Here's How Justin Trudeau Is Exposing the Problem With Rigid Masculinity

Here's How Justin Trudeau Is Exposing the Problem With Rigid Masculinity
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

If Canada is the United States' neighbor to the north, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is our boy next door. 

Trudeau impresses with his track record on human rights, accepting tens of thousands of refugees earlier this year, budgeting billions for the country's indigenous population and legislating anti-discrimination bills for transgender people. But often Trudeau's political record falls second to his charisma: He's called himself a feminist in a no-nonsense way, carried a man in a wheelchair down stairs and is basically one step away from saving a kitten in a tree.

But Trudeau's boy scout-caliber good deeds and good looks have done more than make us swoon — they've completely changed how the media talks about masculinity.  

A study from researcher Jerald Sabin and soon-to-be University of Ottawa assistant law professor Kyle Kirkup found pundits referred to Trudeau using words associated with "subordinate masculinity" significantly more frequently than politicians Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. 

While adjectives like "aggressive," "strong" and "tough" were ascribed to Harper and Mulcair, Trudeau was instead "confident" and "self-assured," as well as sometimes "emotional" and "boyish." When looking at just words connoting subordinate masculinity in the 756 newspaper editorials and op-eds Sabin and Kirkup investigated, 79% of them were deployed to describe Trudeau.

An unnamed senior member of the parliamentary press gallery even recalled that at the time of Trudeau's election, it was part of the conservative agenda to insist he wasn't "'man enough' to be prime minister," according to Sabin.

 

Though the researchers' findings may expose a certain rigid devotion to stereotypical masculinity, Sabin said Trudeau may be paving the way for a new kind of masculinity in politics.

"Some political observers may be inclined to conclude that Justin Trudeau's victory in the 2015 election signals the beginning of a new era in the history of masculinity and Canadian politics," Sabin wrote. "At the very least, it suggests that hewing to forms of traditional masculinity is not the only path to victory in Canadian politics."

Read more: Justin Trudeau Is the Ultimate 21st Century Man — And Not Just Because He's Hot As Hell

June 6, 2016, 3:26 p.m. Eastern: This story has been updated.

Correction: June 6, 2016
A previous version of this article misidentified Thomas Mulcair's political office. Mulcair is the leader of the New Democratic Party. Additionally, an earlier version of this story mischaracterized the anti-discrimination legislation Justin Trudeau announced in May and a portion of the study results. The bill aimed to protect transgender individuals, specifically, from discrimination, and the study found 79% of words examined that connoted "subordinate masculinity" had been used to describe Trudeau.

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Marie Solis

Marie is a staff writer with a focus in feminist issues. Her writing has appeared in Gothamist and the Awl. You can reach her at marie@mic.com.

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