In the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the emperor had no clothes. These days, if the emperor puts on the right clothes, he can call himself an empress. And we all have to applaud.
Yesterday’s Miss Universe contest featured, for the first time in the event’s 66-year history, a transgender woman. Competing as Miss Spain, Angela Ponce entered the pageant to much acclaim, writing in an Instagram post: “Today I am here, proudly representing my nation, all women and human rights.”
Ponce didn’t win, but the 27-year-old has been hailed by the media merely for competing. “Miss Philippines Catriona Gray took home the crown at the 2018 Miss Universe pageant on Sunday night in Bangkok, Thailand, but she wasn’t the only winner of the night,” a writer for ABC News declared Monday morning. “Miss Spain’s Angela Ponce became the competition’s first transgender contestant, a major step for the 66-year-old pageant.”
“In the wake of a Victoria’s Secret fashion show that many feel failed on the inclusivity front, Spain’s Angela Ponce is poised to make history as the first transgender woman to compete in Miss Universe,” a Yahoo! News writer began her article on the topic. The NBC News feature on the Miss Universe competition didn’t even mention Monday night’s winner until four paragraphs into the article, focusing instead on how Ponce “broke barriers.”
All of this fanfare raises the inevitable question: Could Ponce actually “represent all women” without being a woman at all? In our unscientific moment, so much as asking this question is enough to warrant being drummed out of polite company in certain circles.
Dwell for just a moment on the reality of Ponce’s biology — a reality that, no matter how much cosmetic surgery Ponce obtains and regardless of whether Ponce truly feels like a woman, cannot be altered. Technology might disguise that truth, but no amount of medicine or mutilation can coax Ponce’s chromosomes into submission.
But consider another question, too, and perhaps a more important one: Can Ponce live as a transgender woman without forcing us to go along for the ride? The Miss Universe pageant, the progressive media complex, and, increasingly, the left wing of American politics seem to think not.
Ponce told Time magazine in November that winning the contest would be symbolic: “Trans women have been persecuted and erased for so long. If they give me the crown, it would show trans women are just as much women as cis women.”
This is the charade we are being asked to accept. It is not enough to say, as we should, that gender dysphoria is a real psychological phenomenon, that a just and compassionate society ought to recognize the reality of the struggle people like Ponce face, and that bullying and hatred directed at such people is evil and wrong.
We are also meant to chant along with the crowd that Ponce is a woman. Anything less is transphobia. Decency and charity are no longer enough; affirmation and glorification — ideally before as large an audience as possible — are the only acceptable course.
And what does this new frontier of progressivism mean for other planks of the platform? The unassailable dogma that women are constantly oppressed and subjugated by the patriarchy — that we can only be free if we recognize and disempower the tyranny of white male privilege that prevents women from expressing ourselves and taking control of our lives — requires that there is such a thing as womanhood, and that it can be defined consistently.
Ponce’s much-hailed appearance in the Miss Universe contest, on the other hand, implies societal acceptance of the idea that men can in fact be women.
These two doctrines of progressivism are in fundamental tension. Even if one accepts the notion that some biological males can feel so female that they essentially are, in some intangible way, women, such a view necessarily conflicts with the feminist claim that there is something unique about being a woman — and that womanhood deserves to be shielded from the encroachment of male power.
The wholehearted embrace of transgender ideology necessarily, and quite intentionally, erases womanhood. It allows biological males to don the mantle of femaleness simply by asserting that it is their birthright. There has never been a more patriarchal claim.
As the Democratic party drifts toward identity politics, a clash of these two identities looms on the horizon. In an “intersectional” movement where minority groups are given more currency for having experienced more oppression, women struggling against the patriarchy could easily be crowded out by transgender women who insist that their minority status and experience with stigma give them the victimhood trump card.
Perhaps the far Left believes that if its members force skeptics to nod along with Ponce’s pageantry, they can avoid the schisms inherent to a movement that claims to value feminism while insisting that being female has no meaning at all.