God help me. I grew up once upon a time when colleges didn’t provide safe spaces, when sexual harassment was de rigueur, when date rape was my fault for leading the guy on, when women could definitely not be anything they wanted to be. I’m not whining. That’s just the way it was.
We’ve come a long way, baby. Right?
Caitlyn Jenner makes headlines when she says the hardest thing about being a woman is “figuring out what to wear.” Meanwhile, Indian women who are victims of acid attacks are starting their own café,Malala Yousafzai wins the Nobel Prize after she’s shot for being a girl who just wants an education, and men hurl brickbats at Hillary Clinton and claim they aren’t misogynists, while all the Republican candidates (including the lone woman, Carly Fiorina) vie to stop women from having a choice over when or if to have children. And I’m just getting started.
Rather than coming a long way, it seems like the more things change the more things stay the same.
Don’t shrug off Second Wave Feminism when we can’t even get to the Third or Fourth Wave without taking three steps backwards.
Granted, at 15 I was quite concerned about how much blue eyeshadow to use and whether hip hugger jeans were trashy or cool. It took me a good hour to get ready to go out. I was 15. Later that year I turned down my first date just because I didn’t want to go. No excuses made, I just said “No, thank, you.” And thus it began: my long feminist road.
But there hasn’t been a day in the 45 years since that my biggest concern as woman is what to wear. Not one.
I realize that Caitlyn Jenner is a big deal. When a famous athlete comes out as a woman trapped in a man’s body it calls for our sympathy, even our empathy if we can do it. But seeing her as a role model is just wrong. She isn’t a role model for women, that’s for sure. Having lived 65 years in the body of a privileged white male it is clear she simply does not get what being a woman really means. It isn’t new breasts or facelifts or clothes or anything related to beauty. Good Lord, women have been fighting that stereotype of us since Eve. And Jenner using the stereotype to speak to the idea of being a woman is just… well, it’s tragic, actually. Her bravery notwithstanding she knows precious little about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. Which sadly is kind of like being a woman in the 20th century. And the 19th and the 18th. At least in terms of the fact that we continue to seem to have to fight the same battles over and over and over again.
The other day I ran into a woman who is about six weeks away from giving birth to her first child. We began talking as strangers sometimes do. I shared my C-section story as she has to have one and is nervous. We also talked in general about family leave. She’s an attorney with the state of Georgia but getsno paid family leave. She can take three months off without pay, which is what she will do. And her husband, also an attorney, has arranged his schedule so he won’t have to be in court for two weeks and can “help” her out at home. Twenty-eight years ago I had to cobble together exactly this same kind of “time off,” and I wound up covering an event for my employer when my son was only three weeks old: I carried him with my in his carrier and prayed he wouldn’t cry.
So don’t insult me, Caitlyn Jenner, by telling me the hardest thing about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.
I’ve been through major crises with my children, now grown and on their own, weathered a divorce from their father, and spent the past ten years dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s. I have dealt with my father’s protracted illness and gruesome death, been overcome with grief at the estrangement with my sisters after that death.
I’ve buried my best friend.
I have dealt with cancer scares and major illness. I’ve moved house and started a new life. Again and again I have jumped back into life with both feet. Happily, knowing that my strength is powerful, that trauma can be overcome again and again.
So don’t make me feel that my life is so small that what I wear determines who I am.
Here is what I know, Caitlyn Jenner: you are not my role model. You are not my daughter’s role model. Figuring out this “womanhood thing” is a lifelong, ongoing, painful, joyous process. And very very little of it involves what you wear.
(This post originally appeared in The Broad Side)