Caitlyn Jenner, ‘Mad Max’ and Judging Both By Their Covers

This was supposed to be a blog post about how fabulous Mad Max is, and I promise to go on that diatribe in a few paragraphs. But I also wanted to write something that was different than what every other feminist, humanist and cinephile has been writing, and today I got a perfect “in” to do that, thanks to Vanity Fair.

This afternoon, the magazine unveiled its July cover model, Caitlyn Jenner.

I've never been prouder to own a white strapless one-piece swimsuit.
I used to call my one-piece white bathing suit my “homage to Marilyn and Liz.” Happy to add “Caitlyn” to the list.

The reaction was as you would expect — many people went “Wow, that’s amazing!” in awe of how a male Olympic runner now represents as an airbrushed yet beautiful movie star. Some of the population went “Wow, that’s hilarious.” No joke. Neil Cavuto continually called Caitlyn “him” until he literally put the studio in stitches by moving on from the story to introduce his guest Charles Payne as “Charlene.”

Way to keep it classy, Naomi.

For the last few months, I’ve been working on an article that will go in Diversity Executive’s July/August issue on transgender transitions in the workplace: It comes down to being a decent person and letting the person who is going through the change do the driving. Jenner did it her way — publicly, with a gorgeous magazine cover — but that’s not how everyone who is transgender wants to do it.

For example, take Erika Ervin, otherwise known as Amazon Eve, the 6-foot-8 model and American Horror Story: Freak Show actress. She explained that “transgender” to her was a journey, not a destination. She is a woman now, not a transgender woman.

To each her own. Just because Ervin was quiet about her transition doesn’t mean Jenner has to be, and vice versa. I’m open about my Crohn’s disease, and others keep it quiet. Granted, a chronic immune disorder isn’t the same scale as gender reassignment, but still — you want control over your privacy, so let them keep or relinquish theirs.

Seriously, people. How hard is that to grasp?

Meanwhile, on Friday I saw Mad Max. Originally I had no interest — another action movie remake in the summer of remakes (cough, Jurassic World and Fantastic Four, cough) that has a male lead and presumably a single female sidekick who acts as a pretty thing to look at (cough, Jurassic World and Fantastic Four, cough). A coworker told me I had to see it if I knew what was good for my feminist soul.

I’m still reeling in equality ecstasy three days later.

There’s a reason why every morning I walk past a Wacker Drive bus stall with this poster portraying Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa staring me dead the foreground, with Tom Hardy’s Max sitting behind her at the wheel, staring straight ahead with part of his face obscured.*

*Anyone seeing a pattern here with Hardy and facial masks?

I see this pasted on a Wacker Drive bus stop billboard every morning, and it just lifts my badassery for the day.
“What a lovely poster.”

This isn’t just the movie studio recognizing that Theron’s nice to look at (which she is, buzz cut and axle grease and ratchet-style prosthetic and all). This is an accurate representation of a movie that’s a follow up to George Miller’s series in name and setting only. Anyone expecting to see Hardy do his best Mel Gibson impression — and really, who would want to see that anyway? — will be sorely disappointed, as Max is merely an accessory to Furiosa. But for those of us wanting to see Theron kick ass in a major way without having to be spandexed-up like Black Widow or ridiculously half-dressed like Pepper Potts in Iron Man 3, it’s the greatest movie ever made.

Mad Max goes a step further to be one of the most relatable action films I’ve ever seen despite its very unrealistic setting. Forget The Dark Knight or Man of Steel taking place in my Sweet Home Chicago. There in the post-apocalyptic desert of what used to be Australia, it’s not a conflict between good versus evil or tortured hero versus himself. It’s a conflict of human beings versus those who regard them as sub-human — a fight for dignity in a world refusing it because they’re a different gender. “We are not things,” says one of the characters shortly after breaking her chastity belt and letting it fall to the dirt.

In a word: Feminism.

In two words: Jenner’s struggle.

And here’s where my Caitlyn Jenner and Mad Max analyses comes together. Jenner faces the same scrutiny and objectification as the (many) women of Mad Max, either because people identify Jenner as an abnormal man-turned-woman or because they now see her as a symbol for an entire population — not necessarily the symbol everyone in that population wants, but the way Jenner wants to be seen.

But these women, both real and fictitious, are not objects. They are people with personalities, flaws, virtues, strength and frailty. They’re as human as the heterosexual cis man going to his blue collar job who passes by a newsstand and the heterosexual cis woman heading up to her 12th floor downtown office, passing by a Wacker Drive bus stall. And like humans, they have the power to inspire the rest of us just as much as they have the right to live their own lives in peace. If only we just let them.

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