policies and guidelines overseen by this administration.
And yet, they are the products of feminism, nonetheless. They and the choices they have been able to make are the products of feminism and its myriad historical and contemporary struggles for equality.
Sanders has notably stated that allegations of assault should not even be investigated unless the male suspect has already implicated himself. Ivanka has vocalized support for the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era policy requiring businesses to report salaries of male and female employees.
But whether or not they opt to use their positions of power and privilege to advance feminism, their ability to make the choices they’ve made is a mark of this movement’s progress, nonetheless. It’s just too bad that, in their cases, they’ve opted to use that progress at the expense of other women.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.