Today we’re going to talk about Hope Hicks. She’s yet another outgoing part of the rapidly-imploding presidential administration, announcing her resignation a few days ago after being interviewed by a congressional committee. While Hicks was, arguably, in a very powerful position (especially at her very young age), the administration turned her into a mother-figure to the president, doing emotional labor on his behalf rather than letting her do her actual job. This, I think, is yet another window into the creepiness, the backwardsness, of this administration.
Who is Hope Hicks?
Hope Hicks was born and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, child of a man who served as VP of communications at the NFL. That’s her ticket, right there, to instant high-powered connections. After a stint as a teen model, she worked for a NY communications group she met at the Superbowl. She met the Trump family through that link, as Ivanka was one of that group’s clients. Inside a couple of years she was working for the Trump organization, and then she became part of the campaign team. She was 26 and had no political experience. Inside the next year or so she became the official White House Communications Director.
And now she’s leaving
After confessing that she told “white lies” on behalf of el presidente, Ms. Hicks is on her way out. The Washington Post included this charming bit in a piece on March 3:
In contrast, Wikipedia* describes the White House Communications Director’s job as helping support and communicate a president’s agenda and serving as a chief speechwriter.
These two things–the WaPo description and the one from Wikipedia–do not go together.
Women do the emotional lifting
There’s been a lot of talk in the last year or so about the concept of emotional labor: in a nutshell, even when housework, in one example, is evenly divided between a heterosexual couple, it’s usually the woman who is the manager, making sure the paper towels get put on the shopping list and the laundry gets started. She is often the one to tell her partner what needs doing, and he does it. It’s a lot of work that often goes unnoticed by members of the household. To some degree, women accept doing emotional labor accepted–the argument is that we’re raised to do that stuff, automatically.
Another element of emotional labor is sustaining other people by tending to their feelings, without expecting reciprocity. Assumptions about women’s nurturing instincts are deeply embedded in those expectations. Included, too, is the assumption that women prefer to be caregivers, whereas men are bad at it.
It looks to me like that pattern is repeated here in the current administration. Hicks’s position is allegedly one of serious power and authority, when described in its official capacity. Hicks’s actual position as lived appears to be one of neither, truly, as her job seemed to be that of babysitter to the chief. ‘Tending to his moods and whims’ is not communications work, it’s coddling. And it’s exactly the kind of coddling our society–and him in particular–expects women to do. And while she might have been paid, and likely well, she was paid to be the communications director–not the babysitter.
Masculinity, power, exploitation
Given the makeup of his administration, even as it rapidly changes, this phenomenon isn’t all that shocking. Few women hold any positions of equity with the men in there, and people of color barely exist. What the president wants is a clique of sycophants, and the job of women in that circle is to make sure he’s happy. Wikipedia* suggests most of her job was taking tweet dictation and screening him from unpleasant encounters. A beautiful woman, she was both a set piece–an object for a man who has told all of us many, many times about his delight in objectifying women–and his source of comfort. She kept him managed and fed his needs, as well as his ego. This is creepy as hell as well as patriarchal in nature.
In this administration, all actual power goes to men, who are expected to exploit it for personal gain (the EPA leader, Scott Pruitt, is a great example of this phenomenon). Exploitation of people and resources is a key indicator of virility for el presidente and his ilk, as the press recently has discovered. Women, on the other hand, receive largely symbolic power. Their chief job is to protect the
baby president at all costs, whether it’s from questions, the television, or what have you.
Without Hicks, the WaPo surmises, the president is likely to become increasingly unstable. Without a mommy, he’s going to throw tantrums whenever TV reporting is unfavorable or he faces disagreement. So buckle up, friends.
*I don’t love Wikipedia, as its easy editability also makes it ripe for inaccuracy. It’s a useful primer on a variety of topics, tho, and when it’s done well, contains lots of sourcing.