Caitlyn Jenner is a complicated woman, in a complicated family, whose gender often stirs up complicated (and problematic) dialogue.
Her circumstances are circumstances feminists are sympathetic toward — as a trans woman, she’s constantly the brunt of cruel and intolerant jokes, of harassment and disrespect. But also a proud conservative with vast economic privilege, Jenner is constantly making problematic comments about everything from other members of the LGBT community to politics.
In the wake of a shooting at a Congressional baseball practice in Virginia, Jenner joked that liberals “can’t even shoot straight” at the College Republican National Committee convention last week.
Jenner conceded that what happened was “an absolute shame,” that “you just want them to recover.”
But she finished with: “Fortunately the guy was a really bad shot — liberals can’t even shoot straight.”
Not only was the joke in awful taste, but the barbed joke attacking liberals was also pitifully ironic — policies liberals support, such as wider access to mental health care and regulations to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, altogether make disaster’s like last week’s shooting far less likely.
Jenner’s politics and uncensored candidness make her difficult for feminists to cover. Incredibly difficult.
We support her bodily decisions, her advocacy on behalf of LGBT youth, and we’re going to defend her from intolerant bullying. But as a public figure who seems to almost get a rush out of saying highly problematic things, we also have to be critical of her.
Remember the time Jenner told her fellow trans women, “If you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable“?
“I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role,” she added.
Unfortunately for trans women, who, unlike Jenner, aren’t exactly rolling in it, expensive procedures and designer clothes and cosmetics to transform themselves according to patriarchal standards for women’s appearances, aren’t exactly an option.
Last year, Jenner, once a staunch Ted Cruz supporter, suggested Donald Trump would be better for women than Hillary Clinton, ignoring the disastrous consequences of Trump’s platform for low-income women struggling to afford birth control and health care, and members of the LGBT community whom Trump’s “religious freedom” policies will expose to job, housing and healthcare discrimination.
Jenner’s status as a Republican, alone, is bitterly unsettling, as many lawmakers affiliated with her party dedicated much of last year to fighting to take away her access to public restrooms, despite research that most of the time, it’s transgender women being harassed and assaulted in bathrooms, rather than the other way around.
So where does all this leave feminists?
Salon has suggested, instead, focusing on transgender women who aren’t Jenner and aren’t constantly making problematic comments that sometimes hurt others in the trans community.
And we definitely should. But the fact of the matter is that Jenner is impossible to ignore. The scope of her influence and her family’s influence really is that great.
We shouldn’t ignore Jenner, nor her mouthfuls of insulting, ignorant comments. These comments merit criticism from feminists — just not transphobic criticism. Her words will always be relevant and open to scrutiny, but her bodily decisions deserve acceptance and respect.
Jenner is a tough woman who braves nasty all kinds of nasty comments and mockery, and speaks her mind in a society that seeks to silence her. But no one can be above criticism.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.