Dear Mrs. Trudeau,
By now, the reality of your Women’s Day Instagram post, where you showcase your husband’s activism, has reached hundreds of thousands of people, and the backlash has been swift and brutal. It is not my intention to approach this with anger, or contempt; but rather with this letter I attempt to educate you on the power of your words and the impact of the statement you have made. As we both claim to be feminists – this discussion should be unbiased, and I do hope that if you read this, you take this as the educative, well-meaning discussion I am presenting it as.
Feminism, at its core, should be an intersectional1, interdisciplinary2 movement to clear the path of mutuality for all genders, races, religions, etc. Your statement, as well-meaning as it was, is problematic on several levels, and these are issues I want to bring to your attention with this statement. These points are: your statement’s undermining of the purpose of Woman’s Day; your lack of trans-inclusive language; and the assumption that every female-identifying person has close relationships with male-identifying people.
First of all – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is, for the most part, attempting to improve the issue of mutuality3 (albeit in a way that alienates women of colour and First Nations women especially, partly through his support of environmentally and socially destructive trade deals) in Canadian politics. His acknowledgement of the patriarchy (as it pertains to white, able bodied women) is refreshing, as is your stance on the body image pressures female-identifying people are bombarded with on a daily basis. I understand that you meant to showcase how appreciative you are of your partner’s understanding of gender inequality – but Women’s Day was not the time to draw attention to that appreciation. International Women’s Day was started in the early 1900’s to empower female-identifying people, to remind us that we do not need a male-identifying person in our lives to be able to live live to the fullest, to succeed in anything we wish to do; and indeed, to feel romantically fulfilled. I ask you to perhaps understand a little more that your words, although not purposefully causing harm, drew attention away from women-identifying people on a day when we were supposed to be celebrating them. A romantic partner is wonderful to have, but not a constant in everyone’s life, and in choosing to showcase your husband, you also alienated the platonic and non-sexual bonds that could have been honoured, as they are just as important as to personal well-being as a life partner. “Take a picture holding hands with your male ally”, you say; I say, do that another day. I ask that next year, you draw your inspiration from one of the female-identifying person in your life, and put forth how they inspire, support, and further your life. For this day is about drawing attention to them.
I would next like to draw attention to the trans-exclusionary, and/or binary-perpetuating language. To “draw attention to the men and boys” in our lives excludes those who may identify as something other than society would like them to. It alienates those who choose not to partake in the social construct of gender, and it perpetuates the binary of “female vs. male”, instead of breaking it down. It is important to get more male-identifying people to understand and further the feminist movement; however, it is even more important that we do not rely on the white gender binary to achieve that goal. “Feminism is for everyone” and your lack of intersectionality distances you from those you are trying to empower; and with the sheer amount of power you hold as a global political figure, that is a travesty, at best.
Thirdly, and finally, I would like to draw attention to your problematic assumption that every activist has “male” allies. Many of us have wonderful male-identifying allies that we would like to discuss the furthering of mutuality with; and many of us do not. For whatever reason, be it abuse, the loss of those friends and allies, or a lack of appropriate ally-ship – putting importance on the gender identity of a feminist ally is problematic, and that should not take a great deal of explaining to truly understand. Allies can take many shapes and forms, and the only way to widen the net of allies is to stop putting criteria on them that is out of their control; ie race, gender, age, and ethnicity.
So to conclude, Mrs. Trudeau – your feminism is needed in the world due to your power and sphere of influence; however it is now teetering dangerously close to the abyss of White Feminism. I urge you to take this opportunity to self-reflect and self-educate, and perhaps do some reading, if you have not done already. Some personal favourite of mine include:
bell hooks: Ain’t I a woman?: Black women and feminism
Chandra Mohanty: “Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity”
Judith Butler: “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” (1988)
Audre Lorde: Sister Outsider
Angela Davis: Women, Race and Class
Every activist makes mistakes at some point in their career as self-identifying feminist. I know I have, and I know many others who have too. I urge you to look at this, Mrs. Trudeau, and self-reflect. Even though one should take time every day to support and appreciate the women-identifying people in your life, as only appreciating them one day out of the year is, in and of itself, an act of violence; if you take one day and only one day in the next few years to focus on a woman in your life, make it Women’s Day. Your husband can step aside for the day. As a feminist, I’m sure he would be happy to.
Thank you for your time.
Lauryn Collins [UBC English Lit Major, GRSJ Minor, and Apprentice Social Activist]
- Intersectionality = the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. AKA: acknowledging that issues of oppression cannot solely be based on one factor, such as gender.
- Interdisciplinary = acknowledging that feminism is enhanced and shaped by different branches of academic study, of life experience, and beliefs.
- Mutuality; a term coined by bell hooks to describe the primary goal of feminism. Synonymous to equality, but takes into account the intersectionality of equality itself.