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Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

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Melania Trump’s fashion faux pas a lesson for women

Dec 06, 2023

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Melania Trump and several other first ladies attended the funeral of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter on Nov. 29. In contrast to the traditional black attire worn by the other first ladies, Melania opted for a gray coat. This is not the first time Melania has broken away from political traditions, as demonstrated by her earlier refusal to move into the White House until former President Donald Trump adjusted their prenuptial agreement to provide her with greater financial security.

Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence suggests that while Melania Trump may not be considered a feminist icon, her willingness to defy restrictive rules offers a valuable lesson for many women.

Melania did not appear big on second-guessing herself. As her attire at Rosalynn Carter’s funeral suggests, 45’s first lady does as she pleases, disregarding tradition at will. Albeit less destructive, like her husband, Melania is a disrupter. And with her disruption comes the subtle message to those watching that they may be able to do the same; that prioritizing your wishes over conformity and tradition may be bold but isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Now I am no Melania fan. I’m not saying she’s someone to revere or any sort of accidental feminist icon. And I’m also not ignoring the fact that she’s a beautiful, wealthy White woman with far more privilege than the vast majority of us could ever imagine. I am saying, however, that I hope her willingness to unapologetically buck the rules makes other women more willing to reconsider those rules. Even the slightest challenges to the system that holds us back is something I can get behind, as did Rosalynn Carter.

Not only was Rosalynn kind and welcoming, but she was willing to push boundaries and defy the system. Sparking controversy, she worked as a partner alongside her husband in the White House, and she pushed conversations on mental health back in the 70s when it was taboo. 

Our nation said goodbye to Rosalynn Carter last week. The former first lady’s funeral services should have been pretty calm, but then a fellow former first lady caused a bit of a disruption. Yes, it was Melania Trump. Beside the former presidents and first ladies in that Georgia church, Melania was the lone attendee not dressed in black. Instead of wearing the traditional color for honoring the dead, she wore what she wanted: a seemingly light grayish coat. 

While many may see this as nothing more than just a disrespectful fashion faux pas,  I would submit that this is just further evidence that Melania brings in energy we should not be ignoring. Melania Trump’s disregard for tradition may present as a petty disruption, but it also just may empower other women to reconsider the rules. Melania leans into the notion that she need not submit to tradition. She appears to prioritize her own wishes, disregarding spoken and unspoken rules, including rules that too often hold women back. 

For example, according to reports in 2017 Melania refused to move from her New York City penthouse to the White House, unless Donald Trump renegotiated her prenup. That would explain why she didn’t settle into Washington until several months after the inauguration. The woman basically told the President of the United States that she would not disrupt her life or shut down her skincare and jewelry lines without ensuring that she was getting paid. The position of first lady does not receive a salary, so instead of sacrificing herself for her husband’s newfound career, Melania got hers protecting her interests as many men often do in marriages. 

A survey of Harvard Business School graduates for instance, revealed that more than half of the men expected their careers to take precedence over their wives careers. Surveys also have shown that younger men may be even more inclined to prioritize their future careers over that of their future wives, as noted in the Harvard Business Review. And it seems that that’s exactly how things ultimately end up playing out more often than not. Deloitte’s Women at Work 2023 report surveyed 5000 women across 10 countries and found that nearly 40% of the women in heterosexual marriages said that their husbands careers took precedence over their own.

While I understand that there are many factors that may come into play in each individual marriage, I also appreciate that it is bunk that the lives women built often take the backseat. And that doesn’t seem to be something Melania was necessarily down with in 2017. Of course that is unless it was on her terms. In addition to ensuring that she got paid, Melania also wasn’t here to be forced into conformity while in the White House. Unlike the other first lady, she did not have a cadre of seasoned political advisors pushing her to follow certain rules and to stay the traditional course. She made decisions based upon her own ideology. Said another way, she did her. 

While that may be foolish to a certain extent, trusting your own judgment is still a flex that many women struggle with. Patriarchy loves pushing us to doubt ourselves — to play small. Melania did not appear big on second guessing herself. As her attire at Rosalynn Carter’s funeral suggests 45’s first lady does as she pleases disregarding tradition at will. Albeit less destructive, like her husband, Melania is a disrupter. And with her disruption comes the subtle message to those watching that they may be able to do the same. That prioritizing your wishes over conformity and tradition may be bold, but isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Now I am no Melania fan. I’m not saying she’s someone to revere or any sort of accidental feminist icon. And I’m also not ignoring the fact that she’s a beautiful, wealthy white woman with far more privilege than the vast majority of us could ever imagine. I am saying, however, that I hope her willingness to unapologetically buck the rules makes other women more willing to reconsider those rules. Even the slightest challenges to the system that holds us back is something I can get behind. As did Rosalynn Carter. Not only was Rosalynn kind and welcoming, but she was willing to push boundaries and defy the system. Sparking controversy, she worked as a partner alongside her husband in the White House, and she pushed conversations on mental health back in the 70s when it was taboo. 

Miss Carter was not afraid to do as she pleased to disrupt tradition, and we are forever grateful for it. According to the Carter family, Rosalynn specifically stated that she wanted Melania Trump to know that she was invited to the service and hope that she’d be there. The woman was gracious even in death, as first ladies Rosalynn Carter and Melania Trump are in two very different classes. One served humanity and the other served looks. Even so, we shouldn’t overlook that they were both disruptors. And I say that however a woman chooses to live, may she live as she pleases and be disruptive about it.

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