On feminism, are we missing the point completely?

Note: This article is in response to the New York Times Op-Ed piece that went viral: Why Men want to marry Melanias and raise Ivankas

Why should Donald Trump want an aesthetically appealing wife who takes good care of kids but want to raise a daughter who is intellectually substantive and professionally successful? Great question to ask if your aim is to expose the ‘double standards’ of a potential presidential candidate.

However, on feminism, I think this article has missed the point completely. The important question to ask is — should Donald Trump be able to decide what either his wife or daughter should pursue? It is totally fine to be an aesthetically appealing wife who takes good care of the home and kids if that is what Melania Trump chooses for herself. Just as admirable as it is for Ivanka to be proud of her own choice to pursue entrepreneurial success.

I think the wife versus daughter has skewed our opinions of the choices a little bit. Let’s frame the question on a different plane — how would Donald Trump react if one of his daughters were to become a stellar homemaker and the other ran a company par excellence? If he weren’t equally proud of both of their accomplishments in their respective arenas, he’d probably not find many feminists siding with him. However, if he wants a wife who has chosen to be a good homemaker and yet wants to raise a daughter who has decided to be a successful entrepreneur — that’s totally alright so long as he lets each of them make their own choice.

The problem with the feminist discourse these days is that we are confusing corporate success with women’s emancipation. There are many capable women who are trapped in corporate jobs especially because it is very hard, nearly impossible, to walk away from success. Yet, many of them may secretly want to spend all their time educating their babies ( a la Socrates) , innovatively organising their home (a la Marie Kondo) or inventing fabulous recipes (a la Massimo Bottura). Is this kind of ‘leaning-in’ really beneficial to women? Women would be truly empowered when they have the right to choose what they want to pursue without fear of judgment. Imposing the ‘corporate success’ model on young women who are making career choices is only turning the problem upside down, but it does not really solve the problem.

I have a 21 month-old daughter and another baby girl coming in November. My dream for them and the world in which I will raise them is not to be an army of women who climb the ladder of success mindlessly simply to become equals to their male counterparts who seem to be doing this. To catch-up to someone else is never a good form of ambition. My aspiration is to raise two fiercely capable and ambitious women who will pursue their dreams to the fullest. My motto is to raise two women who will have mastered the skills for success such that no matter which dreams make their hearts sing, they will excel at them. Because ultimately, in my own pursuit of excellence, I have learnt that success is an outcome of a series of habits and skills that once inculcated produce the same excellence no matter what you do — a good lawyer can’t help but be a good home maker; and a terrible corporate manager won’t be able to raise a spectacular family either. A good lawyer who is also trying to raise a family would certainly face more trade-offs than a full-time but mediocre home maker; yet she will also be more adept at making the most optimal choices for both her career and her home compared to a mediocre “fill in the blanks with any profession of your choice”.

In her TED-talk, the ‘Lean-in’ diva and one of my heroes, Sheryl Sandberg said, “ A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe this would be a better world.” I would humbly propose this instead — We will have a truly equal world when both our men and women are inculcated with the same skills and attitudes that create excellence, when they are able to choose their career paths and pursue these choices with dignity regardless of their gender; a world in which a stellar home is as much of an accolade as a thriving start-up!