Barbara Kay: Caitlyn Jenner trivializes the momentousness of what it means to be a woman
National Post - Monday June 8th, 2015
Bruce Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner is the most famous man and woman on the planet. (My software balked at being forced to allow that sentence).
She’s a bit of a throwback, Caitlyn, as if time had stopped for her 50 years ago when Bruce had his first inkling that something was a little amiss in him (or should I say “a little miss” in him.)
When this month’s Vanity Fair edition with Caitlyn on the cover came out, the media had a field day dissecting her “look.” Some fans objected to this obsession with her appearance, suggesting she was being subjected to treatment men wouldn’t receive, and implying the attention was sexist. Comedian Jon Stewart won plaudits for “brilliance” when he observed, “You see, Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen. But now you’re a woman and your looks are the only thing we care about.”
For most of Bruce’s life he enjoyed “male privilege” and now, all his ambitions achieved in a man’s way and a man’s world, he presumes to know what it is really like to be a woman.
Stewart has it backward. Caitlyn is the sexist. Now that she’s a woman, she is evidently no longer interested in athleticism or (projecting) business acumen. And she is getting precisely the attention she wants.
Consider: Caitlyn chose to wear a Playboy-style corset – all that was missing were the fuzzy tail and rabbit ears – with her hands tucked out of sight to suggest vulnerability (and perhaps because you can’t surgically alter man-sized hands), with her new breasts gently swelling out of the barely-there cups. An odd choice for an athlete, a businesswoman and especially for a woman eligible for social security.
Back in the day, when there were only two sexes, women who felt they had been born in the wrong bodies and who crossed over dressed and acted as other women did. As (trigger warning) “normal” women did. Would a natal woman of 65 (apart, probably in 10 years, from Madonna) choose underwear for such an important event?
No. A natal woman who wished to be taken seriously as an athlete or businesswoman or anything beyond a sex object would wear a classy pair of slacks and a crisp shirt, or a smart little black dress, or a power suit, or a cashmere sweater and jeans. And, yeah, pearls, why not? In other words, a look that suggests a rounded life, brains and interests beyond her sex life. But I’m guessing that since she missed out on looking sexy when looking sexy would have been appropriate, Caitlyn couldn’t resist realizing the fantasy.
Caitlyn is all girly and soft and seductive and with zero interest in doing much of anything but primping
For a male analogy on the cover of Vanity Fair, don’t compare her to the handsome but otherwise unexceptional-looking natal man she was. Compare her to a partially transitioned woman-to-man of 65 who, though everyone is aware he has no penis, dresses up as a Navy Seal in camouflage, garlanded with multiple ammo belts, and brandishing a rifle, with his eyes gazing grimly into the middle distance of, presumably, Fallujah.
What would Jon Stewart’s reaction be to that clothing choice after the media had a field day with him? For it isn’t Caitlyn’s new gender that has the media gawping and the rest of us (no pun intended) transfixed. Rather, it’s the yawning chasm between the self-presentation of natal women, and the absurd extreme in gender stereotyping our subject has gone to in semaphoring her new estate. It’s almost as if she thought we wouldn’t believe she was a woman unless she chose what is acknowledged as our culture’s most reductively female marker of gender lamination.
Gender is a fungible notion in our brave new world. As Mark Steyn puts it in a deeply insightful column analyzing the new tyranny of trans correctness, Caitlyn is neither man nor woman – “she’s a transwoman – a new, separate and way more glamorous category that’s taking its seat at the American table and demanding public affirmation.”
How far we have come from original feminist dogma. Years ago, feminist ideology was rooted in “essentialism,” a view that all creatures are born with a set of attributes that are necessary to their identity and function. Males and females were essentially different. How else could one explain the patriarchy?
Then we were told that women behave differently from men because they are socially constructed to be sexually modest and lousy at math, when in fact there is no difference between male and female sensibilities, capacities or sexual instincts. Finally we were told there is no such thing as sex, only gender, and you are the gender you feel you are, no matter what your biological reality is.
Now we have Caitlyn Jenner, who defines herself as a woman. But look at the woman she turns out to be! We’ve come full circle, for she is as essentialist as can be. All girly and soft and seductive and with zero interest in doing much of anything but primping. How can this be? How can someone who was never in his life socially constructed to be a girly-girl long to indulge her new self in the false consciousness “she” never experienced?
This is the basic question feminist Elinor Burkett poses in a New York Times article, “What Makes a Woman?” Even though millions of “progressives” think Caitlyn’s self-launch is a beautiful symbol of courage and authenticity, many observers peeking under the transmobile’s shiny hood are not sanguine about being taken for a ride in it.
Caitlyn’s penchant for the 1950’s female stereotype is worrisome to them. They don’t like the fact that most of Bruce’s life he enjoyed “male privilege” and now, when it hardly matters any more, all his ambitions achieved in a man’s way and a man’s world, he presumes to know what it is really like to be a woman.
(And may I add to Burkett’s list of women’s female-only experiences Caitlyn has never known, such as menstruation, the fact that she can’t possibly understand the despair of an unwanted pregnancy, the yearning for a wanted pregnancy, the agony of watching the biological clock tick, the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth, and the anguish at a womb’s stubborn barrenness, all of them defining natal-female feelings of an atavistic intensity like no other.)
The true-to-ideology feminists are understandably put off by Caitlyn’s conflation of womanhood with a seductive appearance, beautiful long nails, thick eyelashes and a wavy fall of glossy hair. And with reason. It banalizes and trivializes the momentousness of what it means to be a woman in full.
Caitlyn Jenner’s corset photo, and the debate it has unleashed, reminds me of the old Jewish joke about the nouveau riche man who buys a fancy boat and invites his parents over to admire it. When they see him wearing a white cap festooned with gold braiding and the word “captain” on it, his mother gently says, “You know, Hershel darling, by you you’re a captain, so by me you’re a captain, and by your father you’re a captain, but by a captain, you’re not a captain.”
Similarly: By her family, Caitlyn is a woman, and by her 10 million Twitter followers, Caitlyn is a woman, and even by President Obama, who wrote a congratulatory tweet on her bravery, she is a woman. But by doctrinaire feminists – and I never thought I would say this, but they seem to me, in terms of ideological integrity, to be the brave ones in this affair – she’s not a woman.