“What Makes a Woman?”—Elinor Burkett’s op-ed for The New York Times—triggered a saucy catfight between second-wave and third-wave feminists (and who doesn’t love a little girl-on-girl action, am I right?). Burkett makes what she seems to think is a compelling argument that being transgender is just another way for those assigned male at birth to be dicks to “legitimate” women, and that Caitlyn Jenner’s choice of nail polish undermines Burkett’s own identity as Best at Feminism.
Fortunately, Burkett got served numerous educated responses (see here and here and here and here). Breaking it down in the Explain It to Me Like I’m a 4-Year-Old department, Jill Filipovic for Cosmo: “Transgender men and women help to highlight one of our biggest social lies: That being a man or a woman is about the extra social and cultural stuff. The existence of people across cultures and throughout history who have transgressed the boundaries between male and female make[s] it clear that while gender is real, the way we conceptualize it and live it is largely a performance.”
The history of gender expression is inextricably tied to the history of adornment and how humans have decorated their bodies as both a representation of, and response to, one’s individual and social identity. And the history of jewelry is itself a case study in how Western culture has proceeded to view gender as increasingly binary—as the boundaries tighten around what is socially acceptable as either “masculine” or “feminine,” jewelry has come to be viewed as an almost exclusively feminine expression.
While Caitlyn Jenner presents herself on the extreme end of what’s considered “feminine,” her appearance in the media reminds us that between the extremes also exists a full spectrum of gradations. There’s an opportunity here for jewelry, not only to reflect society’s greater awareness of the continuum of possibilities in gender expression, but also to provide means of expression ranging across that continuum. Case in point: Jacobo Toledo, a Mexican jewelry line conceived as an androgynous option, that actively campaigns through its marketing for equality, tolerance, and “a more mature and inclusive society that accepts people just as they are.”