Downtown View: Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile

The world has changed. Our cars are more efficient and safer than they were a couple of decades ago. We used to be concerned about the Soviet Union. Now it is Russia. At one time women stayed home and took care of children. Now almost 70 percent of mothers with young children work at least part-time. Members of the same sex have married, and the world has not fallen in.

So I thought I would roll right along when Bruce Jenner announced he was going to be Caitlyn. Bruce changing to a woman? No problem. Bruce becoming Caitlyn? No problem. Sixty-five-year-old Caitlyn looking like no 65-year-old woman I know? Really weird.

Is this what the former Bruce thought women were like? All makeup, nail polish, cleavage and big silicone boobs?

Take a look at the Vanity Fair cover. You don’t have to buy the magazine. Caitlyn’s picture is all over the Internet too. She has long, silky not-gray hair, beautiful skin and a gaze like Angelina Jolie. If pictures tell no lies, it looks as if she is also missing a piece of equipment that would pretty much clinch her former status as a man. This is her true self, she says.

Since I was on the Internet, I could look at more women who used to be men and had become their true selves. They were pretty much like Jenner—glamorous, lots of makeup, dramatic, tight-fitting clothes.

Most people I know have no problem with other people wanting to be their true selves.

But Caitlyn’s appearance is a caricature of womanhood. Her get-up would look appropriate on J Lo, but not on any real woman. She will need a whole beauty salon to follow her around if she aspires to always look like that when she is out in public. Most women are too busy for that kind of obsession. Why not aspire to look like women of achievement? Elizabeth Warren, Maura Healey, Hillary Clinton, Loretta Lynch, even 4-foot, 11-inch Senator Barbara Mikulski come to mind.

Caitlyn is going to have more and more company as a transgendered woman. Wellesley College and Simmons College have both announced they will accept people who identify as women, no matter what sex they were at birth. With all kinds of women to emulate there is a real question Caitlyn must ultimately answer: “What does it really mean to be a woman?”

Having recently spent four hours with 50 women who had gathered for a meeting and a lunch, I believe I’m something of an expert.

They were giving away money they had raised in an event—a small business actually. They were talking about their friends, husbands, families and neighborhood matters. They were dealing with plumbers, contractors and kids visiting colleges. They were taking time off from work to be at this meeting, and their cell phones continued to buzz. They were working the room.

I know these women well. Some are Patriots fans, many are interested in politics. Some run their own businesses. Some are doctors, others are lawyers. There were a few philanthropists. One shed a tear, as Gov. Charlie Baker has done.

Many were wearing the workplace uniform—trousers, shirt and jacket. There was no cleavage showing. (Now I know this is Boston, where we “already have our hats,” according to a 19th century female proper Bostonian. It is possible that Boston women are not a good comparison to anyone who appears on the cover of Vanity Fair.)

Maybe they were sharing more secrets, baring more soul than men would do. But it occurred to me that their clothing was also the male uniform, and their concerns and behavior were pretty much like those of men. Except that they can give birth, something men, as yet, cannot do.

So I guess I’m not much help after all in what makes a woman a woman.

What I do know, though, is that Caitlyn’s claim to fame is not that she once was a man. Her notoriety comes from being a celebrity, first as an Olympian and now as part of that bizarre, narcissistic group known as the Kardashians.

Celebrities are a peculiar bunch, often living extreme lives that most of us do not aspire to and that many of us pay little attention to. I wouldn’t bet on a celebrity teaching us anything.

So I’m not counting on Caitlyn Jenner. The ones I plan to follow are those young, anonymous people who will now be attending Wellesley and Simmons. It’s their experience that will help us understand better what it means to be a woman or a man and what it means to make a change from one gender to another. And I bet it won’t involve lipstick.

Downtown View is a column by newspaperwoman Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Karen now works from her home in downtown Boston and blogs at Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.