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The costs and promises of Caitlyn Jenner’s heroism for women

The costs and promises of Caitlyn Jenner’s heroism for women

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


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Philip B. Spivey

I hesitate to comment on the many meanings of Caitlyn Jenner’s emergence because the issues here are so complex and still shape-shifting; there’s the strong possibility of offending somebody across the spectra of transsexual experience and feminism. That said, I offer a few brief comments in good will.

The rapidity that mainstream acceptance of gay—and now—transsexual experience in our country is nothing short of astonishing; this should be an exceptional nugget of history for our social scientists to investigate. Imagine, the taboo of all taboos —for Christianity and society generally—has evaporated overnight. Or so it may seem.

Mara Keisling at the National Center of Transgender Equality notes that Ms. Jenner is not representative of the transsexual experience. Mara explains that beneath the lush Vanity Fair cover lie the majority of transsexuals in our nation who are poor, people of color, victims of discrimination, violence and struggling with the health care system to receive the multitude of services they require. Jenner is not the poster child for transsexuals, but she has led the way.

The question for me is, “Lead the way to what”? She is purportedly a Republication and a devout Christian. I don’t know how these affiliations will affect how she will parlay her new celebrity for the well-being of all transsexuals. Will she use her celebrity for a greater good? Will she provide leadership and Christian spirit to support policy changes that adversely affect her transsexual sisters and brothers? Or will she use her tremendous social (and spiritual ) capital to build a Bigger Caitlyn?

For me, that’s the measure of success of any born-again journey. I pray that Caitlyn does the right thing.

JC Fisher

The French writer Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote that “one is not born a woman, one becomes one.”

Or the American philosopher RuPaul: “We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag.” 😉

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