Last week, Canadian liberals exhaled a sigh of relief that the seemingly endless era of Stephen Harper was finally at an end.
The rest of the world exhaled too, and out of its collective mouth seemed to come the kittenish sigh, “Heyyy Justin Trudeau.”
If politics was once mocked as show business for ugly people, it is now—thanks to Canada’s newly elected prime minister—show business for pretty people too. Which makes it just show business.
The new PM is, according to Jezebel, “non-controversially fuckable,” because of his proudly liberal views on issues like marijuana and abortion.
“Controversially fuckable” would, presumably, be all those right-wingers who are sexy, but have awful views about LGBTs and a woman’s right to choose. Except: a) they don’t exist, and b): if they did, their repulsive views would immediately put those people who prize personal politics alongside good looks, off sleeping with them. A “controversially fuckable” person’s politics would make them unfuckable, unless it was a self-loathing political fuck we’re talking about. (We’re not judging—maybe take the edge off with a few vodkas beforehand is all we’d say.)
However, imagine the rightful pandemonium if a male journalist had called a female politician any variation of “fuckable.” Twitter would have exploded with indignation about sexism and objectification.
But it’s fine to objectify Trudeau, because, erm, why? Well, it’s fun to watch men be put under the pressure of society’s sexual gaze; it’s payback for all the various, sexist renderings of the male gaze on women.
It’s still fun to look at men generally, although—if this “fun” follows the same trajectory as looking at women—it won’t be “fun” for much longer. Perving over a hot man’s looks in public will soon become as verboten as noting a female public figure’s looks.
Canada seems a little alarmed at the world salivating over its new leader.
Trudeau surely has invited it, quite blithely. There’s the amateur boxer pose plus general heartthrob portraits.
Trudeau performed a half-hearted, but still hot strip-tease at a fundraising ladies’ night—hot because he knows, in a non-asshole way, that he is hot.
Not everyone wants to get on the Trudeau hotness charabanc. The Frisky was not convinced: “His hair looks soft. He’s a boxer. He also, apparently, has a tattoo. That’s exciting. That’s fun! I don’t think he’s that hot, but he’s politician-hot. Young Joe Biden is hotter, but Trudeau’s decent! Go Canada!”
As the world slid from its seats, Canada got into some serious pearl-clutching and offense-taken-ism. America only cared about it now because its new prime minister was hot.
As a writer on the Star noted, “Today, our nation is at the forefront of America’s minds—or more accurately, its loins—for a very different reason. In case you hadn’t noticed, Justin Trudeau, our next prime minister, is a charismatic 43-year-old (a toddler in politician years) and judging from the hordes of swooning Americans on social media, he is also a certifiable babe.”
Now, c’mon. His babeness was hardly an imperialistic American invention. In 2012, a Macleans journalist burbled, reporting on a lunch they had, “His mane of black hair was tousled. Even in genteel disarray, even dressed more or less like a couple hundred of his parliamentary colleagues, the 40-year-old Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Papineau looked like a million bucks.”
What the mass Trudeau perving proves is that when we first look at someone, we look.
Despite every single thing we are advised, cautioned, and told in our culturally sensitive times, we look at their looks. Do they appeal to us? We judge or estimate or mull this before a word comes out of their mouths.
We do not, generally, immediately look beyond their gorgeous or non-gorgeous eyes, and pearly white, or stain-toothed smile, to seek their views on taxation, and nuclear disarmament. We look, then we seek (or not) further connection.
There is such howling about sexual objectification now that we deny this impulse, of course. But of course, you can find someone hot, and politically disagree with them.
You can also find somebody hot, yet not reduce them to just that when talking about them privately or publicly.
Finding somebody sexy, or noting their sexiness isn’t to reduce them. Yes, judging someone solely on their looks is shallow, but allowing their looks to factor into your judgment of them is natural. Their brains, wit, and skill will usually trump their hotness in the long game.
Objectification etiquette is its own minefield, of course. Generally, if you are in any kind of professional relationship with a person, and you have basic good manners, you will find them hot and keep it to yourself—and let your professional relationship unfurl alongside that.
But in condemning sexual objectification in movies, TV, on billboards, and on the street, we are making infants of ourselves on a misguided mission to correct misogyny and prejudice.
Both those things should always be confronted, but sexual objectification is not as injurious as its current rap-sheet suggests. You can find somebody attractive, and still know they are more than the sum of their aesthetics.
No matter how sexy Justin Trudeau is, if he leads Canada’s economy off a cliff, or behaves like an oaf with a foreign dignitary, or says something ridiculous about the police, he will be judged on that, no matter how cutely he stares into a TV camera to explain himself.
The irony of the term “sexual objectification” is that people are rarely reduced to the level of a sex object when they are objectified. We know that there is more to the person on display—that we are being sold something.
Can such images—as long as they do not show violence or non-consensual subjugation—also not simply be fun and pleasurable? Why, in an era of a plethora of media, with a bombardment of images, bathing in the massed flesh a sexualized culture, have we also become so censorious about what we see of ourselves and others?
The truth is our culture is in a perpetual fluster of sexual objectification: People with their clothes off are all over prime time, and movie screens, and magazine covers.
Rather than denounce it, we should be honest about its prevalence (if we didn’t want it, the objectification wouldn’t be played out so relentlessly), and how we can most sanely sift through its offcuts. If the images depress or upset you, don’t download them, avert your adult eyes, read Jane Eyre.
The rest of us will continue to shuttle between the feelings of desire, envy, and ennui such images produce—the latter because we know more will be along soon.
We also know they are just images—their own encoded fantasies, our own moments of visual escape—while real people are infinitely more complex, and real life infinitely less airbrushed.
So, let’s carry on objectifying Justin Trudeau, and grow up about why we’re doing it.