In a New York Times article from yesterday, Rhonda Garelick examines the costs and promises of Caitlyn Jenner’s heroism for all women:
“That Ms. Jenner makes an excellent icon of fashion is unsurprising. Not only has she long lived within the corridors of Hollywood celebrity, but her physique — still the slim-hipped, sinewy body of a male Olympic athlete — actually lends itself (with a few tweaks) more easily to the female modelesque ideal than do most genetically female bodies. And certainly, very few transwomen could achieve this aesthetic ideal either, as the actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox has pointed out in a widely read Tumblr post
What of the millions of other 65-year-old women, whether born female or trans, who deserve attention? The millions of women who become invisible with age and could never successfully mimic a Kardashian (and would not wish to)? They remain offstage and out of mind, their own accomplishments unknown to us.
What’s more, those few women of Ms. Jenner’s age category who do manage to enter the public arena are routinely excoriated simply for being older — see the endless discussions on whether Hillary Clinton is “too old” to be president — or else they’re shamed for trying to appear younger via cosmetic enhancement.
The French writer Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote that “one is not born a woman, one becomes one.” She was referring to the innumerable
embellishments, codes of behavior and self-censoring acts required by
femininity, the turning of the self into a prestige commodity. In becoming a woman before our eyes, Caitlyn Jenner proves that little has changed since 1949, when de Beauvoir wrote those words. To be admired in the public eye, to be *seen*, a woman must still conform to an astonishingly long, often contradictory list of physical demands — the most important being that she not visibly age.
While the fanfare around the emergence of Caitlyn may advance our acceptance of transgender individuals, it does so, in this case, at a price: the perpetuation, even celebration, of narrow and dehumanizing strictures of womanhood sustained by the fashion and entertainment industries. True liberation of gender’s vast spectrum should ask more of us than that we simply exchange one uncomfortable, oppressive identity for another.”
posted by Weston Matthews