A refrain oft-heard from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is that women should be better represented in the ranks of Congress because, with their voices amplified, "[t]here would be different issues raised, different solutions offered."
“You’d have less partisan bickering,” she once theorized.
Gillibrand is correct. Males and female are different. And although they may be understandably resistant to running for office, women have particular needs that risk neglect without adequate representation at our decision-making tables.
Here's why this is relevant: A Washington Post report on the gains Democrats made in Virginia's legislature noted, "The election signaled a major shift in the gender of a body long dominated by men: Of the 15 seats Democrats flipped, all were held by men and 11 were won by women." Referencing Danica Roem, the report added, "One became Virginia’s first openly transgender person to win elective office, unseating an opponent of LGBT rights."
Supporters of transgender rights will understandably celebrate Roem's victory. But it was also celebrated by some as an achievement for women. This is a question the feminist community has grappled with for years.
In March, acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie fielded harsh accusations of transphobia when she said: “... I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
After taking heat, Adichie sought to clarify her comments, affirming her support for the trans community, but not backing away from the argument that gender differences are relevant and important. "A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men," she wrote, later adding, "... when I say that I think trans women are trans women, it is not to diminish or exclude trans women but to say that we cannot insist – no matter how good our intentions – that they are the same as women born female."
Whether the victory of a person born as a male who began to transition in their late twenties fulfills the worthy goal articulated by Gillibrand — predicated on the notion that women's lived experiences differ critically from men's — is a question with which feminists should continue to grapple. Though, based on the community's reaction to Adichie's remarks and Roem's win, it seems they've made up their minds. In fairness to her, I imagine Gillibrand shares the impulse to celebrate Roem's victory as a victory for the transgender community, which is its own thing.
But is it correct to assume Roem will bring to the table the same important insights as a person who's lived all their 30-plus years as a woman? One can believe they'll be valuable while also believing they'll be different. That feminists resist recognizing as much remains puzzling.