A Conservative Feminist on Being a Woman: matt walsh v. Caitlyn Jenner

caitlyn Jenner
Photo by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

We’ve all seen the photos published in Vanity Fair. Bruce Jenner has transitioned from male to female and is now known as Caitlyn. And we know Matt Walsh considers himself the end-all/be-all of conservative truth-telling, a thing this conservative woman finds laughable. In his recent post about the Bruce-to-Caitlyn journey, he not only degrades Jenner by calling her “a monstrosity,” he diminishes conservatism in the process, a philosophy he purports to represent. Most won’t notice this over his harsh diatribe against Jenner, but I see it.  And I’m calling it out. I know many will stand up for Jenner, so I’ll leave that to them. But right now, right here, I’m standing up to the secondary bullying Walsh is inflicting on women and on conservatives. My voice represents a rising tide within conservatism, one that would like to give Matt Walsh a shove off his self-created pedestal. 

He writes:

There are many different points that need to be made [regarding Caitlyn Jenner], and I try to cover them all here. One that I particularly concentrate on is the fact that it is, without a doubt, incredibly insulting and demeaning to women to call this mockery of femininity “female.” Being a woman is about more than having a pointy chin and wearing a corset. If I were a woman (which I’m not and never could be), I would be especially angry at the notion that a wealthy celebrity man can essentially buy his way into my sex.

As a woman, I’m not in the least insulted that someone with a penis wants to become a woman. Being a woman is wonderful. What does insult me, however, is the way Walsh thinks he understands what it means to be a woman. In fact, I’m annoyed that he equates “femininity” with “womanhood,” as if females must somehow qualify for womenhood through compliance to society’s concept of femininity. It seems to me that the person who needs reminding that “[b]eing a woman is about more than having a pointy chin and wearing a corset” is Walsh.

I’m also insulted that Walsh feels the need to mansplain to me that I, a woman, should be upset that “a wealthy celebrity man can … buy his way into my sex.”  To my ears, this smacks of the same class warfare he denounces when he thinks progressives engage in it. Why would I, a conservative woman, be upset that a self-made man of means chooses a life-changing elective surgery? God bless Bruce Jenner for becoming wealthy in our capitalistic society. God bless Bruce Jenner for making independent decisions about his life. And God bless the great American law, society, and culture that practices what it preaches and allows its citizens to make free will choices. If Bruce Jenner wants to be Caitlyn Jenner, then God bless her for her courage to face bigotry in a corset.

Walsh also chides conservatives for “abandon[ing] the battlefield,” condemning those of us who see bravery in Jenner’s public transition. He has the audacity to claim I see it this way because I’m “just terrified of the backlash.” Wrong.

I’m terrified of living in a society and culture where people are controlled, be it by government or societal pressure. I’m “sickened and infuriated” by people who share my political philosophy but who think their way is the way. That is tyranny. Walsh may have intended to shame Jenner with his words, but instead he shames both conservatives and women. Well, shame on him!

I don’t agree with his opinion about Caitlyn Jenner. I’ve done the work of learning a bit about the transgender experience, rather than forming my opinion on the myths that percolate in mainstream America. And guess what? Transgender people are, in fact, human. They have arms and legs, hearts and minds, and the same needs as every other child of God. Astonishingly, they have the radical notion that they are of value. In this world, standing up for that innate human value takes bravery. That is something conservatism should do.

Womanhood is not threatened because Caitlyn has been “born.” I am no less of a woman because transgender people exist and make their transitions. What I am is a rational, kind, welcoming human being, a woman of faith, who refuses to accept that treating any child of God like trash is what conservatism is about. Conservatism must be about opening space for people to create for themselves the lives of their dreams. The minute conservatives stop doing that, they become something else, something I’d call a monstrosity.

Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. –Thomas Paine, 1791

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28 thoughts on “A Conservative Feminist on Being a Woman: matt walsh v. Caitlyn Jenner

  1. Jen K.

    I’m sincerely befuddled by Walsh’s quote, “I would be especially angry at the notion that a wealthy celebrity man can essentially buy his way into my sex.” ‘MY sex’? Why the possessiveness? Why the jealous guarding? What an utterly strange way to phrase it. Does he think a person’s sex is an exclusive club that no one can join unless born with club-specific body parts? It needs protection & defending from intruders and imposters? What an odd perspective. I’ve never fathomed such a notion. What is there to be angry about? To me it seems he’s (Walsh) trying to start a fight by whipping up indignation – he’s waging war – and that is much more harmful to society than a soul trying to find their way in this world.

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  2. I followed a FB share to read this post — I’m not very familiar with your blog — but I’m curious about a couple of comments you make here. One:

    “But right now, right here, I’m standing up to the secondary bullying Walsh is inflicting on women and on conservatives. My voice represents a rising tide within conservatism, one that would like to give Matt Walsh a shove off his self-created pedestal.”

    I think you’re saying that there is a rising tide within conservatism to support the rights and freedoms of women. Or maybe to merely shove Walsh off his pedestal. I’m not really seeing this rising tide. Walsh seems to get plenty of positive attention and his promoted by a major conservative site. The announced or suspected conservative presidential candidates don’t seem to be part of a rising tide supporting women. Nor have other major Republican politicians and leaders.

    I’m curious if you could describe some observations you’ve made of this rising tide? I’d love to see it.

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    1. One word for it: contemporary Libertarianism. I’ll likely write more about these things as the political season heats up. I’m interested in the intersection of faith and politics and I’m not very happy with the way so many Republican candidates are willing to use God to gain power. For now, though, I’ll just stick to saying that the religious right does not “own” conservatism. And yes, I am a woman of faith, attend church weekly, pray daily, read scripture almost daily, and believe, first and foremost, we must love one another.

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      1. I haven’t really kept up on the varieties of libertarianism, but contemporary libertarianism seems like it is merely the far right wing of the Republican party. Classical libertarianism always seemed to annoy or terrify both the right and the left equally.

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        1. Actually, the far right wing of the Republican party would like to kick the libertarian-leaning (is that better?) conservatives to the curb. Libertarian-leaning conservatives are what some would call “progressive” on some/many of the social issues. We are fiscal conservatives v. social conservatives. But these are topics for another day, so I’m not going to launch into that. You are welcome to follow the blog. 😉 I speak primarily on LDS cultural issues, but since Mormons are largely religious conservatives, politics is fair game here. It’s just not today’s issue.

          I appreciate your comments. Thanks for reading.

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      2. Your comment about libertarianism ties in with my other question. You wrote:
        “I’m terrified of living in a society and culture where people are controlled, be it by government or societal pressure.”

        Are there any limits to these freedoms? Or alternatively, are any forms of control or pressure acceptable or even good? Should people be free of all government or societal pressures?

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    2. Dolly

      I’m like Lisa. Only I’m not a brilliant writer like she is. So I’ll just say ditto to show that there is a rising tide… only it’s not well known because people like me don’t have a public voice.

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    3. I realize I’m probably derailing and seeking clarification on points that are irrelevant to a well-written and meaningful article. If so, I apologize, but I’m just curious on those points.

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  3. jerry

    “Mansplain”? I happen to be on your side in this argument but overall you’re just an angry, frustrated, sexist woman yourself. Mansplain….grow up already.

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    1. It’s a perfectly acceptable word in our contemporary lexicon and may be used regarding behavior of males or females.

      According to Dictionary.com:
      Mansplain: verb (used without object), verb (used with object)
      1. (of a man) to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner: He mansplained to her about female friendships.
      2. to comment on or explain something to someone in such a way: I know some women who are guilty of mansplaining.

      It fits this situation quite nicely. So I used it.

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  4. Wonderfully written.

    I think the post demonstrates Walsh’s (and other white males) utter contempt for women. They just don’t understand why someone who won the genetic lottery (being born white and male) would condescend to become a woman. So they stomp their feet and rave about morals and try to pretend it’s what Jesus would do.

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  5. Melissa

    I seem to be living in an alternate universe where up is down, right is wrong and men think they can choose to be women. Matt Walsh was spot on when he said, “this is about battle for reality people”. I am choosing to live in reality where men are born men and cannot change to women. This is a scientific fact. I realize that some will choose to live in an alternate universe but my children and I will not. I believe what Prophets have stated, that gender is eternal. Bruce Jenner is a father and will eternally be a father. I want my three beautiful girls to know that being a girl is beautiful, amazing and special and you won’t be a girl just because you pretend to look like one. Reality matters, truth matters and I won’t pretend that Bruce Jenner in a woman!

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    1. Apparently you are living in an alternate universe. In this one, reality is not quite so simplistic as you want it to be. First, there are a variety of medically recognized intersex conditions, in which an individual’s sex is ambiguous. It simply isn’t true that men are born men and women are born women and that’s all there is to it. While women are XX and men are XY, there are individuals who are XXY and other variations. While it is true that gender dysphoria is less well understood, it’s existence is still a recognized scientific fact. Gender, itself, is a more fluid construct complicating full analysis and understanding. Gender dysphoria appears to have biological, physical causes and not simply psychological ones. We have this notion that sex is a binary, but intersex and other conditions demonstrate that doesn’t hold true. Gender is more comprehensive, less well-defined, and more variable. Society has conditioned us to believe that gender is a binary, but it is even more variable than sex is.

      You are free to live in your alternate reality, but you aren’t free to impose your perceptions and desires onto other people’s reality.

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      1. Melissa

        No Jeff, that is an actual scientific chromosomal disorder and is completely different than Bruce Jenner wanting to pretend to be a woman. You can’t compare the two. You believe in your alternate universe that gender is fluid. I do not. And I will say the same to you, you are not free to impose your perceptions and desires onto me!

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        1. Let’s clarify what we mean by gender. I’m using the standard sociological definition, which is reasonably stated by the Wikipedia page on gender, “Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (i.e. the state of being male, female or intersex), sex-based social structures (including gender roles and other social roles), or gender identity.” I’m not using it in its (formerly) traditional usage, relating to grammar. I’m also not using it a euphemism for sex, whether “sex” relates to the act or the biological notion.

          Given this definition, then gender is definitely fluid. Gender dictated that women wore dresses and men wore pants. Until women won the right to wear pants and now gender has changed to allow both men and women to wear pants. Unless you’re in Scotland or various other locations where variations in gender norms allow men to also wear something that is functionally equivalent to a dress. Similarly, women wear their hair long and men wear theirs short, except that changed a few decades back when some men started wearing their hair long and some women cuts theirs short. Except in times longer ago and other locations, both men and women wore their hair long. Gender is very fluid.

          If we concentrate solely on the biological aspects, we have to account at least for a triple rather than a binary; as mentioned above we’ve got male, female, and intersex. (But there are really a lot more than that.) Intersex is not an easily defined status. Normally our society tries to fit people into either the male or female buckets. Most intersex people try to adhere to that for various reasons. But frequently they are forced into one gender at birth, which isn’t the correct one, and they end up changing their gender later to the correct one.

          Beyond that, though, it sounds like you’re attempting to ignore what is understood about the biological and physical bases for gender dysphoria. There isn’t a simple distinction between intersex conditions and gender dysphoria. And not all intersex conditions are chromosomal abnormalities.

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        2. I’m definitely not trying to force my perceptions and desires onto you. As I said, you are perfectly free to have the ideas and beliefs you have. I haven’t done anything to prevent you thinking of Caitlyn as a man or calling her Bruce. You’re certainly free to do that and I’m not intending to change that. You can call me Bruce or whatever else you want.

          As best I can tell, we are having a discussion to share ideas and try to better understand different perspectives.

          (I believe that common courtesy implies that we call people what they ask to be called (and nicely) but I’m not going to force people into that.)

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          1. Melissa

            And you are attempting to ignore the biological fact that Bruce Jenner is a MAN! Thank you for all your information, but I still believe that gender is eternal. If you are biologically born a man your gender is male eternally. And thank you for being so kind as to allow me to still believe this. I would have lost sleep over that one.

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          2. You’re certainly free to believe that, but your interpretation of biological fact stands in contradiction to that of many scientists and professional organizations.

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          3. Melissa, would you be in favor of any restrictions that prevent Caitlyn from being and acting fully as herself limiting her to being solely Bruce?

            Or is your position solely about how you are going to refer to her?

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          4. Melissa

            Jeff where in my biological interpretation of xy=Male did I go wrong? Please enlighten me. And since I know that Bruce Jenner is a man I definitely wouldn’t want him in the locker room with me or using a public bathroom with me, that might be awkward!

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          5. Would you be in favor of applying force (of some kind) to prevent those you deem insufficiently female (such as Caitlyn) from your locker rooms or bathrooms?

            What means do you use to determine that Caitlyn is insufficiently female?

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          6. Melissa

            Jeff, did you really just ask me what “method” I use to determine that Bruce in not a female? We don’t live in different realities, we live on completely different planets! There is no sense wasting my time carrying on a conversation with you anymore. Good luck to you in your gender fluid world. Hopefully they will start training people on how to properly determine male and female because that could be one confusing world for you to live in.

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  6. Cami

    I am trying to reply to this in as kindly a manner as I can as it is not my intention to offend. I was BIC and have followed the “Mormon continuum” of mission, temple marriage, fasting, prayer,etc and still no ephinany. I am still trans! Luckily for me I recently decided I no longer desire to be part of the stone cut from the mountain without hands. The New Testament advises that if we are offended by a body part we cut it off, metaphorically of course. So I have removed the institutional church from my life. Not the Savior, mind you, just the church. That saves those who are offended by me from having that challenge.
    I find it curious that many a member would challenge the integrity of someone who criticized the Book of Mormon without having read it and “studying it out in their mind”. Yet they have no reservations in making ignorant statements, with little or no research I would imagine, regarding we LGBT and that certainly includes President Packer. And to fall back on the Proclamation on the Family, which may have originated as an amicus brief in Hawaii, is not particularly sound since it doesn’t address the question of whether gender is determined by genitalia or psyche.
    How did this hard line approach work with the African American/priesthood “policy” anyway. That should have been a caveat against doctrinal smugness, but I guess we are slow learners.

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  7. Steve

    I didn’t like his article, but I think you misinterpreted 2 points:

    “In fact, I’m annoyed that he equates “femininity” with “womanhood,” as if females must somehow qualify for womenhood through compliance to society’s concept of femininity.”

    I think he was saying the exact opposite, I believe the major point of the article was that having feelings traditionally thought of as feminine, or physical features seen as feminine does not make a person a women – genes do.

    He said, “Yet now, suddenly, emotions and looks define a woman so severely that a man can actually become one if he claims to experience feelings that he assumes are feminine? The whole thing contradicts itself.”

    Also, the way you quote him in this sentence, “I’m also insulted that Walsh feels the need to mansplain to me that I, a woman, should be upset that “a wealthy celebrity man can … buy his way into my sex.”” changes his actual meaning. He thinks it is the “notion” that is upsetting, you cut that part off, and in fact the whole point of the article as I see it is that he thinks a wealthy celebrity man *can’t* buy his way into the female sex. So your following arguments about gaining wealth and being able to make choices are against a straw-man point that was never made.

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    1. I can understand your interpretation. He begins, however, by saying that if he were a woman, he’d be offended a rich man can buy his way into my sex. Maybe others don’t hear it this way, but that comes off to my ears as him telling me what his expectations of women are. I take umbrage with that. His expectation is offensive, but that’s his goal. Same with the other point. He says one thing at the start of his article, then, as he progresses, can be seen as contradicting his own opening points. So yes, perhaps I should add a paragraph pointing out that he undoes his own original claims. But you’ve done that for me quite nicely. Thank you.

      And the point of my little post here is that not all conservatives think like m.w. and to encourage conservatives to promote freedom for all, not just for the people like them.

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      1. Steve

        Yeah, I’m honestly not a fan of his and I appreciate your differentiation. I totally agree that not all conservatives think like (and probably shouldn’t) m.w.

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  8. rebeccadalmas

    What stuck out to me is that Walsh used “God does not make mistakes” as some counterargument to transgender persons. I agree that God does not make mistakes, but I do not think it means what Walsh seems to think it means. There are plenty of physical conditions that people change in an effort to live healthier, fuller lives. And there is so little we do know really about the soul and gender.

    In my opinion, none of us can truly stand before truth without an abundance of humility.

    And when it comes to people who sincerely feel like they are trapped in a body of the wrong gender, compassion should come first.

    To rephrase something Jill Bolte Taylor said in Stroke of Insight, to be able “to connect the life of our brain to the life of the rest of the world,” how is it that some of us can and others cannot? To not be able to? Please, God, help us be compassionate!

    Like

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