There’s something about Caitlyn. And it says a lot about what our culture wants and expects from women.
“She couldn’t have picked a more provocative, attention-grabbing and, let’s face it, fabulous way to introduce herself to the world had she arrived at a press conference, on a beach, floating on a golden conch shell,” gushes Paris Lee in the Guardian.
The “introduction” is Ms Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover shot by Annie Leibovitz. Though of course her transition was already an issue for public discussion and consumption thanks to the ubiquitous Kardashian klan.
While I applaud Caitlyn’s pursuit of happiness and willingness to brave transphobia, familial discomfort and public disapprobation in order to be true to herself, the media frenzy is insidiously regressive.
Google “Vanity Fair covers” and you find an artful array of bosoms. Caitlyn’s decolletage is part of a long tradition of plastering the magazine with the lubricious curves of (almost exclusively) white women. If, as Lee writes, “gender is what’s inside” why the relentless depiction of mostly young, white, blonde, voluptuous women as the definition of femininity?
Jenner’s transition, played out against the backdrop of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is a worrying reminder of how rigid our cultural trope of femininity is. The Kardashians women are famous for A) how they look B) what they wear C) who they marry and D) whose babies they have. Take away their smartphones and they are basically Jane Austen characters.
Vanity Fair uses Caitlyn’s addition to the distaff side to reinforce the notion that womanhood is defined by tits and clothes. She saysVanity Fair one of the things she’s most looking forward is “girl’s nights” where “You can talk about anything you want to talk about. You can talk about outfits. You can talk about hair and makeup, anything you want.”
I doubt Caitlyn is as vapid as that quote makes her sound, but the editorial choice is telling. By making the Kardashians icons of 21st century femininity (the boobs! the butts! the baby-daddies!) the media deftly denies the wide range of female experience. Where are shows about women who work 9-to-5 instead of breaking the internet? Where are the photoshoots featuring flat-chested or short-haired women? Who is celebrating trans women who aren’t Caucasian blonde “mega-babes”?
By all means, cheer and support Caitlyn, but don’t confuse her Vanity Fair cover with progress for all.