Elinor Burkett’s essay in The New York Times about Caitlyn Jenner, What Makes a Woman, is one of the best pieces I’ve read recently.
She quotes Jenner as saying, “My brain is much more female than it is male.” To which Burkett observes:
“This was the prelude to a new photo spread and interview in Vanity Fair that offered us a glimpse into Caitlyn Jenner’s idea of a woman: a cleavage-boosting corset, sultry poses, thick mascara and the prospect of regular “girls’ nights” of banter about hair and makeup.”
Burkett takes great exception to Jenner’s concept of what it means to be a woman.
“I have fought for many of my 68 years against efforts to put women — our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods — into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes. Suddenly, I find that many of the people I think of as being on my side — people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination — are buying into the notion that minor differences in male and female brains lead to major forks in the road and that some sort of gendered destiny is encoded in us.”
In a very well-reasoned essay, this paragraph felt central:
“Their [transgender women] truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.”
I do support Jenner’s right to switch genders – I wish her well, and her life change is part of a larger, longer process of the blurring of traditional gender roles that is positive for all of us. We need to get away from stultifying gender roles; girls play with dolls, boys play with trucks – those retro views have caused massive heaps of unhappiness for the many people who don’t live on the obvious end of the male-female spectrum – and plenty of beautiful, smart, and compassionate people do not. But I appreciate Burkett’s account of how a woman born and raised as a woman has fought, struggled and earned something that an individual who becomes a woman with the help of a surgeon’s knife and hormonal treatments cannot know.