On February 1st, Trudeau hosted a town hall at McEwan University in Edmonton. During the question period, two women posed a “question” that was more like a speech, regarding funding for charities and religious groups from the government. At one point, they mentioned how their group, which presents God as a Mother rather than Father figure, benefits “mankind.” Trudeau, jokingly, said “We like to say peoplekind.” Then everybody freaked out.
People are mad about the whole thing for a couple of reasons. Some say that Trudeau was “mansplaining” to these women, condescending to them instead of taking their question seriously. While this would be a totally valid reason to be angry if it were true, as someone who was present when the comment was made, it is unequivocally not what happened.
Trudeau mentioned at the beginning of the town hall that audience members should attempt to keep their questions short, so that he could answer as many as possible. By the time he made his “peoplekind” comment, the women had been speaking—sans question — for more than a few minutes. Audience members were getting restless, shouting out “Ask a question!” If anything, Trudeau’s comment was an attempt to diffuse a tense situation.
On the other hand, some supporters believe that this was a progressive comment. To be honest, this is also a little bit ridiculous. Sure, a lot of our English language is geared towards patriarchal institutions — words like “mankind” reveal a society that was initially built on the achievements of men, while erasing women. But while semantics may be important, recent revelations about sexual abuse in Canadian government, the ongoing issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the continued difficulty some women face in achieving workplace promotions and pay equity are a lot more important. Trudeau’s “peoplekind” comment does little to solve any of those problems.
The fact that people are so riled up about what was, at its essence, a joke (if a bad one), reveals a serious problem that we as a society face in discussing politics. We act as if every comment is imbued with layers of infinite political meaning. We are quick to condemn or praise politicians for irrelevancies.
Such a lack of political focus in our discussion of our country’s government is dangerous, because it diverts attention from serious issues. Think of everything happening in Canadian politics right now: the Trans Mountain pipeline controversy, the growing list of men in government using their power to prey on women, the controversy over Trudeau’s summer jobs policy, the continued tension over changing our electoral system… the list goes on and on. Yet news media devotes its attention to a comment which, if viewed in context (which is easy to do by accessing the livestream of Trudeau’s town hall online), was plainly pretty meaningless.
Trudeau may not be funny, but he wasn’t “mansplaining,” and he wasn’t making any progress for the cause of feminism, either. If we’re worried about his feminism, we should look at his policies, not his attempts at diffusing tension. If that doesn’t convince you, maybe the response of the young woman Trudeau supposedly “mansplained” to will: she answered Trudeau’s joke with a resounding, “Exactly!”