Boys have a penis, Girls have a that still the case?: The Transgender Debate

by Lilith Franco on June 18, 2015 - 3:05pm

Bruce Jenner, oh excuse me that name no longer applies, Caitlyn Jenner who was once a gold-winning Olympian athlete and the stepfather to the Kardashian clan recently went under the knife to have gender re-assignment surgery. The moment her Vanity Fair cover came out, the media was buzzing, many in support and some more critically than others. Social media websites, newspapers and blogs started debating both sides. Did  the now “Caitlyn” Jenner accurately represent the modern day transsexual woman or  was she dragging the image of the women back to when they underwent the sexual objectifications of the media? And the question about if  transexual women were changing what it meant to be a women? There are two moral frameworks one can take to discuss the questions at hand, the first being a deontological perspective that focuses on following universal maxims that are set out to ensure people act in an ethical manner and the other being a virtuous perspective that focuses on the characteristics of the actor that will commit the action rather than the action itself.  

    To begin, the deontological framework, defined by Merril, involves the concept  of duty, in the form of formalistic rules, principles, or maxims (Merril 25). If you follow these social rules, you are ethical; if you don’t you are considered unethical (Merril 25). This gets me wondering, do Caitlyn Jenner’s actions encourage and support transgender women in their fight for equality and acceptance or do they undermine the strides and progress of the minority trans community as she is a rich, famous white woman (Trans community reacts to Caitlyn Jenner’s cover with inspiring #MyVanityFairCovers). One may argue that Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover is a dolled-up illusion of what it looks like to be transgender or even what a real woman looks. This puts pressure on both the trans community and female community to conform to the normative standards of beauty set out by society (Trans community reacts to Caitlyn Jenner’s cover with inspiring #MyVanityFairCovers). A recent article published synthesizes the findings from studies that explored the various lived experiences of transgender persons using  Noblit and Hare's (1998) meta-ethnography method (MOOLCHAEM, P; et al. The Lived Experiences of Transgender Persons: A Meta-Synthesis. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services. 27, 2, 143-171, Apr. 2015. ISSN: 10538720.). These 31 studies published between 1998 and 2013 revealed 5 reoccurring themes (a) crossing gender and physical problems in life, (b) experiencing psychological distress, (c) encountering discrimination and social exclusion, (d) having relationships does matter, and (e) dealing with difficulties in  life (MOOLCHAEM, P; et al. The Lived Experiences of Transgender Persons: A Meta-Synthesis. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services. 27, 2, 143-171, Apr. 2015. ISSN: 10538720.). These problems all link to the concept of feminism that has worked to combat prejudices as women. It is as though, all the pro-feminism work that has been done is undermined with these images as we see a 65-year-old Jenner, sexualized. The spread includes Jenner dawning a boosting corset, heavy makeup, visibly emphasized breasts and a fair amount of skin being shown (“What Makes A Woman?”).  “There are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody them” wrote Orange is the New Black star Lavern Cox on her Tumblr account  while  congratulating Jenner (Trans community reacts to Caitlyn Jenner’s cover with inspiring #MyVanityFairCovers).  In addition, in the article “Who Decides What Makes a woman” by The Huffington Post, the writer Madison Foster argues that transgender women feel oppressed, affecting their emotional health and self-worth. We can conclude that although Caitlyn Jenner has perhaps brought some issues back to the surface. What she is doing can be considered  good and bad given the framework of virtue ethics. 

  Over the years, having occasionally watched Caitlyn Jenner on the “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” reality show, i’ve  learned  that he is a warm-hearted,caring and concerned father. Throughout the seasons, we see his authentic concerns for both his biological children and his step children, especially when they are offered jobs that involve nudity. Now it is as though, he has become what he seemed to be the most concerned with and embodies them in this cover. In terms of virtue ethics, perhaps his characteristics of being concerned, warm-hearted have remained but it seems that he no longer considers them when she herself is under the spotlight and in front of the camera and often refers to  having a “female brain” (“Who Decides What Makes A Woman?”).

   Furthermore, the spread also re-surfaced issues that transexual people are redefining women, without the permission of real women (“Who Decides What Makes A Woman?”). For example, they claim to have “female brains” because they enjoy makeup, nail polish and skirts. This is extremely sexist, as that is not the definition of a female, and females do not have different brains than men. Women have worked for decades trying to rid society of these stereotypes and misconceptions. Moreover, transgendered individuals often claim they were “born women” and “have always been women” when clearly that is not the case as they did not grow up fearing getting raped in a dark alleyway, getting their periods in awkward situations and all other things that make a girl, a girl (“Who Decides What Makes A Woman?”). Women rightfully earned that title by enduring every little hardship that comes with it, from learning how to put on a tampon to freaking out because they forgot to take their birth control. Women are women because of their experiences, worries and emotions that shape them.

     So what’s the right answer? In the end, it is all about perspective. In terms of  the deontological framework, people will argue that Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover  elicits problems, putting pressure on both women and transgender people to look a certain way in order to conform to normative standards of beauty(“What Makes A Woman?”). With virtue ethics, transexual people are attempting to re-define women without having their consent using arguments such as the female brain (“Who Decides What Makes A Woman?”). The good side of this debate given the virtue ethics standpoint is that they finally have something they can identify with, as these are people who have usually been trying all their life to fit in somewhere and felt out of place, now they feel accepted  and the bad is the stealing of the title of women. In closing I’d like to say that  although Caitlyn Jenner is under much scrutiny, she is finally who she wants to be, she doesn't have to hide it anymore and this may encourage many whom are still in the closet to come out and embrace who they really are. (“Introducing Caitlyn Jenner”).The ultimate way to resolve these questions and debates is to support people and to encourage them to grow,prosper and live the life they’ve always wanted to live.



Work Cited: 

Merill John C. “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 25 in A. David Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.), Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2011

Butt, Deena. "Trans Community Reacts to Caitlyn Jenner’s Cover with Inspiring #MyVanityFairCovers." Saloncom RSS. Salon, 4 June 2015. Web. 17 June 2015.

Burkett, Elinor. "What Makes a Woman?" The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 June 2015. Web. 17 June 2015.

Foster, Madison. "Who Decides What Makes a Woman?" The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 10 June 2015. Web. 17 June 2015.

Fair, Vanity. "Introducing Caitlyn Jenner." Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair, July 2015. Web. 17 June 2015.

Moolchaem P, Liamputtong P, O’Halloran P, Muhamad R. The Lived Experiences of Transgender Persons: A Meta-Synthesis. Journal Of Gay & Lesbian Social Services [serial online]. April 2015;27(2):143-171. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 17, 2015.


This article was so interesting to read. I have been following the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner journey and this whole time I had been thinking how good and inspiring she was to the transgender community. But, you bring up really interesting points about the transgender standards and claiming they have had "female brains" all along. I agree with you when you say that she got all dolled up for the photoshoot, showing the world that this should be how you look like when you transition. She over did it by wearing minimal clothing with tons of makeup on. From watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians, he always seemed to be the one that was the most down to earth and didn't care much about looks or money but I guess Caitlyn does. I feel like she should have just wore jeans and a t-shirt and said "hey, this is me," which would have been more realistic and shown trans people that you don't need to be all glammed up to be a women; reinforcing the women stereotype. Also, you were right to say that transgender people shouldn't claim that they have been females all along because they didn't grow up fearing what women do. That is a point that I did not think of and I think it is something that should become more aware to the transgender community to think about it. Overall, this article was very insightful and I learned a lot!

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