Picture credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Let women champion women

Munroe Bergdorf is not a suitable ambassador for women

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Champions are made from something they have deep inside of them — a desire, a dream, a vision.” To be an effective “women’s champion” pursuing women’s rights and advocating for their needs, it is preferable, even essential, that you do not have a male body “deep inside”.

Yet the charity “UN Women National Committee UK” has appointed Munroe Bergdorf as their very first women’s champion. Women, of whom there are over 33 million in the UK, are rightly outraged and insulted at being overlooked and replaced. 

Munroe Bergdorf is a 36-year-old “trans-identified” man, who underwent a series of well-documented procedures including shaving the bones in his face, packing his chest with huge silicone implants and multiple other invasive cosmetic procedures, undertaken in order to “feminise” him. Shaving bone from the forehead and jaw does not change the sex of any man and it certainly does not, and should not, make Bergdorf a “champion” of women. 

The champions of a “cause”, in this case women’s rights, usually have a track record in that area. But Bergdorf is an advocate for trans-identified men, not women, and his exclusive focus in any “activism” he undertakes is to advance the rights of trans individuals. 

He is a fashion and beauty model of women’s items, one who reinforces the stereotypical and restrictive representation of women — earning huge sums of money performing a sexualised parody of them. He is frequently pictured with his large fake breasts bursting from tight, small, dress bodices, or in bondage-style underwear, in sexualised poses. All of these things are typically seen as oppressive of women rather than liberating, yet he embraces them repeatedly. He’s written a book about himself, not about or for women. He has a huge media platform to promote himself, rather than actual women. It is really quite difficult to find anything that Munroe Bergdorf has ever done for the benefit of women. Quite the opposite in fact — he has objected to basic facts being discussed about women’s bodies. He said in 2018 of feminist marches at that time, “Centring reproductive systems at the heart of these demonstrations is reductive and exclusionary”.

He declared that “women are getting feminism wrong” in an article for Grazia, saying that “what makes a woman ‘a woman’ has no definitive answer, nor does it need one”. A man working so hard to deny the reality of what it is to be a woman, in favour of his own performance of woman; declaring women are failing at their own movement to obtain freedom from male oppression, is not the kind of “champion” women need.

One of the roles of the UN Women UK’s “champion” is to work towards ending violence against women, but when women are dehumanised as sex objects men find it much easier to commit acts of violence against them. A man wearing a sexualised costume is not a champion of women, he is a collaborator with those who demean women. Normalising harmful stereotypes contributes to an environment where women are unsafe because of the view men have of them. Embracing harmful female stereotypes as Bergdorf does, is forcing women back into the box — or corset — they fought hard to escape from via the feminism which he finds unsatisfying. 

If women need a champion — and we have many who are left uncelebrated — then surely that woman should come from the ranks of women who work tirelessly for other women, in attempting to secure their safety from male violence and freedom from male oppression? Perhaps a woman with a track record of campaigning on issues of rape, domestic abuse, FGM, prostitution, porn or female poverty? She should surely — necessarily, obviously — be female? 

Creating a position, as this group have done, of “champion” and then immediately selecting a man to fill it, is a brutal dismissal of the work of such women, and ultimately of the meaning of “woman” itself. There is, as I discussed recently, an urgency amongst organisations, the media and awarding bodies to declare “the first transwoman” they will celebrate and platform. Yet “UN Women UK” have taken a cruel step further in selecting Bergdorf, and as he stillettos over the heads of women to grab the role and the headlines, women are left dismayed and furious. 

Many women’s organisations have pointed out over the last few days how grossly unsuitable Munroe Bergdorf is for such a role

Many women’s organisations have pointed out over the last few days how grossly unsuitable Munroe Bergdorf is for such a role. In the past he has been criticised for encouraging young children in distress over their identity to get in touch with him by DM, something that obviously lacks any efficient safeguarding mechanisms for children. Other offensive behaviour includes calling a woman a “hairy, barren lesbian”. A man using such terms should never be regarded as suitable to advocate for women. But then I don’t think any man should be considered for such a role. In order to feel the oppression of women and understand the pain which produces the desire to throw off its chains, you need to have felt that pain — you need to have been that woman.

The name, and brand, of the “United Nations” carries global gravitas and yet women have been continually disappointed, over the last few years, by the stance adopted by UN Women on the clash between trans demands and women’s rights, where they appear to ignore women’s pleas to be heard on the issue. This UK charity would appear, at first glance, to represent their interests in the UK, utilising the UN logo and being listed as a “national committee” of UN Women, but there is little on their website to highlight what their exact role is in relation to “UN Women”. “UN Women” declare that such “National Committees” are:

… independent non-profit, non-governmental organizations that support the mission of UN Women by conducting fundraising activities (individual giving, corporate giving, foundations) to support UN Women programmes worldwide, raising ​public awareness and advocacy initiatives on UN Women and global women’s issues, as well as supporting UN Women’s relations with the Government.

“UN Women National Committee UK” is not an “agent” of the United Nations or even of “UN Women”. Its task is to fundraise for them, and raise awareness of them. However, as an independent organisation and charity, it has reach into UK governance via an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), and as such the appointment of Bergdorf to a role representing the needs of women to ministers is very worrying. I have been unable to get anyone from the organisation to tell me whether the UN have knowledge of the role UN Women UK have created, the man who has filled it or whether they have in any way endorsed it. There is no mention of his appointment on either website. 

These political groups either cannot sense the mood of women on this issue, or they can and they choose to inflame it. If any woman has a true champion deep inside, now is the time to find her and stand with the rest of us. Bergdorf is not a champion of women, he’s insulting us with a smile on his face, assisted by a number of deeply treacherous women in these organisations.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover