The Charmed actress was so nonplussed by Jenner’s comments, in fact, that she took to Facebook earlier this week to read Jenner the riot act for quipping during her speech that “the hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.”
In a pointed open letter, McGowan fumed, “Caitlyn Jenner you do not understand what being a woman is about at all. You want to be a woman and stand with us – well learn us. We are more than deciding what to wear. We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you. You’re a woman now? Well f***ing learn that we have had a VERY different experience than your life of male privilege. Being a woman comes with a lot of baggage. The weight of unequal history. You’d do well to learn it. You’d do well to wake up. Woman of the year? Not by a long f***ing shot.”
McGowan has since backtracked, according to Us Weekly, saying that although she applauds Jenner for her work in the trans community, that “comments like hers have consequences for other women” and result in “more stereotyping.”
The comments have since been deleted, but the sentiment has continued to circulate online, with some praising McGowan for her candor and others criticizing her polarizing viewpoint. In defense of McGowan, though, there are certain struggles intrinsic to being born a woman that Jenner will never fully comprehend simply because she can’t experience them personally. Things such as:
1. Having a period
Because the menstrual cycle occurs when a woman’s body releases tissue it no longer needs, a woman must biologically be born with a uterus to experience it. Along with that, of course, comes the myriad natural side effects (think cramping, bloating, fatigue, headaches and more).
Granted, Jenner did undergo puberty growing up. However, female puberty is very different from male puberty (which Jenner experienced at the time) in that in addition to all of the physical effects of puberty — an increase in height and weight, increase in pubic hair, the first menstrual cycle, development of breasts — this phase is a minefield of emotions for girls. While mood swings such as irritability and anxiety can be caused by PMS, they can also be the result of the culturally ingrained pressures girls face when they hit puberty. The pressure to be thin, the pressure to fill a certain bra cup size, the pressure to “mature” at the same time as their friends. In a sense, Jenner is going through female puberty now, but she has the benefit of being a woman well versed in her emotions and with a firm sense of self.
3. Being pregnant
Much like having a period — which prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy — carrying a child requires ovaries, a uterus and a cervix. Although medical advances now enable transsexual women like Jenner to receive genital surgery endowing them with a functional vagina, science has yet to allow the necessary organs for childbearing and birth to be transplanted.
4. Giving birth
See above, plus add the most excruciating pain ever (stemming from your uterus and vagina and permeating throughout your body) that results from a tiny human being exiting your body.
Among the many abilities a woman’s anatomy endows her with is breastfeeding — the unique process by which our own breasts produce life-sustaining fluid with which we nourish our new babies. This isn’t to say trans women like Jenner don’t understand having breasts (hers are pretty fabulous); it is simply a natural fact that hers will never be able to produce milk.
6. Going through menopause
After a woman goes through the physically and mentally exhaustive process of puberty, deals with periods every month and potentially experiences the unique hybrid of joy and pain that is pregnancy and childbirth, yet another physical milestone awaits — menopause. This occurs roughly a year after a woman’s last menstrual period and marks the end of her cycles altogether. A natural biological process specific to women, menopause can be marked by hot flashes, insomnia and more.
7. The glass ceiling
For women, there exists a glass ceiling — that immovable, unbreakable and yet unseen barrier that prevents women from reaching the same rungs of success as their male counterparts. Statistics show that women earn a fraction of the money men do for the same work, and that fewer women are promoted to higher-level positions. This is where the “male privilege” McGowan referenced comes into play. Because Jenner spent her formative years as Bruce, she did not experience this the way other women do. Also, because of her celebrity now, it’s unlikely that it is something she will ever face.
All of this to say that, yes, McGowan has a point. There are certain things in life that Caitlyn Jenner will never understand because they are a biological impossibility for her. Still, as a trans woman, there are challenges unique to Jenner’s experience that cis women will never understand, either.
Was Jenner’s comment about the hardest part of being a woman ridiculous? Undoubtedly. This is the point that McGowan was trying to make, I believe, albeit with a barbed delivery. The difficulties inherent with womanhood are no joke — every day women are harassed, persecuted, held back, raped and even murdered simply for being born female. When someone in the celebrity eye like Jenner perpetuates stereotypes about how superficial women’s struggles are, it trivializes the female experience and undermines the progress we fight for every day.
Still, McGowan would also do well to re-examine another passage of Jenner’s speech, in which she says, “When it comes to gender, everybody in this room is on a journey. We are constantly learning, growing as human beings, learning about ourselves.”
There is undeniable truth in this. Even collectively, women do not all have the same journey. Some women cannot biologically experience those things specific to women, such as pregnancy and childbirth, for myriad reasons. It does not make them any less womanly. Some women choose not to experience those things. Again, it does not make them any less womanly.
There is no right or wrong way to be a woman and, for many trans women, Jenner’s experience is the one they relate to. Certain parts of Jenner’s speech did err on the side of silly but, as she also pointed out, “Oh my God, I have so much to learn.”
We all do.