Donald Trump’s first major trip overseas may be fraught with diplomatic land mines for the President, but the Trump administration can at least comfort itself with the clear hit that Melania Trump has been with the Saudi press.
The fact that Melania is communicating with the media and the public in Saudi Arabia — mainly through what Saudi news reports have deemed her “classy and conservative” fashion choices — works well in the notoriously anti-woman kingdom.
Her intense appeal makes sense, considering the first lady represents so much that Saudi citizens find familiar and can relate to, especially visually. Melania walks behind her husband, is quiet and reserved, does not make obvious demands (at least not ones we can hear), and most importantly, she looks beautiful and polished.
All of that should come as no surprise, given whom Melania is married to. After all, how the Saudi government likes women to behave is similar to how Donald Trump has said he likes women to behave. And they both prefer women to look pretty in pictures, rather than hold actual positions of power.
Melania’s husband and the Saudi government also both know and understand the power and value of a good photo opportunity. In fact, fantastic photo opportunities are something the kingdom values and is hypersensitive about, especially ones that are going to be seen around the world.
For them, Melania Trump was perfectly poised in her black Stella McCartney jumpsuit and gilded gold belt. Melania projected a glamorous image for a country where women live under male guardianship, cannot drive, still do not have the full vote, and cannot travel or seek medical attention without male permission.
The Saudi press also appreciated Melania and first daughter Ivanka Trump’s championing of the kingdom’s feminism light, also known by some as “fake feminism” — the same brand of women’s rights Donald Trump likes to promote — which the two did by visiting companies run by women entrepreneurs. Those visits, which Ivanka and Melania made separately, project a false narrative of a government committed to advancing women’s rights.
Although much has been made about the first lady and first daughter not donning the headscarf, that choice really is not as big of a deal as people are making it out to be. Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Michelle Obama all skipped out on the headscarf while visiting Saudi Arabia, and Donald Trump even famously attacked Michelle Obama for insulting “Saudi culture” by showing her hair, something his wife and daughter both just did.
Even though a much stricter version of the Islamic covering is required by law for Saudi women, wives and female family members of foreign dignitaries do not have to abide by it. That was true when Donald Trump criticized Michelle Obama for not wearing one, and it is still true now that Melania and Ivanka have followed suit.
The headscarf should be the least of the Trump family’s worries, because the Saudi press have embraced Melania (and to a related but lesser extent, Ivanka) for basically doing for the kingdom what they do for Donald Trump: Provide the perfect cover for misogyny and tyranny by being beautiful, poised and often silent.
In Melania, the Saudi press and the Saudi government found the perfect spokeswoman, who projects a glamorous image that glosses over one of world’s most autocratic and oppressive regimes.
What is not to love?