Opinion

You're a feminist, Mr. Trudeau. We get it: Robyn Urback

Back in 2015, it was perhaps refreshing to see a political leader — especially a man — so unabashed about his commitment to feminism. He'd say it out loud, and proudly. But now, it's practically reached the point of parody.

Trudeau-brand feminism has become like that tired catchphrase on a family sitcom

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during an event on International Women's Day in Ottawa. Feminism is one of Trudeau's favourite topics. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

I can't tell you how pleased I was to see a section of this year's budget written just for me, through a gender-sensitive lens, meaning I could skip right to Chapter 5 and avoid the sections that didn't massage my fixation with my own woman-ness.

Lord knows how difficult it is to get the ladies interested in fiscal matters that aren't expressly connected to gender (it's like trying to get a first-grader to read; it helps if you make the story about them), and with Budget 2017, the Liberals finally recognized that phenomenon and offered a remedy. It's a good thing, too: I accidentally landed on a page about the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU and found myself overcome by crippling dizziness!  

Women in the World

This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finds himself on the New York leg of his years-long feminism tour, appearing as a headliner at the annual Women in the World Summit. Trudeau shared the stage with prominent women including former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and actress Scarlett Johansson, talking about important social and economic issues such as pay equality, reproductive health and empowering women in the workplace.

Now, some people are wondering why Trudeau is making his fourth trip to the U.S. this year — and his second New York feminism gambit in the past six months — to talk about an issue he brings up all the time, both at home and abroad.

Well, it's obvious: Trudeau's presence at the event is doing important work for women. For instance, on Thursday, he fielded a crucial question about how it feels to be the world's "new big liberal superhero." He also explained that women need to be persuaded and encouraged to run for office, which is how he says he achieved his gender-balanced cabinet.

And before making his way to the stage Thursday, Trudeau spoke with entrepreneurs during a roundtable about the struggles women face when it comes to starting new businesses. Indeed, who could speak with more authority about the difficulties facing female entrepreneurs than someone who has never been and never will be a female entrepreneur? Why send a woman to do the job when this man comes with his own photo entourage?

Feminism has been a central component of the Trudeau package for at least as long as the Liberal leader has been in politics, and ostentatiously so ever since he borrowed a staffer's suggestion to simply cite the year when asked why he opted for gender parity in cabinet: "because it's 2015."

Since then, Canada's government has been selling Trudeau-brand feminism to anyone interested in a little goodwill-by-association, including the UN, the U.S.  and the World Economic Forum, to name a few recipients. This heavily packaged, soundbite-type feminism is more marketing than it is politics (what's the difference, really?), but it is almost guaranteed to draw resounding applause wherever it goes.

Back in 2015, it was perhaps refreshing to see a political leader — especially a man — so unabashed about his commitment to feminism. He'd say it out loud, and proudly. That was half the battle, right? Soon, the real changes would come.

Catchphrase feminism

But two years — plus a few symbolic gestures, a gender-sensitive budget and one balanced cabinet later — and Trudeau-brand feminism has become like that catchphrase on a family sitcom, the one that stopped being amusing two seasons ago, but the laugh track keeps rolling anyway. There's Trudeau: off to another HeForShe event, or as the sole man on a poster of world-renowned women, or leading a roundtable on women in business. Trudeau the Feminist: roll the applause, folks — he's at it again.

Trudeau has said that he'll continue saying he's a feminist up until the point it is "met with a shrug." That point has arguably come and gone. Indeed, now that his feminism is starting to be met with gags, perhaps it's time to wind down the show and focus on the work backstage.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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