Don’t worry, Justin Trudeau will never be hurt by sexist objectification

Justin Trudeau

Canada has a new Prime Minister. And he’s not a monstrous hard-right asshole, so that’s a good thing. The thank god relief many Canadians are feeling about getting rid of Stephen Harper is palpable on social media. While that sentiment is understandable, consider that this relief is just a bit too celebratory and that the progressive cred of the new PM is being exaggerated. But whatever, for the moment. We will see what we will see, and after eight years of Harper Hell, we deserve our relieved sighs at the very least.

But much of the response has gone beyond sighs and turned to swoons as the mainstream media, particularly in the US, takes note of the youth, vigour, and attractiveness of our new PM. If one looks at media coverage and social media response, it appears as though Americans think Trudeau’s fuckability is his most important quality. Of course, this is what American mainstream media always does. The cult of celebrity often outweighs anything else a person can think, say, or do, in terms of gaining positive attention. But while American influence may have generated this focus on Trudeau’s sexual charisma, Canadian women seem similarly eager to share in the swooning. So perhaps Canadians don’t need too much encouragement from south of the border to get all excited about a powerful male with his shirt off.

Justin Trudeau

While you might agree that the focus on Trudeau’s physique is worthy of critique, what’s less impressive is the reaction of women — feminists even — who have labeled it sexist objectification, comparing it to the attention on physical appearance paid to so many female politicians — something that works to their disadvantage. While most people likely understand that there is no such thing as “reverse racism,” given that offences to white people coming from people of colour simply do not occur in the context of systemic oppression and exploitation based on skin colour, it’s clear that some of us, nonetheless, believe there is such a thing as reverse sexism.

You may be disturbed or annoyed by the shirtless photos and swoony responses to our new PM, but that concern shouldn’t come from a sense of worry that Trudeau will be hurt — socially, politically or personally — by this so-called “sexist objectification.” Because that is simply not what is happening. It’s not as though Canadians will now see him as a vapid, slutty, airhead with nothing to recommend him but his pecs or as someone who got ahead through either fuckability or literal fucking. The reality is that these sexy pics and the fact that so many find him physically attractive serves to enhance his power rather than diminish it. This is because he is not a woman. He is a man. And a powerful one at that.

Feminist analysis tells us that the exact same thing can happen to both a man and a woman, but that the result differs. Women are regularly and systematically objectified and reduced to sexual beings in the eyes of men in order to curb and reduce our social, political, and economic power. It is done in order to remind us of our value in this society — that the most important thing about us is understood to be our bodies and the capacity of men to use (and abuse) them.

“In the eyes of men” is the important part, here… It’s not like our own sexuality is represented in that objectification. Rather, our sexuality is constructed in and by the male gaze and we rarely have the social, political, or economic power to effectively overcome this construction. But when men are seen as “sexy” it isn’t because they are constructed as vulnerable or subordinate. You can see this easily when you pose a man, “seductively,” as women are made to pose. Even Trudeau’s “objectification” presents him as strong and powerful.

Justin Trudeau

Within racist patriarchal capitalism, it is men who have power. So when their sexuality is brought to the fore, the resulting constellation is actually more powerful, not less. They aren’t seen as their sex only (and men’s sexualities are not intricately connected to their subordinate status, as women’s are), but as whole persons whose sexual charisma enhances their power. JFK was not made less powerful due to the fact that so many women found him handsome. Had he not been caught, as it were, with his pants down, Bill Clinton would not have lost political power due to his palpable charm or because women were swoony over him and his saxophone. Trudeau’s own father was the original source of “Trudeaumania,” yet he never lost stature in the public eye as a result of women being “dazzled by his charm and good looks.”

Rest assured that Justin Trudeau will benefit from what some are calling his objectification and women — and the entire polity — will lose. It provides him with the ability to make mistakes behind the curtain of our adoration. He has beautiful children, an adorable wife, and a mother who holds his face in her hands and worships her young prince, along with publicity that you just can’t buy. We’re seeing the beginnings of something that could all too easily turn into the coronation of a cult hero and it might serve us better to pay attention to the unfair advantages that will give JT, rather than the imagined punishment we might have witnessed were he a woman. Look how protective some of us are already…

So don’t worry about Mr. Trudeau. The only way the sexual charisma he shares with his late father might harm him is if he buys into the myth of his own charm and, overwhelmed by self-adoration and ego, “accidentally” sleeps with one of the women who adore him so.

Many of the voices coming to the aid of Trudeau, defending him against this so-called sexism, are not voices we usually hear speaking out about things like objectification, pornography, and the exploitation of women. But some of the response is also coming from feminists who say we would be up in arms if it were a woman who was being treated in this way. Others erroneously see it as a form of “gender equality” as though “equal objectification” (which is not a thing, anyway) is somehow a goal of our movement. But not only should feminists not delude themselves into believing that subordinating our oppressors will resolve the inequality we face, but we should consider that there is far more serious and important work to do beyond focusing on a white, fairly wealthy man with bags of political power who truly cannot be said to be oppressed or disadvantaged in any way by this attention.

Stephen Harper is no longer Prime Minister but we all know his legacy will take decades to turn around in a direction more favourable to women. His replacement is still a proponent of the neoliberal policies that have devastated institutional and independent women’s organizations that we so need to continue the struggle for our liberation.

So let’s allow Mr. Trudeau Jr. to look after his own feelings and focus instead on making him uncomfortable politically and on holding him accountable for his proclaimed support for women’s rights.

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  • Zuzanna Smith

    I don’t find him attractive, I find him smarmy…

  • Jennifer Gustar

    My problem with this is that it first infantalizes him (denying his other qualities and adulthood), and then, feminizes him by putting him on display as women are routinely displayed and turning him into a body. By so doing, he, his embodied self, is associated with the feminized body. The comments actually mock or parody those made about women’s bodies, and in so doing, again evoke a feminized body. It is sexism, in my view.

    • Bob Boogie

      Good point about infantilization. He’s 43 – older than Joe Clark was when he was elected in 1979 – and is still constantly referred to as a kid.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Well yeah, but he was treated like that by the Cons in their attack ads, not b/c of his looks but because of his actual age and supposed lack of experience…

        • Bob Boogie

          Honestly, it really does feel like they’re talking about his looks. And again, the point is that he’s not particularly young.

          I have no problem with people talking about him being sexy, but I do feel like these types of things do affect men (and boys) more than people think. while the number of men with eating disorders and other problems dealing with body image is a fraction compared to that of women, it’s not nothing.

        • ninigik

          They specifically mentioned his hair…it was ALL about his looks.

    • Yalesha DeSofia

      The second part of your basic premise is truly chilling. You’ve included the process of putting a human being on display and turning them into a body in your definition of ‘feminizing.’ It’s not feminine to be put on display, it’s sexist. By your logic, domestic violence against men ‘feminizes’ them as well, since women are routinely the victims of violence. By your logic, underestimating the intellect of a man is ‘feminizing’ when it’s just plain asininity. It must be depressing to live with that view of what ‘feminine’ is. You’re confusing what’s been done to women with who we are. Feminism is about rejecting society’s biases against women, not calling them ‘feminine.’

  • Bob Boogie

    “It’s not as though Canadians will now see him as a vapid, slutty, airhead with nothing to recommend him but his pecs”

    …clearly you haven’t read any op ed pieces in the Sun newspapers or the countless tweets about him being a “pretty boy.”

  • Bob Boogie

    But the right truly has stature almost immediately with the idea that he’s a vapid “pretty boy.”

  • tinfoil hattie

    As with all politicians, J. Trudeau seems pretty narcissistic, and he has support for said narcissism. You’re absolutely right to point out that people commenting on his looks and physique are doing so admiringly, and that he is more popular because of his genetic fortune. Women, we all know, can’t win if we’re ugly and can’t win if we’re pleasing to the patriarchy. It’s just not even close to the same thing.
    It’s like calling a white guy “honky.” “Ooooh, you cut me to the quick. Now, excuse me while I step to the front of the line and continue getting the biggest piece of every pie there is.”

  • tinfoil hattie

    That’s pretty repulsive, all right.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I don’t really think there is such a thing as the female gaze. The male gaze is a disempowering one — like, it isn’t just about looking, it’s about objectifying and it’s a power thing. Because women aren’t in a social position and aren’t socialized to get turned on by dehumanizing someone I don’t think it’s possible to translate the male gaze into a female one. I tend to think that women who try are simply trying to behave ‘like men’ in an effort to feel empowered somehow. That doesn’t mean women can’t find men attractive, physically, of course, but I think that’s a different thing and, in fact, I think women are attracted to men in different ways and for different reasons because of socialization and because of the way we understand masculinity and femininity.

    • You picked the one part of my comment I have full confidence in 🙂 I just came up with the concept of the “female gaze” this afternoon, and I’m sticking to it. It’s not at all like the male gaze — I agree that women who try to imitate the male gaze are putting it on. There’s a lack of authenticity. But I attemped to define the female gaze as a look of adoration. It’s the look some mothers give their infant sons, a look they would never bestow on their daughters. It’s the look some women teachers bestow on a male pupil, from elementary school to university. It’s a look some grown up women bestow on attractive young men. It’s a look that reveals the subservience, the lower status of the looker. It empowers the looked-upon. So it’s the opposite of the male gaze. It too is a conditioned look. I’m trying to solve the problem of why, 40 plus years after the sigificant and substantial societal changes instigated by ‘second wave’ feminism, so many men are still apparently so entitled, and so many women disempowered. I’m thinking this female gaze may be one part of the answer.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Well, I did a lot of film theory and feminist film theory in particular during both my undergrad and graduate degrees so I’ve studied the gaze and gaze theory quite extensively…. So this stuff isn’t just stuff I came up with off the top of my head.

        All that said, I’m not opposed to your theory 🙂

  • _enthusiastic_Hyena

    Reading most of the comments here is very disturbing, and profoundly disappointing.

    Saying that the objectification of the PM is “acceptable” under the premiss that it does nut “hurt” him (i.e doesn’t strip him of his humanity or power) reveals a very twisted, one-sided interpretation of patriarchy. Patriarchy is a system of social dynamics promoting a relation of violence, dominance and oppression within society. The net outcome of patriarchy is, the vast majority of the time, far more detrimental for women than for men. But it is, nonetheless, a violent system, which is toxic for ALL society.

    Of course, Justin Trudeau won’t be hurt personallly by a few comments about his sexual attractiveness. The men who resent the effects of patriarchy, however, will, and so will feminists. It reinforces the idea that masculine, young and powerful men are to be praised, especially by women, who are in the right of being subjugated by such a man. If you don’t believe that is is serious and that it won’t impede the elimination of patriarchy, there is simply nothing that can be said to help you.

  • Applejack

    NO. Reverse sexism and reverse racism are not perfectly possible things because we’re not all on a level playing field. Racism and sexism need POWER + prejudice. You have to be in a position of social power to do the harm that is associated with an “ism.”

    • amanda fiona

      Look those words up in the dictionary. They are beliefs, not positionsof power.

      • Cassandra

        Marv tried to educate you already, but again, “beliefs” aren’t formed in a vacuum and “beliefs” ARE informed by systems of power, so yes, sexism and racism are reliant on power hierarchies.

  • marv

    Racism and sexism are class divisions, the institutional power of one social group over another. Prejudice is a symptom of the structural inequalities. For sexism or racism to be reversed the system would have to be inverted.

    • amanda fiona

      They are not social divisions, they are beliefs,. Look them racism & sexism in the dictionary.

  • Sabine

    Right. The fact is this objectification of men (which pales to nothing in comparison to that of women) is another result of patriarchy. It’s a twisted, thoroughly predictable side effect of toxic masculinity informing every aspect of society.

  • Sally

    You are right. It will somehow always come back full circle as criticism towards us.

  • Sally

    A lot of good points here. As a woman I have noticed that it is pretty easy to notice when someone might be deemed prettier by society and this may actually influence our behavior towards other women. We should not be categorizing people like this at all. I do think that this man benefits from patriarchy by being attractive, and it’s really only a small minority, his opponents, who might view this as bad or a challenge, but too the rest of the population he is really busy fulfilling his role and therefore worthy of praise. This should not be praised at all. If it were a woman, she would be derided because of the fact that she would be hot by patriarchal standards, but also attempting to take on a man’s role under patriarchy, so she would be worthy of a total smear campaign one way or the other based on her sexuality. And if she weren’t attractive, she still can’t win because ugly women shouldn’t be in power either (I see people attack Hillary Clinton based on her age and looks all the time). So either way, I think there praising him for his looks is going to harm someone, that is women. If men are expected to fit the alpha male role and get praise for it, that only harms women. It’s definitely not equal objectification, but it all goes back to women somehow.

  • Meghan Murphy

    So what do you propose? No state?

  • Love this!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Sexuality is not the same thing as sexualization.

  • marv
  • Yalesha DeSofia

    Similarly, the AAUU found that the use of humor in one’s professional life helps a male professor but hinders a female professor’s credibility. I believe they found the same differential with physical attractiveness. That study was done back in the day – decades ago – before misogyny got even worse.

  • GraceAlexander

    I laughed a little at how the Canadian women participating in the ooh and ahh fest are only being led by the evil Murrikkan media, like Canadians on their own are too highbrow, but I digress 😉

    (Note, I don’t live in the US anymore, having becomes sickened by it, and am in a progressive South American country now, so I have no dog in the fight between the US and Canada, just FYI!)

    Below, some people brought up the female gaze. A friend of mine broke this down a few weeks ago in a non-Trudeau centric way, discussing the objectification of the male body, and there were a lot of parallels to this story. I’ll have to point her at this article, she might reblog it.

    (Her take is here http://www.rapekulture.com/2015/12/27/on-objectifying-the-male-body/)

  • Cathy Bows

    Give me a break. Who really cares what he looks like? Isn’t it more important how he runs the country? The swooning women don’t have a clue what his policies are. Personally I’m sick of the selfies!

  • Patricia Jackson

    The fact that you talk about his charm and good looks is condescending to women. I see him as a bumbling idiot who placed women in cabinet positions not because they were best qualified, but because the were women. How exactly does that help women? The Minister of Science, Dr. Kirby, is a Fraud…claiming to have a Nobel Prize which is false, all of her alleged research work is seriously flawed, she’s a joke in the medical research community. I am a woman with an IQ in the top 1 percentile and I don’t ever want to be given a position by reason of optics…I want it because I’m the best candidate. What Trudeau did with his “diverse” cabinet choices is actually a slap in the face to women and “minorities”…because it’s 2015???? I’d rather see less diversity and more sincerity…that is choices made due to merit/ability/qualifications rather than due to race or gender!