Justin Trudeau’s butt won’t quit — just like double standards in politics

A pic of the PM’s behind broke the Internet. Why do good looks elevate male leaders but degrade female ones?

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Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deftly pulled off a drama-free visit to the White House. He wasn’t yelled at by President Donald Trump (like Australia’s PM) or caught off guard at Mar-a-Lago dealing with a nuked-up North Korea (like Japan’s president). Then from Washington, Trudeau headed to Europe to reassure the continent that Canada will remain a sober designated driver during the next four years of America’s anti-trade, anti-immigration bender. Not bad work for a short month, but all of that was overshadowed by the now-regularly occurring global alert that our PM is a hottie.

Earlier this week, a photo of Trudeau’s gym-toned backside, taken in January at a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia town hall, went viral. “Enough bad news,” tweeted one fan. “Here’s a picture of Justin Trudeau’s butt. You’re welcome.” Another wrote: “Me: Why is everybody posting photos of Justin Trudeau’s butt, it’s just a butt, c’mon. Me, five minutes later: What is this butt sorcery?” The commentary even got meta: “Find someone who loves you as much the Internet loves Justin Trudeau’s butt.” And for those who prefer puka shell necklaces to posteriors, photos of a young Trudeau modelling his extensive collection of man jewellery were also trending this week.

Since his election a little over a year ago, foreigners have found in Trudeau’s attractiveness a balm for troubled times. Anxious about the global refugee crisis? Make like German chancellor Angela Merkel and swim in his deep blue eyes. Freaked out about climate change? Find your happy place gazing at Trudeau snuggling a pair of pandas. Coupled with Canada’s reputation for being polite and progressive (if a little bland), Trudeau’s handsomeness has become a virtue in and of itself, a sign of general Canadian goodness. It’s even (jokingly) been framed as a form of resistance. After his White House visit, Canadian-born Full Frontal host Samantha Bee tweeted this:

There are worse fates for a nation than being known for its attractive leader, and if the Internet needs a boyfriend, why not Trudeau? Maybe it’ll be good for tourism. But all the fuss over the PM’s looks isn’t exactly harmless. It’s not that Trudeau is a victim of objectification or reverse sexism – because, seriously, that’s not a real thing. The crushing on our PM does however expose a deep double standard in politics. Trudeau’s handsomeness gives him an advantage that a female politician simply couldn’t capitalize on.

During the 2015 election, Stephen Harper’s campaign team tried to use Trudeau’s good looks to paint him as a callow Ken doll, alluding to his hair cut and airing footage of him peeling off his shirt at a charity event. It backfired. Turns out, voters were swayed — at least in part — by Trudeau’s charisma and youthful vigour. (A little advice for Conservative operatives: When your guy has as much umami as a low-sodium cracker, don’t keep reminding people about how cute and fun his opponent is.)

As it happens, there’s evidence indicating that physically attractive people have significant advantages when it comes to employment and social status. The handsome and beautiful among us receive higher ratings for university admissions. They’re seen as more hireable, are offered bigger salaries and they receive better performance evaluations. In trials, they get more favourable judgments. And when they run for public office, they have higher approval ratings.

All of this is true for both men and women, with one notable exception. Attractiveness is valued in women unless they are in male-dominated fields, like business or politics. Beautiful women are often passed over for promotions because they are perceived to be less serious and less capable than an equally attractive man, and they’re less likely to be hired for high-level jobs requiring authority.

While Trudeau can revel in his magnetism – posing for fashion magazines, showing off his yoga skills, photo bombing a beach wedding while stripped to his waist — and see his popularity soar as a result, female politicians must be scrupulous about not trading in on their looks. It’s similar to Trudeau’s ability to look heroic for calling himself a feminist, while plenty of women still worry that the same label would make them seem shrill.

For women in authority, there’s a narrow line between being assertive and being a bitch, between being charming and being a flake, between being presentable and looking too flashy. Harassment of women in public office is often tied to how they look: they’re fat, they’re slutty, they’re too pretty, they’re ugly. Back when Hillary Clinton was a senator she revealed a teeny smidge of cleavage and it became newsworthy. She began wearing her famous pantsuits because she needed an unremarkable uniform that wouldn’t draw attention to her gender and sexuality.

Male politicians, who have authority conferred upon them simply because of their sex, have far more leeway to be peacocks without losing their gravitas. Ontario NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh was recently profiled in GQ. The handsome and suave MPP spoke about politics, race and religion — he’s Sikh and wears a turban — but largely about his personal style. “I believe in well-tailored suits, with a timeless character,” he said. “I wear cuts that are slimmer and fitted than classic looks. But I believe in simple color palettes that are bold, but not loud.”

It’s an interesting interview and Singh comes across well. But it’s hard to imagine a female politician, particularly a leftie one, talking to a fashion magazine about the cut and colour of her expensive designer blouses. She’d be written off as an unserious, extravagant clotheshorse. Likewise, you’d never see Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland joining the Prime Minister in taking bathing suit selfies. Or Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould squeezing her husband’s bum in a Vogue spread, as the Trudeaus once did. Can you imagine the scandal? When Kim Campbell bared her shoulders in a photograph back in 1990, she was likened to Madonna — and not in a complimentary way.

Justin Trudeau isn’t to blame for the genes he inherited or for the affection he inspires. But it does say something about the state of gender politics, and politics in general, that the public finds the sight of his booty soothing but views the slightest hint of sexuality among female politicians unsettling.

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