In a strange kind of Bizarro world, Canadians are now getting a newly elected Prime Minister who might be getting a crash course and a small glimpse into what it’s like to be treated like a woman.
Justin Trudeau, the 43-year-old leader of the Liberal Party had barely given his acceptance speech, where he discussed compassion, equality, and a hopeful future for Canada, when the internet lost its collective mind and decided instead to focus on his “incredibly hot bod”, “piercing blue eyes”, and intense “bangability”.
The U.K’s Mirror immediately wrote about his “luscious brown hair and spellbinding eyes”, Mashable wondered whether we were experiencing “global warming or did Canada just have a heat wave”, and a VICE writer didn’t even bother adding some reserved class to her unbridled lust, she just came out with a piece about how she “wants to b*ne Justin Trudeau”.
Switch the genders on that last one and come talk to me about how that would fly. I would have been the first one deploring these sexist headlines and “think” pieces if the politician at hand had been a woman, and I feel just as compelled to do so for a man. Being objectified, sexualized, and subsequently not taken seriously because of your looks – regardless of your gender – is simply not right.
There is something seriously reductive and debasing about people (and the media) choosing to focus on a candidate’s or a political leader’s looks – gorgeous or otherwise. First of all, unless you’re a professional model, your looks have absolutely nothing to do with your competence in your job, and second of all, disproportionately focusing on someone’s looks and sexualizing them does a tremendous disservice to both them and the people who chose them for the job. It implies that someone has gotten where they have gotten because of their good looks, and implies that the people who chose them (or in this case, elected them) for the job are too dumb to base it on anything other than a candidate’s dimples and fantastic hair. On both counts, it’s insulting.
Trudeau has been referred to as a “pretty boy” in more than a few political columns (I’m looking at you, Margaret Wente), as an attempt to discredit him. Even former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attack ad during the electoral campaign focused on his “nice hair” and constantly referred to him by first name, the way so many political pundits refer to female politicians by first name in an attempt to infantilize and disqualify them as worthy opponents and contenders. It’s the kind of ordinary sexism that permeates and underlines our culture we rarely even notice it at all.
Based on the relentless objectification women are subjected to on a daily basis in our society, we should have known better, and yet a disturbingly large number jumped on the Trudeau-fawning bandwagon and spend time tweeting about his good looks and feathered hair.
Is sexualisation and objectification solely a female issue? No, but it is a predominantly female issue. There is no question that far more women are judged and assessed on their physical appearance, and because of society’s sexist double standards, objectifying men is somehow seen as “harmless fun” and “no big deal”. Just something that usually adds to a guy’s appeal and popularity, not something that necessarily undermines it. Why? Because men are still considered the more powerful gender, the status quo, the barometer by which everything is measured.
Is it reverse sexism?
Let’s just settle this once and for all. No. It’s not reverse sexism, because sexism is complex, systemic, and all-encompassing, having so much more to do with than just objectification.
Even if a man is objectified on occasion, it’s just not the same thing as living and breathing sexism and objectification day in and day out. Women, sadly, do.
It’s similar to white people saying that reverse racism exists. Um, no. It doesn’t. White people have never experienced systematic oppression like people of colour have, and men most certainly haven’t experienced systemic, decades and decades (nay, centuries!) of objectification and sexism that women have. That’s where the difference lies and it’s important to understand that.
But it’s still not ok and in Trudeau’s case, it goes way beyond looks in his case. Article after article discussed his questionable lack of intelligence, his family ties that must have facilitated his ascend into politics and eventual victory, his charm and social graces that have endeared him to so many, his Literature degree and a past career as a teacher as sure signs that he couldn’t possibly be qualified to lead a country into anything but economic ruin and utter distraction, because… hello? Have you seen anyone more swoon-worthy?
The undermining of feminine attributes and qualities
Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver playfully mocked Trudeau’s “emotional intelligence”, contrasting it to his father’s sharp intellect and political savvy, bringing to mind the numerous times women have been seen as inferior or less competent because their style of leadership is often more in tune with deciphering emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, even though the Harvard Business Review has rated emotional intelligence as extremely high a quality that often distinguishes outstanding performances from the merely adequate.
Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman actually insisted that without emotional intelligence, a person can have first-class training, an incisive mind, and an endless supply of good ideas, but he still wouldn’t be a great leader.
The chief components of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill—can sound un-businesslike, but Goleman found direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable business results.
And yet the stigma persists, because we continue to live in a world that devalues traditionally “feminine” qualities and underplays their importance and efficacy. Even his previous career as a teacher (a traditionally female profession and an undervalued and underpaid one at that) was mocked by many, as if shaping and educating our youth is somehow less valid of a choice or less valuable an asset than being a lawyer, a financial analyst, or economics major, which are the no-nonsense (typically male) fields traditionally most politicians come from.
Truth is, Justin Trudeau has been underestimated most of his life and scoffed at by most of his political adversaries and the public. If it wasn’t a tendency to assume that everything he’s accomplished so far was because of his family name and legacy, it was to sneer at his ability to interact with voters as one of them and his ease with which he navigates his everyday life among fellow Canadians. He laughs, he socializes, he openly hugs and kisses his wife in public, he takes selfies with voters, and isn’t afraid to be approachable and human; a sharp contrast to the old-school traditionally-ascribed male traits of non-smiling rigidity, sternness, and just an overall unwillingness to use one’s face to convey any kind of emotion at all that Harper exhibited.
I didn’t vote for him. I have no clue whether he’ll make a great PM or he’ll be a total disaster. No one knows yet. But those who work closely with him will tell you of his work ethic and his valuable ability to surround himself with competent and loyal people. He’s also smart enough to know that ensuring that half the Canadian population is adequately (and finally!) represented in the House of Commons is a good thing.
In fact, studies have been conclusive that companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performances because diversity of opinion leads to better innovation and creativity, so why in the world should that not translate just as well to politics? This bodes well for his recent declaration that he intends to keep his electoral promise to deliver a cabinet with gender parity – an unprecedented until now reality in Canadian politics.
As unfortunate and frustrating as it can be, being underestimated may very well prove to be Trudeau’s strength as he not only has low expectations to meet for the doubting Thomases out there, but perhaps also provides him with the ability to better understand and appreciate the second-class status and sexism women often experience on a regular basis.
It may very well turn out that Canada’s “pretty boy” ends up being pretty awesome for gender equality, aboriginal issues, marijuana decriminalization, and many other major issues that concern Canadians. And that’s great news, because those of us who voted for change are pretty certain that “bringing sexy back” wasn’t part of Trudeau’s platform