When Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair last week, it marked a historic moment for the transgender community. Her transition, as well as her cover debut, was met largely with respect and admiration. A survey by NBC News revealed that two-thirds of Americans think Jenner "will help society become more accepting of transgender people." And at this year’s ESPYs, she'll be honored by ESPN with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. (It is worth noting, however, that the response from the transgender community has been more nuanced: While some applaud the former Olympic champion for the bravery she’s shown, others feel she should have better used her celebrity power to help the thousands of other transgender people who don’t have the luxury of fame.)
Praise aside, Jenner's transition now means that she’s, of course, to be seen by the public as a woman—and as you probably know, men and women are not treated equally. As Jon Stewart half-joked on The Daily Show the day after the Vanity Fair cover was revealed: "Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen—but now you're a woman and your looks are really the only thing we care about." Of course, there's truth in humor, and Jenner's transition offers an important moment to highlight—in the same vein as Jon Stewart—the unequal treatment women often receive in our culture.
HOLLYWOOD DOESN'T TREAT WOMEN FAIRLY
Women who want to act or direct in Hollywood (remember: Jenner's more of a TV star than athlete at this point) have a harder time doing so than their male counterparts. In the 2014 edition of San Diego State’s Martha Lauzen’s “The Celluloid Ceiling,” the longest-running study of women’s behind the-scenes employment in film, Lauzen found that among the 250 highest grossing films of that year, only 17 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors were women. And for directors in particular, they made up only seven percent. In terms of acting, the gender gap is even starker. A different study by Lauzen found that women made up a measly 12 percent of protagonists in 2014’s top grossing films, and just 30 percent of all speaking parts.
WOMEN MAKE LESS THAN THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS, AN ISSUE MADE WORSE BY RACE
As Maya Dusenbery reported for Pacific Standard earlier this year, "Women make less than men at every education level, at every wage level, and in nearly every job—including traditionally female-dominated ones—right from the start of their careers." But, according to a study by the American Association of University Women, this issue would, surprisingly, be exacerbated by Jenner's race. White and Asian Americans have the highest pay disparity between men and women (22 and 21 percent, respectively) while African-American, Hispanic, American-Indian, and Native-Hawaiian women experienced a smaller gender pay gap (between 10 and 16 percent). The study notes, however, that this has to do with the fact that minority men are paid less to begin with, making it more likely that women would have comparable salaries.
WOMEN WHO ARGUE FOR A HIGHER SALARY ARE LESS LIKELY TO RECEIVE IT, AND ARE MORE LIKELY TO RECEIVE BACKLASH THAN A MAN
Research has shown that men negotiate their starting salaries at a new job more than women. This, in part, is due to what some call the "social cost" for women who ask for more money. That is, those woman are "less likely to be hired, trusted, deemed likable and admirable colleagues, and appointed to important positions," as Nanette Fondas wrote earlier this year.
AND WOMEN SHOULDN'T EXPECT TO SEE EQUAL PAY UNTIL 2058
This is according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
WOMEN CAN BE FIRED FOR BEING VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE
Only a handful of states have laws prohibiting the discrimination against victims of domestic or sexual violence. This fact came to light in 2013 when a California teacher was fired because of the threat her abusive ex-husband posed.
WOMEN ARE MORE LIKELY TO RECEIVE A PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATION FOR A MEDICAL ILLNESS
In March, Maya Dusenbery wrote about gender bias in medicine, specifically how women are more likely to be thought of as hysterical or emotional when seeing a doctor or emergency specialist. This, in turn, often directs the physician’s attention away from the real medical issue. For example, while heart disease is often thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the number one killer among men and women. Studies have found that when younger women have heart attacks, they are twice as likely to die as their male counterparts. "[Y]ounger women may ‘ignore’ or ‘dismiss’ their symptoms and ‘hesitate’ or ‘delay’ in seeking care, in part out of anxiety about raising a false alarm,” Dusenbery wrote.
Exacerbating these issues is the fact the Jenner is also a transgender woman, and there's plenty of research on the extreme discrimination that transgender people face.
TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN PARTICULAR ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE TARGETED FOR A VIOLENT HATE CRIME
In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center evaluated 14 years’ worth of FBI data and determined that LGBT people are targeted for violent hate crimes more than any other group. LGBT people are “more than twice as likely to be targeted for who [they] are than African Americans or Jews, four times more likely than Muslims, and more than 10 times more likely than non-immigrant Latinos,” Lisa L. Moore wrote for Pacific Standard last year. “Of course, many LGBT people fall into two or more of these groups, making them even more vulnerable.”
In addition, 43 percent of gays and lesbians, and 90 percent of transgender people, "have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace," according to the Center for American Progress.
This is all to say that, in spite of what people like Bob Costas might think, Jenner is a most deserving recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.