When talking about Canadian politics, it might come as a big shock that MP does, in fact, not stand for ‘maple syrup’ but for ‘member of the parliament’ and that the prime minister of Canada is actually not the head of state –No, that would be the Queen of England; makes perfect sense, right. In fact, who talks about Canadian politics? Besides Canadians, I’m not sure. Until recently, I haven’t been to many parties where Canadian politics was the hot topic of the night. You just didn’t hear people saying things like “Oh wow, look at what the government of Canada has done now” or “I really think the governor general is doing a bang up job.” The focus was more often on the politics of Canada’s southern neighbor, The United States of America. This seemed to be a part of a general pattern of USA upstaging Canada in just about everything save for ice hockey and poutine. This, of course, might not reflect the true state of things, but for foreigners news from USA just tends to get ranked higher than the happenings in Canada. In consequence, people tend to associate Canada with snow, moose, maple leaves and the syllable ‘eh’ instead of delving deep into the political wonderland of the Great White North.
However, ever since Justin Trudeau was elected as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister, a spotlight appeared over Canadian politics. Suddenly international media was jumping at the chance to write about him, social media certainly went nuts, and before you knew it, Canadian politics were being discussed around the globe. So, did people rave about the Prime Minister of Canada being able to appoint ministers, senators, lieutenant governors of the provinces, and Supreme Court judges? Did they discuss political choices, party differences or major conflicts within the country? No, I believe most of the interest revolved around the Prime Minister’s face. It’s pretty you see. And people like pretty things. Oh, yes, we shan’t forget, there was avid discussion about his body as well. People seemed to like that too. And I’m not denying that he’s not hard on the eyes, even our very own BTSB staff agreed that he looks lovely. But an interesting point was brought up, and that was how Prime Minister Trudeau tends to get treated like most female politicians do in the media.
Most news out there, news that reaches Finland anyway, revolves around how handsome Justin Trudeau is, how even Ivanka Trump and Duchess Catherine can’t help swooning over him. Long story short, the main focus is on his looks, not his accomplishments or shortcomings. This is the kind of media representation that is usually associated with female politicians –Or scratch that, actually females in general. The press being more interested in what or who is being worn or how their hair is styled. The media tends to represent women through their looks, not their accomplishments. Let it be said, the focus is misplaced. There are clear double standards in the representation of men and women in the media. But as for Justin Trudeau, a male politician, the Prime Minister of the geographically second largest country in the world, to be more famous for his dazzling eyes, than his work as a world leader, feels kind of dumbfounding.
Just a quick google search of his name shows that after the obligatory Wikipedia articles and official websites, rows and rows of links leading to various online magazines across the world appear with titles such as “Is Justin Trudeau the Sexiest Politician in the World?” and “Pictures of 'swooning' Ivanka Trump and Justin Trudeau go viral.” Sure, you can find articles on his election campaign, gender equal cabinet and his meetings with Donald Trump, but let’s face it, they get overshadowed by news focusing on his boxing career and tweets to Matthew Perry.
Now this is not to say that news on Justin Trudeau should focus solely on political aspects, after all we all love hearing things about politicians that make them seem relatable, more human so to speak. But there’s something to be said when the question “Do you know who Canada’s Prime Minister is?” Is most often answered with “Yeah, he’s the hot one, right?”
There has never been a group more scrutinized for their looks than women. And women in politics get the brunt of it. To say that Justin Trudeau gets treated like female politicians in the media is not an entirely correct statement, because there are nuances in the articles written that differ from positivity to negativity between male and female. But for example, if we were to draw some comparisons, we could say that the media just loves Trudeau’s hair. Trust me; memes have been made over his hair. Hilary Clinton’s hair, more specifically her highlights, also got media attention. Actually her hair has been analyzed in quite detail. Seems a bit redundant politically speaking. Even if appearances are everything in the political world, it’s hardly likely that her hair is pulling the strings. Moreover, it seems silly that a politician’s haircut is considered worldwide news in the first place, as it is very unlikely to affect their qualifications for the job.
Speaking of silly things, women politicians also get media attention regarding their bodies and weight. Off the top of my head I think of Michelle Obama and know that she is an insanely inspiring woman, but I also remember that she has amazing arms. That is because I’ve seen numerous articles talking about her arms, specifically focusing on one body part, emphasising that she is indeed a very fit woman. Some present this as a positive attribute, some as negative. Trudeau has also been praised for his fit appearance and more specifically his backside. Not too long ago social media went bananas over a photo of the Prime Minister in a pair of particularly formfitting pants. And with this aspect we see the nuances of how Trudeau still gets to keep some of his, I don’t know, I guess we could call it ‘male privilege’ when it comes to media attention regarding his appearance. For all the articles I’ve seen talking about his looks, I have yet to run into a negative one. Whereas articles commenting on the appearance of female politicians more often exhibit negative thoughts of their attire, hair styles and body.
So why does the news coverage on Trudeau feel so odd? Why is it strange that talking about a man’s appearance feels silly? It isn’t as if Trudeau has been completely reduced to his looks. Granted, most of the articles can’t help but mention trivial things, but he still gets noted as the Prime Minister who opened up Canada for refugees and the Prime Minister who appointed a gender balanced cabinet “because it’s 2015”. Still, the overpowering flood of news focusing on his looks or charm kind of makes you blind to the other stuff. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to this kind of coverage for women that we insert the same kind of model in action when we read articles about him. It’s like we have been conditioned to think that because women politicians are so often reduced to their looks by the media, there is nothing more to them. The most important thing we need to know is what they’re wearing and whether they’ve dyed their hair. So when we see similar news about a male politician, the model kicks in and we at least temporarily get caught in the frenzy of oohing and aahing over his appearance. Yet it does feel strange, because in society we are told that men are more than just their looks, they’re important, and above silly things like highlights and designer shoes. So when we see another article about Justin Trudeau’s hot bod we’re getting mixed messages. As horrible and sexist as it is, after riding the initial train of giddiness over fluffy news, we recognize that something is out of place here. And that’s when we realize that we’re not really talking about Canadian politics at all.
Is it an issue then? Is it a problem? If women in politics are reduced to their looks shouldn’t male politicians be treated the same in the name of equality. Why should we care if Justin Trudeau is the shining star of gossip magazines and trashy headlines? Well, we should care because in an ideal world appearance shouldn’t be what people in such important positions are recognized for. And I’m inclined to believe that many people who recognize this kind of messed up media representation when it comes to women politicians fall into the trap of thinking that the fluffy adoring articles on Trudeau are harmless, since they are praising his looks instead of bashing them. But when you think about it, it’s just the flip side of the coin; positive or negative. It’s still one sided, distracting media coverage of a person who is much more than a pretty face and we should be able to recognize that.