Ashley Csanady: Was Justin Trudeau’s glib remark a point for feminism — or just another Dove commercial?

It was the shrug giffed round the world.

“Because it’s 2015.”

Newly sworn-in Prime Minister ’s perfectly glib answer to the question as to why it was so important to craft a gender-equal cabinet became the already-viral prime minister’s latest global sensation. The same news sites that thirsted for Trudeau immediately after his election win were now drooling over his feminist cred.

Why was [gender balance in your new cabinet] so important to you? “Because it’s 2015.” –Canadian PM @justintrudeau

— Audra Jenkins (@audrajenkins) November 6, 2015

“The Sexiest Thing About Justin Trudeau Is His Cabinet’s Gender Parity,” blared a subsidiary of Jezebel. “‘Because It’s 2015’: ’s Trudeau Sums Up His Gender-Equal Cabinet,” Newsweek wrote. Even the austere Washington Post lauded Trudeau’s, “succinct” response as adding “much greater clarity about the problem of inequality — and its solution — than much public discussion on the issue.”

Why a gender balanced/50:50 government?”Because it’s 2015!”Coolest thing I’ve seen in a while.❤️ U Canada. #Heforshe

— Emma Watson (@EmWatson) November 5, 2015

And I admit it, my initial reaction was to slap the table in the Queen’s Park press gallery lounge as I worked and tweet out something equally jubilant.

But like an overwrought Dove ad, after the admitted glee wore off, I felt like I’d been sold something I didn’t really need, but inexplicably wanted.

In the moment, it seemed like a perfectly off-the-cuff answer to the ridiculous insinuations — which had persisted throughout the campaign — that a gender neutral cabinet undercut some mythical meritocracy.

The pause after the question, the short, quick response, and the subsequent shrug was perfectly packaged for online sharing, consumption and digestion.

And just like everything in politics these days, all it took was a choreographed exercise in political branding. Trudeau discussed how he’d take that inevitable question with his advisers — a scene caught on camera by CBC when it went behind the scenes on his first real day as prime minister.

The slow, subtle melding of shrewd advertising into the political sphere is hardly new — and if you want more on that long history, Susan Delacourt has an excellent book on the topic. What is new about Trudeau’s approach is that he’s the first Canadian politician to so successfully tap into the pop commercial feminism that has begun to dominate both advertising and politics.

His shrug garnered pro-feminist headlines in an age when the f-word is so cool Beyoncé dances in front of it. Hillary Clinton is running a campaign emphasizing a woman’s touch. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel tweetstorms her feminism to national headlines, and even Barbie is now selling its wares with a side of feminist schtick.


Whether it’s Mattel pumping out maudlin ads about dolls inspiring girls to be whatever they want — socioeconomic, racial and other barriers be damned — or Dove’s saccharin bits of self-esteem boosting sap that, in the end, still hawk “beauty” products, commercial pop feminism sells. So much so it’s now the stuff of parody.

A YouTube video of a fake advertising agency called Jane Street perfectly parodies the trend. It boasts “demand for girl-power ads has skyrocketed.” It says the agency uses a CLITT (Core Lady Insecurity To Target) approach to “hone in on the most sensitive areas for improvement” and “We even empowered women with yogurt.”


And it’s true, whether it’s Activa or Kotex, “girl power” advertising has become ubiquitous in selling higher-priced pink-packaged products to women instead of the less costly “male” version of shaving cream, yogurt or whatever.

There are of course benefits to the mainstreaming of feminism: if companies seeking social responsibility cred present more well-rounded women to young girls or fund education abroad or tackle violence against women, those are good things. So too are more women in power and men who realize that women’s issues are vote getters.

RelatedAndrew Coyne: Trudeau cabinet should be based on merit, not genderJohn Ivison: Fall of Tony Blair offers Justin Trudeau a cautionary tale

Just because Trudeau’s feminism has been effectively packaged, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some authentic and important roots. But let’s drop the pretence Trudeau’s feminism is purely altruistic. In the age of brand-driven politics, nothing is. Because if that were the case, he would have just built a gender neutral cabinet, instead of touting it loudly and often before the writ dropped. His brand is now inextricably linked to that new, mainstream version of palatable feminism and his cabinet will be held to its standards time and again. If it results in good public policy, then all the better.

If not, then it’s just another example of the cold calculation that makes up the 21st century campaign. It really is 2015 when the commercial feminism perfected by pop stars and ad agencies becomes the stuff that makes prime ministers.

National Post

About Ashley Csanady