Some people love him. Some people hate him. But there’s no denying that Justin Trudeau’s policy decisions have been getting as much global attention as his looks.
His choice for a Cabinet made up equally of men and women garnered attention from stars like Emma Watson as well as political commentators throughout North America. And regrettably, it seems as though many political commentators within Canada are not as enthusiastic about his decision as the rest of the world seems to be.
One criticism is that Trudeau’s intentions were not pure – that this move was simply a political branding strategy. Relying on his response to why he decided upon an equal Cabinet – “Because it’s 2015” – critics suggested that its Twitterability and lack of real meaning were proof of his insincerity. It has also been compared to what is being called “commercial feminism”, where the rising popularity of “feminism” has been exploited by big businesses like Barbie and Dove to sell products.
Although I don’t think you can judge a significant decision like this on one comment made to the media, at the end of the day if the Trudeau government felt it was a good political move to brand themselves as “feminists” – for whatever reason – isn’t it a positive sign of our times? Does it matter what his intentions were? If Dove reaches a massive audience campaigning for young girls to have a positive self image, does it matter that their true agenda is to sell soap?
For what it’s worth, it is well known that Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, has long been active in her support of various female issues and charities (Ironically, one of her supporting causes is the Dove’s Pay Beauty Forward and Self-Esteem Fund). In any event, unless you want to take the ultimate cynical position that Sophie’s activism was solely with the view to advance her husband’s career, it is not unlikely that her feminist perspectives had a positive influence on her husband (if he didn’t already hold these views), making his decision for a gender-equal Cabinet at least somewhat well-intentioned.
Photo courtesy of thismomloves.blogspot.com
The other main criticism is that our Cabinet should be based on merit, not gender. Proponents of this view acknowledge that political appointments have never been objective – it is a common perception that political office is often fraught with corruption and incompetence mainly due to appointments made based on connections and strategic considerations rather than merit. But this camp’s argument is that choosing Cabinet ministers based on gender takes us further away from the meritocratic ideal rather than towards it. Talent and experience should trump societal representation.
While attractive in theory, this argument fails to take into consideration that our political institutions, along with most other establishments of power in our country, are still dominated by men. And although women are gradually infiltrating the ranks, widespread change is predictably too slow to come. Therefore, those with the most experience on paper, and thus most “qualified” for the job, will still predominately be men. It can also be argued that lingering prejudices may favour men being chosen for roles that will garner them the requisite experience in the first place. Finally, fewer females will even strive for positions of power when there are few role models already in those positions to inspire them. The end result is that the pool of women to choose from will be unduly small, thus perpetuating the cycle of a gender-skewed Cabinet.
It is 2015 and it is about time that we have more women in government. Trudeau has taken a step in the right direction and done something positive to rectify the situation. Although there may have been fewer female candidates to choose from (women made up just over a quarter of the Liberal caucus), who’s to say that there was not enough female talent within that pool to make up a competent Cabinet? At the very least, if this remains the status quo, it will inspire girls who may never have thought it worth their effort in the past to strive for positions of power, enriching the future pools of worthy candidates to choose from – whether Trudeau meant for it to happen or not.