Caitlin Jenner caused quite a stir recently when she gave her take on the hardest part of being a woman after she received Glamour Magazine’s Glamour Woman of the Year award. I notice many women- some of whom brand themselves feminists- express outrage. They were outraged that a white, rich and former male had won an award which was supposed to have been given to a ‘real’ woman.
Caitlin has never experienced a period, she will never know the pain of child birth or face the plights only faced by authentic women and this made people angry. Women were reminded of the fact that men earn more, they dominate the majority of industry jobs and are traditionally thought of as the stronger sex. And now former man has picked up a prize for the best woman!? Women have endured a long struggle to be seen as mere equals to men and all of a sudden a former bloke is given a prize for being OUR sex?! *cue Twitter storm*
I get it.
However, arguing that a transgender woman isn’t a ‘real’ woman- because she was born a man- only serves to further enforce restrictive and often harmful gender stereotypes. For decades women have fought against the patriarchy that raged war on the identities of all women and coerced them each to fit the mould of a ‘real’ woman. Yet now women- some of whom brand themselves feminists- are attacking a transgender woman because she wasn’t born that way. She hasn’t lived our struggle, they say, so she is invalid.
But these women fail to understand the struggle of transgender people who must cope with years of gender dysphoria. They face inner struggles with coming to terms with who they are- often causing emotional and psychological turmoil- and then they must show their real selves to the world when they are vulnerable.
Caitlin was foolish to chalk down the hardship of being a woman to ‘deciding what to wear’. And I would say the same of any naturally born women who claimed that choosing between heels and flats is a bigger issue than the gender pay gap. It was a disappointing statement to make following such an inspiring win and was something that a lot of women were outraged to hear.
But perhaps Caitlin was speaking on behalf of herself. Perhaps after 66 years of being male (the last 6 months being spent transitioning) it is hard for her adjust to the patriarchal expectations of femininity.
And there are so many women in the public eye who prop up this patriarchal, sexist idea that the sole concern of any women should be how she looks. Marilyn Monroe famously said ‘give a woman the right shoes and she can conquer the world’, and she’s been hailed a female role model for drooling out such nonsense.
Kate Moss, who has probably never tasted halloumi, famously said ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. This type of aggression is carried out by many celebrity women and is designed to make women feel vulnerable so that they do rely on clothes and cosmetics to feel good about themselves. It’s a nasty marketing ploy and shame on Caitlin for being complicit in that.
More recently Kate Winslet suggested that the gender pay gap- whilst disadvantaging every single woman in the western world- pay gap is not a big deal. Winslet doesn’t seem to think that the gender pay gap is worth the fuss that so many women are making; the Hollywood actress thinks that the topic is actually far to ‘vulgar’ to be discussing in public!
This is a woman who will bang on relentlessly about how airbrushing is wrong whilst brushing under the carpet wage inequality and she will be hailed an empowered woman. This is just as disappointing as Caitlin’s ‘what to wear’ comment and yet somehow more acceptable because she’s a real woman. Maybe Winslet’s comments on the gender pay gap are food for thought- she must know what she’s talking about, she’s a woman after all…
After her award win Caitlin addressed the issue that many women do not feel confident enough and that one way of addressing the confidence issue is by getting more women into powerful positions.
Some people took offence to this and thought it was patronising and did nothing to empower women. I, personally, have never been one to cry about feeling unconfident because I was born with a vagina but I do feel like Caitlin tapped into something poignant. For a lot of women the issue isn’t confidence but opportunity; nonetheless it would no doubt help women as a whole if there were more of us in power.
I wouldn’t be quick to hail Caitlin Jenner as a strident feminist icon or a particularly great public speaker- or driver…
And I’m no expert on gender identity matters but it feels wrong to pull apart a person who identifies as a female simply because she used to reap the rewards of male privilege. I feel we, as women, have the responsibility to prop up any woman, whether or not she was born that way.