Tuesday morning, after Canada’s federal election results were in and the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals swept into office, my social media newsfeeds were overrun with headlines about our new PM’s perceived genetic gifts.
Kiss 92.5.com so eloquently wrote “‘Hi Daddy’ Says World to Hot PM Justin Trudeau” while others retweeted those now-infamous celebrity boxing match photos of our shirtless fearless leader. Several UK websites mentioned the charming acronym PILF. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Even news outlets like Globe and Mail and CBC ran stories about the global hoopla around his dashing good looks, with CBC.ca’s piece sporting the headline “The world meets Justin Trudeau and likes what it sees”.
All this talk of Trudeau’s looks has me wondering whether this is objectifying and wrong or something less nefarious? But, more importantly, if a female Prime Minister was elected into office and the world fixated on her looks calling her smoking hot and posting bikini photos, would I even be willing to entertain the defense that it wasn’t sexist objectification? My knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘no’ but more careful consideration tells me the answer isn’t that cut and dry.
I, like many others, have to question whether calling out Trudeau’s looks is in fact degrading, or worse, sexist. The debate is brewing, with self-identified feminists showing how differently they respond to whether the fixation on Trudeau’s looks is a sexist issue or not. Writer Roxane Gay, who penned the book Bad Feminist, squared off with detractors on Twitter, saying that talking about Trudeau’s looks isn’t degrading him or sexist calling it a “false equivalence” based on context: “there is a cultural context around the historical objectification and subjugation of women…and on and on I could go. I also don’t think it’s a problem to admit people of any gender are attractive.”
“If we talk about their looks no one is assuming they are nothing more than their looks,” she continued.
I also have to question whether we should be dismissive of this attention, even if it’s coming largely in the form of superficiality. Alongside headlines about Trudeau’s dashing good looks are almost as many about his lovely family, his devoted wife, and the hope for what he’ll do in government. Elle US declared that “Canada’s New Hottie Prime Minister Also Has Stellar Feminist Record,” pointing to his pledge for gender parity in his cabinet, promise to prioritize investigating missing and murdered indigenous women, and calling him “pro-choice as heck.” Can men, like women, be at once hot and capable? This isn’t a question of gender at all.
The flaw in focusing on any public figure’s looks shouldn’t be dissected as a gender issue but rather a reductionist one. Can Trudeau be handsome and intelligent just as Amal Clooney can be a brilliant human rights lawyer and gorgeous, stylish, and married to what’s-his-name?
Here’s something not up for debate: not since the first Trudeau government has the public taken such an interest in a new Canadian leader and his family. Quick! Name the last three PM’s wives. Could you do it? I can’t help but wonder if having what approximates a true “Canada’s First Family” is such a bad thing for the world’s perception of our country, the media scrutiny that Trudeau’s every move will attract, and perhaps even his ability to form relationships with other world leaders.
At the very least, it might make him just the kind of leader Canada needs – a young, approachable, relatable, charming, and yes, attractive, human with a heartbeat instead of the alternative.