Being a woman is a not a singular experience, and it is unfair to expect Caitlyn Jenner to be perfect
When Caitlyn Jenner received Glamour magazine’s coveted ‘Woman of the Year’ award last month, many used it as an opportunity to list reasons why she should never have received it, as well as pointing out the many ways in which last week’s acceptance speech was problematic.
One man, whose NYPD wife received the award posthumously after being killed in the attacks of 9/11, returned the award and criticised Jenner’s luxurious lifestyle in comparison to the trans youth he tried to help during his work as a police officer. Cult actor and feminist campaigner Rose McGowan was also unimpressed with Glamour’s choice, writing a long, since-deleted Facebook post calling out Jenner’s questionable acceptance speech revelation that “the hardest part of being a woman is figuring out what to wear”.
“Caitlyn Jenner, you do not understand what being a woman is about at all,” she wrote. “You want to be a woman and stand with us – well learn us. We are more than deciding what to wear. We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you. You’re a woman now? Well fucking learn that we have had a VERY different experience than your life of male privilege. Woman of the year? No, not until you wake up and join the fight. Being a woman comes with a lot of baggage. The weight of unequal history. You’d do well to learn it. You’d do well to wake up. Woman of the year? Not by a long fucking shot.”
Of course, Jenner’s comment that “the hardest part of being a woman is figuring out what to wear” was ludicrous, and would make more sense if she was to swap the word ‘woman’ for ‘millionaire reality star’. As many have rightly pointed out, her experience as a rich, white American trans person is radically different to the experience of trans people without her wealth and celebrity status, particularly trans people of colour from low-income backgrounds, who are much more likely to experience violence and hate crimes based on their identity. And that’s without mentioning the day-to-day hardships experienced by women all over the world, from FGM, to not being allowed to leave the house without a male chaperone, or the pervasive threat of rape and domestic violence. Jenner’s acceptance speech was misguided and hugely lacking in insight – but does that really mean she was undeserving of the award?
There is not one singular experience of being a woman, and no woman is perfect. In fact, the only definitive experience you can attribute to all women is that womanhood is difficult to navigate, and never straightforward. The Glamour Woman of the Year award is intended to honour inspirational women, not flawless women with an in-depth, well-reasoned understanding of the many, often conflicting facets of gender equality issues. Also, the criticisms levelled at Caitlyn Jenner were not levelled at Victoria Beckham, Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole or Christina Aguilera, who have all been previous winners of the award. If people feel there is a problem with the way Glamour selects the awards, then that should be a criticism directed towards the awards themselves, not Caitlyn Jenner.
Also, to say that Jenner does not deserve the award is to downplay what she has done already. When the former Olympian had the most glamorous coming-out moment of all time via the cover of Vanity Fair, it marked a historical moment for many reasons. Not only did it catapult trans awareness to the mainstream, but it also displayed a huge amount of bravery, and set an example of inclusivity in a world still tarnished by transphobia.
“The fact that we are engaging in this discussion at all means that Jenner has moved society forward”
Needless to say, the amount of transgender women in the public eye can still, unfortunately, only be counted on one hand. For Jenner to come out as transgender when some people don’t even understand what transgender means is massively courageous, and a political turning point. The fact that we are engaging in this discussion at all means that Jenner has moved society forward.
It’s also worth remembering that Jenner only went through her transition less than a year ago. She is probably still learning how to navigate her own womanhood, let alone the womanhood of an entire species, fraught with “the weight of unequal history.” Ironically, to put down Jenner for receiving an award for her contributions when she is far from perfect, is to adhere to the misogynistic perception that when a woman is up, she should be pulled back down and educated. Maybe Jenner needs to learn more about the plight of other women, but that shouldn't take away from what she has done for millions of women already.