I have just completed a brilliant article, “What Makes A Woman?” written by journalist, former professor of women’s studies, and documentary filmmaker, Elinor Burkett (The New York Times, Sunday Review, June 7th). Her words, which described strong differences between feminists and transgender activists, helped me clarify why, though I wish Caitlyn Jenner every happiness, something about her words and the coverage of her life altering transition, has left me uncomfortable. As everyone knows Caitlyn’s emergence is one brimming over with sexual appeal. She has said again and again that from childhood on she wanted to wear women’s clothing. But, as Elinor Burkett has clearly pointed out, Caitlyn has not gone through life as a woman: it is the combination of our inner world, the opportunities and challenges life has offered us, and how we have met these that makes a woman. It is not surgery, or extraordinary lighting and sensual clothing. Further, and these are my thoughts, Caitlyn, even before her transition, has ever lived in the public eye, and will continue to. Exhibitionism is the trademark of her Kardashian family, and she will soon be off to her own reality show. No doubt, this show will attract millions of viewers and make her even wealthier. However, a life of relentless exhibitionism makes one an actor — a performer — not a true human being. Although her financial perks will continue to be extraordinary and public adoration from those who do not know will continue, this way of living does not offer a real life and the chance to grow emotionally and truly come to terms with adulthood.
Through the ages women have fought hard for academic and opportunities. We have worked so hard and fought so many battles that often we no longer even remember them, unless they are called to our attention. Even our own daughters will never completely understand the intensity of our fight for opportunity, where we are seen as true professionals and not office sex objects, there to spice things up, stimulate male thinking power, bring them coffee and order flowers for their wives, mistresses, girlfriends. The world of opportunity of our young adult daughters is so vastly different than ours was that they can never know all we gave and sacrificed to bring this change. There were so many struggles, dangers, indignities — addressed brilliantly in the article. We even had to fight to have our husbands with us in the delivery room when our children were born. We had to fight to reform divorce laws and to educate clergy that prayer alone will not end domestic violence. And this struggle continues: Hillary Clinton and other women in political office know that others will be upset and angry if they talk too much about all they have accomplished. Yes, even today If women express opinions that threaten men in our professional worlds, the fall out can be horrific. Also, sexual abuse on an emotional level remains a huge problem for those who must earn a living, not to mention in relationships many feel they cannot leave.
On a couple of occasions I have had my photo taken for magazines, both locally and nationally. I cannot begin to tell you the hours spent on correct lighting, makeup and clothing. For me this experience was a total waste of time, and I can assure you that without this talent you look very different. When my photo for my next book was taken, I chose a wonderful photo-journalist Sharon Wohlmuth. Sharon sees her clients in her home or theirs, and uses only natural light, which she calls G-d’s light. The whole experience took 20 minutes, and we talked and shared honestly the whole time. It was enriching.
Caitlyn Jenner has been a man who longs to be a woman. Her struggle is noteworthy, and yes, I think she is very brave. But for her to really understand what makes a woman, she will need to leave her stage and join the real world to see how it really is to live and struggle as a woman. The best makeup, the most sensual clothing, and even Annie Leibowitz will not be able to do this for her.