Boys need to be raised to be feminists as much as girls because “our sons have the power and the responsibility to change our culture of sexism”, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, wrote in an essay published on Wednesday.
Justin Trudeau: ‘All of us benefit when women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys – and it’s on all of us to make that a reality.’
Teaching boys to be feminists gives them a sense of justice and empathy and helps them “escape the pressure to be a particular kind of masculine” that is damaging to men and those around them, Trudeau writes. “I want them to be comfortable being themselves, and being feminists – who stand up for what’s right, and who can look themselves in the eye with pride.”
Trudeau said he had been thinking about how to raise his daughter, Ella-Grace, as a feminist when his wife, Sophie, reminded him that their sons Xavier and Hadrien needed to be advocates for women as well.
“All of us benefit when women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys – and it’s on all of us to make that a reality,” he wrote in an essay for Marie Claire magazine. “Our sons have the power and the responsibility to change our culture of sexism.”
Feminism, noted Trudeau, was not just the belief that men and women are equal. “It’s the knowledge that when we are all equal, all of us are more free.”
Trudeau, 45, frequently describes himself as a feminist. After taking power in 2015, he drew global attention by appointing a cabinet with an equal number of men and women. This year his government followed in the footsteps of Sweden in adopting what it called a feminist policy toward foreign aid.
As his government approaches two years in power, however, it has been critised for failing to transform Trudeau’s pronouncements on gender equality into concrete actions aimed at addressing the challenges facing Canadian women.
As many as 4,000 indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in the past three decades, while the number of indigenous women in prison has soared. Childcare costs in Canada rank among the highest in the OECD, while a persistent pay gap has sent the country tumbling to 35th place in the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap rankings.
While his government has committed to presenting pay equity legislation for federally regulated sectors, it has said it will not do so until 2018.
Trudeau’s essay, penned to mark the UN’s International Day of the Girl, comes months after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, set off a social media firestorm after suggesting that women celebrate International Women’s Day by highlighting boys and men who promote gender equality.
At the time, many blasted Grégoire Trudeau’s stance – posted on several social media sites – for being tone deaf. Others juxtaposed Grégoire Trudeau’s words with her husband’s actions.
“If your husband were a true feminist and, by your own definition isn’t ‘afraid to speak up in front of others’, he would denounce Trump personally and his administration’s misogyny. Until he does, he’s a lip-service feminist and I can’t take him seriously as a fighter for the cause,” noted one response to Grégoire Trudeau’s post.
The publication of Trudeau’s essay coincided with his visit to Washington DC, where he met with Donald Trump, who has come under heavy criticism for his attitudes toward women. During his campaign to become president, a videotape was released in which he could be heard bragging about groping and having sex with women.
Since taking power, his administration has proposed or undertaken measures curbing women’s rights, particularly in the areas of abortion access, health insurance, childcare and workplace policies.
Last week, his administration stripped out requirements under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act law that required employers to provide insurance to cover women’s birth control.