Caitlyn Jenner is recognised worldwide for a number of things; being an Olympic gold medallist, an American television personality, a father figure to five of the most famous women in America, and recently, for being born as Bruce.
Jenner, father figure to Kim Kardashian and her sisters, publicly announced her gender identification as a woman earlier this year, and subsequently paved a journey neither her nor the rest of the world could have been ready for.
She has faced extensive condemnation, as well as admiration for her bravery. Most notably perhaps was earlier this month, when she was presented with Glamour magazine’s ‘Woman of the Year’ award. The award is handed out to those deemed by Glamour to be courageous, extraordinary and inspirational women, a mould which many believe Caitlyn Jenner does not fit.
This week, James Smith, whose wife Moira died evacuating others from the World Trade Centre during 9/11, returned his wife’s 2001 ‘Woman of the Year’ award to Glamour magazine. He did this in protest at the same honour being given to Caitlyn, enclosing an open letter to the magazine editor. Smith asked; “Was there no woman in America, or the rest of the world, more deserving than this man? …is this the best you could do?” This is wrong. To not even recognise Jenner as a female shows little respect to a woman who did neither choose nor ask for this award.
Don’t get me wrong, Caitlyn Jenner is far from a perfect advocate for the transgender community. The stark truth is that Caitlyn does not truthfully represent the life of a transgender person. They don’t have a security team to protect them against violence and abuse. They don’t have access to the medical support they may need. They don’t have the money for the cosmetic surgery they may desire. They don’t have a platform on prime time television to explain their feelings without the fear of being interrupted or ignored or insulted. They don’t have the expensive clothing and the make-up squad and the hair dresser. Caitlyn’s trans life is anything but conventional, but that does not make it insignificant.
Caitlyn was criticised for her response to a particular question during an interview with BuzzFeed. When asked what the hardest part of being a woman was, she responded “figuring out what to wear.” This was the catalyst for Smith in returning his wife’s award. He said it “proved he [Jenner] is not truly a woman.” This doesn’t make sense to me. Firstly, Jenner does later acknowledge that “it’s more than that.” Further, I think it was an, although admittedly insensitive, attempt at humour that was taken out of context.
Many, including actress Rose McGowan, took to social media to publicly denounce Caitlyn, and claim such a statement provides evidence to concur ‘he’ will never be a woman, because ‘he simply does not understand’. This month, Kate Winslett suggested that we shouldn’t be speaking about the wage-gap between men and women. This was a stupid thing to say. Does this mean she is not a woman and does not understand the plight of women? No.
What Caitlyn said was dumb, of course it was, but to use this as justification to reject her identity is wrong. She said something thoughtless, not because she’s a man, or because she doesn’t understand the struggles of women. Because she’s human. Because she’s human and sometimes we say stupid things under pressure and we upset people.
I hate social media during times like these. Its response to Caitlin’s award, is one question. ‘How can she win woman of the year, when she hasn’t even been a woman for a year?’ This sort of response is the problem, and the reason why there is so much misunderstanding for the trans community today. Jenner has insisted she has felt this way for most of her 65 years in this world. Why is it then, that we measure her womanhood only from when her name changed and her hair grew longer?
Critics suggest she will never know the natural struggles of a ‘real woman’, therefore she can never become one. So because she doesn’t have periods, or can’t have a baby, or doesn’t have ovaries, she is not a woman? Is that really what we think a woman is? A biological construction of uterus and breasts and period pain? Is that what makes me a woman?
By suggesting this, you are telling me it is my body that makes me a woman. For years we have been fighting to express that we are more than what we look like. More than our breast size and dress size and hair colour, and yet here we are, suggesting someone who doesn’t have a womb, couldn’t possibly be one of us. Not part of the ideal. The ideal we’ve spent years shouting doesn’t exist.
You cannot suggest that because she won’t ever experience period pain or the pain of childbirth that she does not deserve this award. Having a period or a baby is not award worthy, otherwise we’d all bloody have one. The award is a symbol of courage; whether that be the courage to risk your life for another, or the courage to share with the world the most intimate, honest, real version of yourself. Both are important. Both make a difference.
How dare you suggest Caitlyn Jenner is not woman enough to win the award? She is as much a woman as myself, or anybody else that considers their womanhood to be more than their body. Of course, argue she doesn’t deserve it because she isn’t working hard enough, or she isn’t speaking out enough, but don’t dare be so bold to suggest she isn’t woman enough.
I disagree with Smith and the way he has handled this. Moira Smith was a phenomenal woman. A phenomenal woman who sacrificed her own life on September 11th, in order to save the lives of others. I never had the privilege of knowing Moira, but I know women like her. Women who are brave and incredible and would risk their wellbeing for another.
These are not the kind of women who would disregard the courageousness or anguish of another. Women of Moira’s heroism, do not contend with other women, they support them, regardless. I can’t imagine a woman that would give up her life for others, that would dismiss another who was too trying their best, to make a difference. Regardless of the form that may come.
Sadly, it seems that this year’s Glamour award for ‘Women of the Year’ has created something that is paradoxical to the whole purpose. Instead of celebrating wonderful women around the world, it has created a witch hunt. A fire of anger and hatred and transphobia and hurt, and that was not what this was about. During the rise of Caitlyn Jenner I had hope for change. Change in attitudes, change in responses, change in ideas. Perhaps we’re getting there, yet it seems we still have a very long way to go.