Emoji as Will and Representation

The ‘pregnant man’ emoji exemplifies the problematic philosophies of our time.

Emojis (photo: Shutterstock)

In September 2021, the so-called “pregnant” man emoji was released. If this seems like old news, the issue is truly current.

At first, there was little fanfare, until the “pregnant man” became part of an Apple software update. Then Parents magazine weighed in on the subject in a February 2022 article by Joj titled “Here’s why the New Pregnant Man Emoji Isn’t About You.” In the headline, Joj wrote, “The conversation should be about representation, not proof of existence.” 

That’s a fair distinction. There are several emoji whose existence is acknowledged as fictional — unicorns, fairies, elves, zombies and vampires. But in contrast, the pregnant man emoji is defended as reality rather than fantasy.

In the Parents article, Joj wrote, “There were trans-supportive reactions reminding people that men born with female reproductive organs and perhaps assigned female at birth can and do get pregnant.” 

Once again, redefining the language is the first step in changing reality.

Having female reproductive organs no longer defines “woman.” When Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked for a definition of “woman” during her confirmation hearings, she replied that she wasn’t a biologist. The assertion that “pregnant” men exist has become mainstream among progressives in the media, politics and academia. 

Now the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision creates another argument for the progressives. Is abortion a women’s issue? Is the issue of pregnancy itself debatable?

In the July 8 “Executive Order on Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Access,” President Joseph Biden constantly writes of women, speaking of “women’s health” and millions of women’s “fundamental rights — to privacy, autonomy, freedom and equality.” President Biden addresses abortion as solely a women’s issue.

Yet on the following day, July 9, Slate posted Shannon Palus’ “How to think about the debate over the phrase ‘pregnant people.’” Palus insists on using terms such as “person with a uterus” and “people who menstruate” for the sake of inclusion and accuracy.

In a January 2019 Huffington Post article titled “Women aren’t the only people who get abortions,” Alanna Vagianos wrote, “Transgender men and other gender non-conforming folks get abortions, too.” 

In May 2022, Kiara Alfonseca and Kendall Ross knew a bandwagon when they saw one, publishing an ABC News story titled “The push for inclusion in the abortion rights movement.” Alfonseca and Ross wrote, “Abortion rights are not solely a women’s issue — transgender men and nonbinary people who can get pregnant are demanding acknowledgment in the fight against restrictions.”

Are we confused yet?

The “pregnant man” emoji exemplifies the problematic philosophies of our time: making hard cases and exceptions into the norm, the movement from toleration to celebration, and the revolt against nature.

Hard cases are often used in progressive arguments over gender — there is neither male nor female, but an entire spectrum, or a “third sex.” In January 2017, New York state issued an “intersex” birth certificate to Sara Kelly Keenan of Santa Cruz, California. Keenan has Swyer syndrome, which she means she has XY chromosomes (like a male) but female genitalia. There is also the difficult case of South African Olympian Caster Semenya, who has androgen-insensitivity syndrome. Semenya was “assigned female” at birth, though she has male XY chromosomes, high testosterone and had undeveloped male genitalia due to androgen. These cases are emotionally fraught and they involve real people, not abstract arguments. But rare exceptions like these are used to do away with norms completely. 

So-called “intersex” conditions end up being used to twist St. Paul’s words “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Difficult cases like hysterectomies and mastectomies are also invoked to scrap the definition of womanhood. But God created male and female, even — especially — when there are anomalies.

When asked about the man born blind, Our Lord said (John 9:3), “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest.” The man’s congenital blindness was an opportunity for Our Lord to demonstrate his healing power. These are all examples of physical evil. 

The Church doesn’t demean those who suffer from these conditions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (CCC 310), “With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.” It continues (CCC 324), “Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully only know in eternal life.” God allows physical evil; he does not cause it. He does not give these evils the last word — be they earthquakes, floods, or disorders. He shows his sovereignty as Creator. At Easter, Our Lord defeated the physical evil of bodily death. By the evil his Crucifixion, Jesus Christ destroyed the “final enemy.”

The “pregnant” man emoji also shows that society now upholds celebration and affirmation above tolerance. We’ve way gone beyond the famous “Coexist” bumper sticker. It is no longer enough to treat others with civility and courtesy — now we must affirm life choices in the name of “inclusion and “equity.” It is the demand that “all are welcome” at Holy Communion, even if it causes scandal. We see this in the controversy between Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In June 2009, The Onion had the satirical article, “New Hampshire passes law forcing old people to watch gays marry.” Though it was intended humorously, it has turned out to be prophetic when it comes to Supreme Court cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the upcoming 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis which will be argued this autumn. The Public Religion Research Institute stated in a March 2022 article, “Majorities of Americans consistently oppose religiously based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people and nearly two-thirds (66%) opposed such refusals in 2021.” If these polls are correct, “tolerance” and “inclusion” have become a one-way street in matters of religious beliefs and conscience. 

Our Lord was accused of celebrating and affirming sin by dining with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:15-16). His response to the Pharisees was not that he tolerated sin, but that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

We see this inclusion of people, but not of sin, in the stories of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Jesus does not “affirm” the Samaritan woman’s cohabitation, nor does he “celebrate” adultery. He is compassionate with these women while also condemning sinful behavior. He shows his divine mercy and forgiveness. Jesus Christ called these women to lives of holiness. He did not have these women “settle” for sinfulness. 

Finally, the “pregnant man” emoji embodies a revolt against nature. 

Biology and nature are seen as the ultimate enemy of happiness. In a June 2022 essay for Today by Kayden Coleman titled “I’m a transgender dad. Here’s what people get wrong about me,” Coleman writes, “I have never hated my body; it just felt foreign to me until I made the changes necessary for it to feel like home. … When Azaelia (one of Coleman’s daughters) was 4 or 5, she asked me why she doesn’t have a mommy. I told her she doesn’t have a mommy because Daddy (me) wasn’t comfortable being a girl, so I changed some things about myself so that I could be happy.” The “changes” for the sake of happiness were drastic, from testosterone treatments to a double mastectomy. Both go against Catholic teaching (CCC 2297). But Coleman treats these as minor cosmetic details like putting on ChapStick or getting a haircut. 

In Scripture, pregnancy and womanhood are joined by God that no man can sunder. We see this in the miraculous pregnancies of Sarah, St. Elizabeth, and most strikingly, in Our Lady. The “Hail Mary” speaks of “the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus” — it is not addressed to St. Joseph. St. Joseph is the Foster Father of Our Lord, not a “gestational father” or “seahorse father.”

The “pregnant man” emoji goes against God creating male and female in his image, commanding them “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28). Building a culture of life means accepting God’s creation and seeing that it is good.