Wednesday, June 17, 2015


OK I have to say it...I don't get it.

My Vanity Fair magazine arrived today complete with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover. And that got  me to thinking...just what is a woman?

Are you a woman because you think like a woman? More on that in a bit.
Because you look like a woman?
Or have a body like a woman?

Thinking like  woman?
Well, what is that?

An article by Elinor Burkett in June 6  NY Times nails it. In responding to the interview question about recognition of being transgender, Jenner had responded “My brain is much more female than it is male.”  Burkett asserts that “People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women, whether Ms. Jenner or Mr. Summers*, shouldn’t get to define us…” Jenner has not had a lifetime of being defined as a woman and THEREFORE shaped by those presumptions. I commend the rest of the article for you to read -- here.

Another recent story is also informative.  Earlier this month, Nobel prize winning scientist Tim Hunt remarked at the World Conference of Science Journalists explaining why he couldn’t work with women scientists. His reason? He said, “Three things happen when they are in the lab.... You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry." What an appalling view of women.

Thankfully many women scientists displayed far more intelligence, sense and humor by their responses.  Perhaps that is thinking like a woman.

It’s one of the oldest excuses in the book—when men get into trouble—quick, blame a woman.  Ahem, does the name Eve come to mind?

So, back to the subject of what is a woman. It is understandable that the thinking displayed in the Tim Hunt story, replicated many times over in thousands of other examples, unavoidably shapes women.  Girls who are pampered, protected, diminished, demeaned can’t help but experience life differently—think like a woman—than boys who have been encouraged to be assertive, be bold, be strong.  That does NOT, of course, mean that girls can’t assert themselves and find their own identities.  But it is much easier to do that when girls are encouraged to be assertive, be bold, and be strong.

One more observation on the Caitlyn Jenner transformation. As the Vanity Fair story reveals, Jenner had two years of treatment to remove facial hair (I can think of many post-menopausal women who would envy the chance to undergo such treatments).  Further, she had 10 hours of surgery to help “feminize” her face. She had body sculpting, including—obviously—breast augmentation. And, lastly, that waist!  As the cover photo reveals, the body constructed is quite stunning.  It is a body that many many women do NOT have, and yet they are most decidedly women.  The irony is that in order to be a woman, Caitlyn Jenner opted for a physical, visual approach—yet again defining how society too often defines women.

What I find so very sad is that these stereotypical ways of thinking about what it means to be a woman—looking great, “thinking” like a woman—miss the mark and what I think is the most important attribute of being a woman.  When our daughter was a little girl, like many little girls she would say she wanted to be pretty. I used to tell her—I don’t want you to just be pretty, I want you to be intelligent.  And then I would add—pretty can fade, but intelligence doesn’t.

That’s what I wish people meant when they say—just like a woman.
* Lawrence Summers--former president of Harvard, among other accomplishments. He "famously" stated that there aren't many women in math and science because of "biological differences."


NCmountainwoman said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed Burkett's article. Strange that Jenner felt the need for all that sculpting. But given the family's total focus on beauty and superficial appearances enhanced by plastic surgery, I suppose Jenner's reaction fits the family model.

KGMom said...

NC--Excellent point. I too found the sculpting to be one of the strangest details in this whole story. Jenner is 65...and many people--men and women--don't have the wherewithal or even the need to remake themselves so drastically.
I like your explanation--the influence of too much exposure to reality TV.

Climenheise said...

A helpful reflection on this particular situation. I have little doubt that the transgender experience is deep and complex; but Jenner's case feels to me too much like, "If you feel something, it must be true." That doesn't work even for the most feeling of the Myers-Briggs types. I would rather honour and support and learn from those whose transgender experience appears to me (feels?) less manipulative. None of this tells me that Jenner is playing games -- or that he/she is not playing games. Just that the media attention seems out of focus to me. I have good friends whose first grandchild is transitioning from male to female. I think that his/her journey does not belong in the national limelight; nor, I think, does Jenner's. And I wish my friends' grandchild all good in navigating a difficult journey. No answers; just a desire to travel together. (Without unnecessary adulation or scorn.)