On Monday, the new Vanity Fair cover introduced us to Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner – husband, father, Olympic athlete, reality tv star. There’s been all sorts of conversation about the idea that Caitlyn is Jenner’s real self, that Jenner is finally being honest.
I’m not going to question the validity of Jenner’s choice. I just want to have a real and honest conversation about her debut image. Just the magazine cover. Here are three initial thoughts –
- Does she look like a 65 year-old woman? Nope. She doesn’t even look anything like the 65 year old woman who is taking her picture. She is a highly sexualized creation, such as are produced by Hollywood, Photoshop, cosmetic surgery, porn and so on. Katrina Fernandez comments, “It’s pantomime. Sexist black face.”
- The hyper sexualization indicates the manipulation of women – the idea that women have to have certain proportions in order to be “feminine.” What about real women?(Cue the Dove campaign.) Women who have lost their breasts to cancer? (Megan Heimer makes a good case, arguing that cover photo has objectified women everywhere.)
- It takes more than hormones, breasts, surgery, and heavy makeup to be a woman. A lot more. But the cover photo suggests that a woman’s identity is based on whether she’s able to arouse a man. And it’s not original in that regard.
Now, there’s a lot of manipulation going on here – Caitlyn Jenner’s image, our ideas and notions of women and beauty, but also the manipulation of men.
That cover was designed to make ordinary heterosexual men stop, look, be aroused, and then have to get over the conflict of being physically attracted to someone that they know is biologically a male. (Christopher Knight at the LA Times sees dripping irony in this since the photo of the transgender was taken by a lesbian to arouse straight men.)
Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating.
Look at the photo.
But there’s more. No pun intended.
She’s sitting. If she were standing, it would be a lot harder to hide or Photoshop her male anatomy, a male part of her that she’s not ready to give up yet because it’s “useful” as she explained to Diane Sawyer in the ABC interview.
In the very coming-out photo, Caitlyn is hiding. She’s not honest about who she is. She doesn’t even look like a normal woman of her age, much less who she actually is.
Most men wouldn’t be attracted by her image if she were standing. Full monty. Hands showing. Too many signals that she’s not a woman, at least not the type that they would normally be attracted to.
She’s also bound by a corset, the item that was considered by many feminists to indicate female bondage and domination by patriarchy. The corset made women conform to an ideal that was not real. As an image, it may be sexy to some; but it’s also terribly constricting, not liberating in the way that we are being told this decision has been for Jenner. The liberation of the second wave feminists included the physical liberation of the female body. Jenner was around when women were burning their bras…
Now, back to the hands. They are hidden. And the legs are cut off. Except for the slightly vacant come-hither look, she might as well be Man Ray’s limbless and headless Venus Restored. (Below)
Her image objectifies women. It objectifies herself. Call me crazy, but that’s not honest, free, open, or liberating. Rather it’s manipulative and, ultimately, sad. Instead of revealing herself, she is trapped.