OK, Canada, I’m going on the record with a sentence I truly never thought I’d see myself write:
Our prime minister is hot.
That wasn’t really news, right? Certainly, social media reaction to the phenomenon that is Justin Trudeau definitely indicates that people around the world think so. Our bhangra-dancing, stairwell-falling, shirtless-boxing leader has certainly proven himself to be, in the words of a friend, one hot piece of prime minister. (It was a straight male friend, by the way. Thanks, Victor. I’ve just granted you your 15 minutes of fame.)
The resulting hullaballoo over Trudeau’s buff physique, his shiny hair, his baby blues (etc. etc. etc.) has given rise to an entirely new thread of conversation: Is it OK to objectify Justin Trudeau? And if it is, why? Why aren’t we up in arms about it the same way we would be if it was a woman we were talking about?
I’ve been mulling this, off and on, for the past week, because it really was puzzling to me. No question, if Trudeau were a woman, and said woman had given rise to the #PMILF hashtag on Twitter (if you don’t know what that means, google MILF and substitute “prime minister” for “mother”) – well, I’d be more than a little offended, and I know I wouldn’t be alone.
Then I realized I’d answered my own question with that little phrase, “if Trudeau were a woman.”
Oh, that teeny-tiny, itty-bitty word that changes everything.
Because let’s face it, if Trudeau were a woman of the same age, background and attractiveness level (which is to say, young by political standards, of Canadian "royalty" and smokin’ hot to boot), she wouldn’t have become prime minister. No one would ever, for one moment, have taken her seriously enough to let that happen.
Flash back a decade to the rise of another star on the Canadian political scene: then-Conservative Belinda Stronach, who happened to be rich, blonde, attractive and also young (again, by political standards – when it comes to politics, 40 is apparently the new 22).
What happened? She crossed the floor to the Liberals and instead of being criticized in the way a man would have been – being called, say, a turncoat, a traitor, a quisling – she was immediately derided as a whore and a prostitute.
Therein lies the difference. When you’re female and “hot,” that hotness becomes your defining factor. You are about your sexuality, and you are defined and confined by it. It makes you in some ways more powerful – you get more attention, certainly – but in other ways makes you powerless. Regardless of what other qualities you possess, society will see and define you as “hot.” Period. Full stop.
For a man, on the other hand? Hotness merely adds to the power.
Stronach was limited by her attractiveness. Trudeau is empowered by his.
Both come from a background of privilege, in every sense of the word: rich, white, straight, educated. But one is female and one is male. And the one representing the group that has historically and societally held all the power will never have the same experience as the one who lives among the disempowered. (Ask anyone who lives among the "other": the non-white, the non-straight, the non-well-off. Privilege is real.)
Context is everything. Objectification that occurs within the context of systemic oppression (yes, I said oppression; go ahead, revile my feminist rhetoric, it doesn’t make it any less true) is an entirely different thing than objectification that’s turned on those who already hold the power. In the society we live in, women are regularly reduced to nothing more than the sum of their body parts – in movies, in advertising, in music, in all kinds of pop culture - in a way that straight men aren’t.
Sure, we can still ogle Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum, and women will still flock in droves to see Magic Mike. But the fact is, attractive men can still be powerful men – in Hollywood or in politics. Women still have to choose.
The day you find me a woman as attractive as George Clooney, of George Clooney’s age, who wields the same amount of clout and commands the same amount of respect for professional accomplishments is the day I will concede the world has changed.
Sure, there are plenty of attractive, powerful women in the world. But women must still recognize the reality that if they want to be taken seriously, they must rein in the sex appeal. They must be attractive enough not to be dismissed and overlooked, but not so attractive as to unsettle the men who hold the power and, for the most part, the chequebooks that get things done.
Men? They can take off their shirts, polish up their buffed abs, smoulder for the cameras and still run the world.
By the way, I’m not saying we should take Justin Trudeau as just a pretty face. Of course, regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman we’re talking about, we should always judge a politician by his or her policies and accomplishments.
I’m just saying that the worldwide admiration for the guy’s studliness isn’t going to hurt him one little bit.
You won’t see headlines about his weight gain, or his poor fashion choices, or the fact that he’s leaving his children in the care of a nanny while jetting off on yet another foreign junket – all of which his hypothetical female counterpart would face on a daily basis (and all of which, I guarantee you, his wife will now face instead).
Trudeau will go down in history as a good politician or a bad one based on what he does or fails to do when it office, period.
So don’t start feeling sorry for the guy because we’re objectifying him. He’s losing absolutely nothing by us thinking he’s hot.
And in the meantime, our country is being led by the best-looking prime minister since Hugh Grant moved into 10 Downing Street in Love Actually.
Forgive me for thinking that’s kinda cool. Or don’t forgive me. Either way, Justin Trudeau’s laughing all the way to the prime minister’s office.
And we’re still waiting for the first time a woman the world defines as “smokin’ hot” can do the same thing.
It's going to be a long wait.