the problem with women

Caitlyn Jenner and the Problem with Women

Wouldn't you know, my first skiff trip of the season out at fishcamp this week and I had to be rescued? Yup. I was rescued by first one fisherman, who very kindly came alongside my drifting skiff asking if I needed any help. Which of course I did. The 60 horse outboard died on my trip to the village, 7 water miles away. The weather and sea were calm, so I wasn’t worried. Someone would come by eventually. He stepped into my skiff manfully and tried to start the beast but couldn’t (whew! Saving my female pride). There was nothing to do but tow me to Larsen Bay. Along the way, his brother appeared in another skiff. He passed me onto his brother, who tried to start the beast again---and couldn’t.  So brother #2 kindly finished the towing job and left me tied up at a dock in Larsen Bay to wait for another rescue (by my son.)

Fellow fishermen. Bless them. I love men. I love chivalry and rescues from men, though I don’t seek out rescue and I prefer to do things myself. It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to be a woman in Alaska, and it includes a constant dynamic of dependence and independence.  Because of this, I think about gender a lot, for more reasons than I can say.  So forgive me for bringing up old news, but I have to write about Caitlyn Jenner. (Stay tuned for a longer piece elsewhere.)

Like you, I gaped at the photos of Jenner now gone female. I was astounded at a number of things, including all he has accomplished in becoming the woman he has longed to be. He no longer has to hide and silence his lifelong secret. Like many other viewers of the Diane Sawyer interview, I felt great sympathy as he described the experience of living in a man’s body with “a woman’s soul.” And then Caitlyn emerged. Through his media appearances, he has vaulted once more onto the world stage, rescuing his flagging career as a reality “star” and assuring him a dual place in history, first as a man and now as a woman. He will be paying off far more than his mortgage. He has already expressed the freedom he feels. His children are giving him a second chance (or perhaps a 100th chance?) hoping their father will be a better parent now that he’s a woman.  I hope too.  And I hope he can be a better woman than most of us.

But I’m not sure he can. The Vanity Fair shoot made it clear that it’s not enough for him to be a woman in the ordinary way of women, transgender or otherwise, who simply go about their lives as human beings, loving their families, doing their jobs. Bruce desires to be another kind of woman, an alluring, sex-bomb celebrity of a woman, with long lean legs, spilling over breasts, and a coy come-hither smile to the millions who gaze in wonder and shock at his transformation. (And I am guessing this is likely not a one-shot apparition given her upcoming show, which means much more coverage and spillage is sure to come.)

The particular kind of woman Jenner has debuted has clearly taken some serious notes from the Kardashians, it appears, who are experts at commodifying themselves as celebrities who are famous for their beauty and fame. It was stepdaughter Kloe who, upon hearing the news of his upcoming transition, advised him, “Girl, you gotta rock it and you gotta look good. You’re representing the family”.  Bruce Jenner has learned well.

And I wonder, as Caitlyn settles into her new increasingly female body, if she knows the not-so-secret dirty secret about women: most women are at war with their bodies. I wonder if the female hormones Jenner has taken and is taking still will deliver the news most of us have receive about ourselves when we look in the mirror: we are fat, flawed, flabby, wrinkled, cellulited, sagging, shapeless sorry excuses for the female sex. Even those of us who resist a gnostic mind-and-body division hear the same news.

      And who is more at war with their bodies than female celebrities? And, among female celebrities, what group suffers the most from disappointment of the flesh?

Jenner has chosen the very hardest kind of woman to become and the hardest to maintain: the aging 65 year old glamorous reality-TV celebrity woman. It’s a tough gig to start and a tough gig to maintain, requiring personal chefs, personal trainers, expert photographers and makeup artists, the most expensive hair dressers . . .  Time will have its way with Jenner, as it does with all of us. And the cutthroat reality show biz requires its own pound of flesh---regular doses of conflict and sensation, which she will have to deliver to hold our attention. Caitlyn Jenner can never be “us” if she wants to keep her show. She will have to be that kind of woman. I won’t be watching. Not because Jenner is a transgendered woman, but because of Jenner’s genre of woman.

I really do wish Jenner well. But I am doubtful of the whole venture. I am leery of any kind of life lived for the cameras. We women need more role models for sure. Caitlyn Jenner won’t be one. We need to see strong gracious women who love powerfully, who are living the gospel inside out, from their feet to their hands to their heads to their hearts. Who are truly living whole, beautiful lives. Women so in love with God and the people around them they look in the mirror and see-----someone imperfect, someone aging, but someone fully loved just as they are. And the rest of us will see a woman who looks more and more like him, like Jesus Christ himself.

This is my hope, that whoever we are, male or female, or uncertain or part of both, that we will be known not for our glammed-up image, but for our mercy, for our wisdom, our kindness, our humility, our grace, and our love. If we allow the Holy Spirit to do this in us, we will be exactly who we were created to be, 

inside and out.