Things got tense last night at the Miss America pageant, as one of the early rounds was disrupted by a small group of militant protesters shouting ‘we are sex objects too’ and hurling breast implants at the stage.
Their grievance, which has been brewing for several years, was the increasing dominance of trans women in major beauty contests. According to LouAnn Cray, a spokesperson for Ciswomen for Equal Objectification (CEO), it started back in 2015, when Caitlyn Jenner appeared in a corset on the cover of Vanity Fair and Kellie Maloney posed for another magazine in a swimsuit. ‘People went crazy about how hot they looked, and within a couple of years the pageant circuit was full of Caitlyn and Kellie wannabes. It’s like, when you’re done with your transition and you’re ready to show the world your new self, the first thing you do is enter a beauty pageant’.
And this new breed of beauty queen doesn’t just enter, increasingly she wins. The last three Miss Americas have been trans women, and two of them have been over 40.
Tanya Tosser, professor of Identity Studies at NYU and a regular contributor to US Vogue, agreed that young ciswomen have fallen out of fashion. ‘It’s trans women who are in demand now’, she said, ‘and their influence is changing the aesthetic. The ciswomen who manage to break through look bigger and stronger, and as though they’ve had a lot of work done even if they haven’t. But many of them just can’t compete, especially in underwear or swimwear, where a penis is a definite asset’.
LouAnn Cray emphasized the financial penalties women like her are suffering as a result of the trans invasion. ‘These are older, wealthy AMABs, and they don’t need to win pageants to pay college tuition’, she pointed out. ‘For girls like me, objectification was a route out of poverty and obscurity—just like boxing was for Kellie Maloney. It’s not fair to deprive us of our chance to be sexual objects—it’s taking away our future’.
But help may be at hand. The former reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who dropped out of public life in 2017 and is now rumoured to be studying for a PhD in feminist philosophy at London University, has broken her silence to announce the setting up of a United Ciswomen’s College Fund which aims to replace beauty pageants as a source of income for female students. In a prepared statement, Kardashian alluded to earlier protests at beauty pageants: ‘our foresisters did not demand the right to be objectified, they critiqued it’, she said, ‘and I am setting up this fund to honour their memory’.
Kardashian’s intervention was welcomed by veteran activist bell hooks. But leading figures in fifth wave feminism condemned it, while also dissociating themselves from the CEO protest. ‘Trans women are and always have been women’, said Zoe Stupid, founder of the think-tank Privilege Check, ‘and as such they have every right to objectify themselves in beauty pageants, if that is what they choose to do’. She added: ‘It is flagrant transmisogyny for ciswomen to demand equal anything, and if it happens in this country I will certainly picket the picket’. Asked for her reaction to Kim Kardashian’s statement, Mx Stupid replied, ‘she is TERF scum and should die in a fire’.
Meanwhile, the organizers of the pageant denounced the actions of the protesters as ‘callous and irresponsible’, and praised those contestants who bravely carried on despite being triggered by the sight of breast implants used as weapons. The title of Miss America was won by Brian Lynn/Lynn Brian, a genderfluid computer programmer from Maine who identifies as a woman in the evening and at weekends.