First lady Melania Trump received a glowing reception in both Saudi Arabia and Israel as she advocated for “the empowerment of women” and accompanied President Donald Trump on his first overseas trip as president.
As the president participates in a bevy of meetings and engages with foreign leaders, Melania Trump has kept a packed schedule of her own through the first leg of the tour. Later in the week, the first lady is set to deliver an address to the families of U.S. military personnel in Italy while the president attends a meeting of the G-7.
“Liberal feminists love celebrating everything women do — unless they’re on the right.”
“I am very excited for the upcoming trip,” Melania Trump said in a statement Thursday. “This will not just be an opportunity to support my husband as he works on important matters of national security and foreign relations. It will also be my honor to visit and speak with women and children from different countries, with different perspectives.”
In Israel Monday, the first lady visited the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem to meet with children being treated at the world-renowned facility. Melania Trump was accompanied by Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The gathered children were both Jewish and Muslim, a testament to the mission statement of the hospital: “[Be a] hand to all, without regard for race, religion, or ethnic origin.”
Melania Trump also visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem Monday, near her husband and his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, both of whom are devout Jews.
The day before, in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, the first lady visited the American International School in Riyadh, where she distributed books to the children.
“Thank U American International School #Riyadh for hosting me today! Giving Intl perspective & education to children is so important,” Melania Trump tweeted Sunday.
Melania Trump also added, “I had a wonderful time with the students at the American International School #Riyadh today.”
The first lady also took the opportunity to visit the all-women General Electric process service center, where she championed “the empowerment of women” in one of the world’s most gender-segregated countries. The archaic gender boundaries in the Muslim nation have slowly begun to shift since former King Abdullah allowed women to join the government in 2011.
“Had the honor of visiting 1st all-women process service center in #Riyadh, #SaudiArabia. Thanks to @GE_Saudi for the invite!” Melanie Trump tweeted. “Enjoyed talking to the incredible women working hard @GE_Saudi service center. Great strides being made towards the empowerment of women.”
Melania Trump’s active role in her husband’s overseas trip has been lauded by foreign press, including in Saudi Arabia — even though the first lady decided to forgo wearing a headscarf, which is the custom for Saudi Arabian women.
A special English language edition of the Arab News offered a glowing review of the first lady’s visit and her “classy and conservative” attire.
“If you look at her style, it’s still very much her and her style of dress but being sensitive to the place and host nation for sure,” said Melania Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, according to CNN.
“It was not required for her to wear a headscarf and nobody asked her to, and based on that she chose not to,” Grisham added, noting that Melania Trump had been “studying hard” in preparation for her first overseas trip as first lady.
CNN White House Producer Elizabeth Landers tweeted the cover of the Arab News edition, writing, “@FLOTUS praised in Saudi news for her ‘classy and conservative’ look (sans headscarf).”
The Arab News also noted that the first lady “has been praised online for her elegant attire and chose to wear a beige trench coat-style dress to attend the school tour” at the American International School.
But the coverage of the first lady’s presence, standing and grace has been less positive in the American press.
The U.S. media focused intensely on a tweet from the president in January 2015 tweet in which he wrote, “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. [Michelle] Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies.”
In an opinion piece published on CNN Monday, media personality Anushay Hossain criticized Melania Trump because she “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,” Hossain opined. “After all, how the Saudi government likes women to behave is similar to how Donald Trump has said he likes women to behave.”
Hossain made little mention of Melania Trump’s rigorous independent schedule or her coming solo address to military families later in the week.
Then on Monday, members of the U.S. media, eager to embarrass the president, devoted an inordinate amount of coverage to an awkward video clip shot in Israel showing Melania Trump appearing to swat away her husband’s offered hand. Comedian Chelsea Handler said Monday on ABC’s “The View” that Melania Trump would be “an American hero” if she came out and divorced Trump.
The lack of liberal feminist support for Melania Trump on the foreign trip was to be expected, say right-leaning media watchdogs.
“Liberal feminists love celebrating everything women do — unless they’re on the right,” Media Research Center assistant culture editor Katie Yoder told LifeZette.
“Cosmo[politan] focused on how Melania and Ivanka [Trump] didn’t wear head scarves, but ignored all of the positive discussions they had about women’s empowerment,” Yoder, a Joe and Betty Anderlik fellow at MRC, said, noting that the fawning media took the time to write “27 separate stories” on the wedding of the United Kingdom’s Pippa Middleton, sister of Kate Middleton, over the weekend.
“It’s dismissive and demeaning for Cosmo to call itself a women’s magazine while censoring women it disagrees with,” Yoder added. “Human rights are something liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on.”
Despite the eager and petty digs, some mainstream outlets have run positive coverage of Melania Trump’s strong overseas debut and schedule of activities.
“Some of the broadcast network coverage was actually positive,” Yoder said.
But she specifically singled-out “long-time [Hillary] Clinton supporter and ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos” for complaining critics “didn’t go far enough” in criticizing the Trumps for not doing more to advocate for women’s rights.
In addition to Melania Trump’s visit to a women-staffed business and praise for “women’s empowerment,” Trump himself advocated for the rights of women to assembled representatives of 55 majority Muslim nations during a major speech Sunday.
“Young Muslim men and women should have the chance to build a new era of prosperity for themselves and their peoples,” Trump said during his address to the Arab Islamic American Summit, “that … means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.”
The president praised the Saudis’ pursuit of a new era of rights for women in the nation.
“Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development,” Trump said.