The line is, in the book, written in the faux-handwritten, Post-It-noted font in which many of Trump’s other bits of borrowed wisdom are rendered; it is punctuated with the book’s other hashtag, #ITWISEWORDS. Later in the chapter on Working Smarter, Trump will revisit the Morrison quote to offer her own interpretation of the concept of “freedom.” “Are you a slave to your time or the master of it?” Trump asks. She anticipates the answer. “Despite your best intentions, it’s easy to be reactive and get caught up in returning calls, attending meetings, answering e-mails, and managing your team, only to realize that it’s 6:30 p.m.—and you haven’t done a single thing that’s of high value … .”
And, with that, Ivanka Trump compares being “a slave to your time” to being an actual slave. With one quote—a line chosen, according to the accompanying hashtag, for its disembodied wisdom—the scion turned businesswoman turned presidential advisor cheerfully ignores history, or, more specifically, she reclaims it for the purpose of selling sheath dresses, work-appropriate stilettos, and herself. Reviews of Women Who Work, at least the ones that have not been written by People magazine, have generally dismissed the book as being by turns “painfully oblivious” and “vapid” and “like eating scented cotton balls,” in part because it relies on chirpy platitudes to send its message of feminine empowerment, and in part because its vision of feminism is not very feminist at all, but also in part because the book, as The New York Times put it, serves up “a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes.”
Borrowing the words of the famous and the wise to lend a sheen to one’s own is a time-honored practice, of course, common not only in high school essays that introduce their insights with those gleaned from the great philosopher Merriam-Webster, but also in the self-help genre, and in academia, and in journalism. The technique, at its best, does what any quote, well-deployed, will do: to supplement one’s own wisdom and, indeed, to serve as a gesture of performed humility. I don’t know, but here is someone who does.
But there is very little humility in this book that is premised on the notion that women would be better off if women would be more like Ivanka Trump. And Trump is not simply, in Women Who Work, quoting other people. She is, more strictly, appropriating their words. (The “IT” in #ITWISEWORDS stands for, yes, Ivanka Trump.) Trump is taking those words out of their original contexts, and blithely, if not willfully, misunderstanding them.
Here, Melville House’s Ian Dreiblatt points out, is advice that Maya Angelou’s mother gave her before she moved to New York City—words Angelou recalled in her memoir, The Heart of a Woman:
Take care of yourself. Take care of your son, and remember New York City is just like Fresno. Just more of the same people in bigger buildings. Black folks can’t change because white folks won’t change. Ask for what you want and prepared to pay for what you get.
Here is how Trump reframes that advice in Women Who Work: “Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.” (The asking in this case, NPR’s Annalisa Quinn notes, comes in the context of explaining how women might request a raise.)