This post first appeared at Chatelaine.
Yesterday, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau posted a picture of her and her husband, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, holding hands and gazing deeply into each other eyes (they do this a lot). The post suggested that to mark International Women’s Day, we should take a moment to celebrate … dudes?
“Are you ready to ignite change?” she wrote in the post. “This week, as we mark International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the boys and men in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are, who treat girls & women with respect, and who aren’t afraid to speak up in front of others. Take a picture holding hands with your male ally & share it on social media using the hashtag #TomorrowInHand. Together, we can create a movement that inspires more men to join the fight to build a better tomorrow with equal rights & opportunities for everyone… because #EqualityMatters.”
And then the Internet exploded, and the sound of millions of people slapping their foreheads in unison rang out from coast to coast.
Sarah Hagi at Vice wrote: “To celebrate International (Wo)Men’s Day, [Trudeau] suggests holding hands with your male ally (we’ve all got one!!) and share it on social media using a hashtag she literally made up . . . because without men — there would be no feminism!” And both BuzzFeed and Huffington Post rounded up the backlash the post earned on social media.
Internet, I get it. The public face of Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is one of unending, unfiltered earnestness and to be honest, it makes me deeply uncomfortable — partly because it’s hard to untangle her particular brand of unbridled enthusiasm from straight-up naiveté, but mostly because, despite testimonials that “it’s really how she is!” I just don’t buy it. She has said, countless times, that “being real is not a strategy” — but I can’t shake the feeling that with every tone-deaf move she makes, she’s screwing with me. So when she posts a gag-inducing prom-photo-gone-wrong on Instagram, and pairs it with a ham-fisted rallying cry, it’s easy to light a match and call it a tire fire.
But take away the photo (seriously, throw it away) and ignore for a second her awkward turns of phrase. What’s left is a pretty simple ask — that while we’re focussed on women and women’s issues, we also take a minute to acknowledge the men and boys who are fighting for equal rights. That we value the work they do. That we recognize that without them, it will take a lot longer to close the pay gap, end violence against women, tackle massive infrastructure issues like a national daycare strategy and smash the myriad of glass ceilings that still exist, once and for all. That, to steal a phrase from someone all-to-familiar with that ceiling, we are stronger, together. That feminism should be inclusive. Are we sure that’s a message we want to let go up in smoke?
Yes, she could stand to fine-tune her delivery — maybe dial down the sincerity, just a titch. But a lot of the criticism yesterday was aimed squarely at the fact that she dared to mention the role men play in fighting for equality, on a day set aside to honour women. (“Can women just have ONE DAY without having to give cookies to men for being decent humans?” @ArielTroster tweeted. Several commenters on Instagram asked if the post was a joke. And Conservative MP Michelle Rempel tweeted: “I’ve never had to have my hand held. #equalitymatters“). This kind of shouty, knee-jerk reaction contributes to feminism’s already wide-spread branding problem and threatens to widen the gap between the sexes, not close it.
Sophie posted this response to the backlash late last night: “Well, now we’re having a conversation! . . . Our goal is gender equality, and fighting for it is going to require men and women working together — raising our boys and girls to make a difference, hand-in-hand.” Instead of piling on, a better use of energy would be to hold her party — the one that trades on our proudly feminist PM — to account on the issues that matter. So while I won’t post a picture of my husband and I holding hands on Instagram today (or any day, ever), I will thank him for being a steadfast partner in the fight, and a fantastic role model for all the boys in his life. And I commend Sophie for doing the same, even if it has to be in her very Sophie way.