Jamil Jivani is an author, lawyer and host of The Road Home podcast
Justin Trudeau has gone to great lengths to prove he is our feminist Prime Minister. He has consistently signalled his commitment to feminism in the composition of his cabinet and in his negotiation of trade deals. But the Prime Minister’s recent negative portrayal of masculinity at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina is troubling, because it reveals a narrow understanding of the lives of Canadian men.
Mr. Trudeau’s critics narrowed in on his statement concerning the “gender impacts” of male construction workers in rural areas. The Prime Minister’s Office claimed his words were being taken out of context. But more context doesn’t prove the Prime Minister’s critics wrong.
Also at the G20 summit, Mr. Trudeau talked about the “better choices” female entrepreneurs make compared with male ones. According to CBC’s Katie Simpson, the Prime Minister additionally discussed “toxic masculinity” and how “men can’t show emotion, have to be the leader of the home, and how a threat to any of that makes [men] weak.” Our self-described practitioner of positive politics offered his international audience an undeniably negative way of understanding masculinity.
In front of G20 attendees, some of the world’s economic and cultural elites, speaking this way might be easy. On the ground, though, where most Canadians live and work, such negativity from Mr. Trudeau doesn’t help clear the way to a better future. No positive masculinity can be gleaned from the Prime Minister’s sentiments. No good role models are provided. There’s only talk about where men might be going wrong, with little distinction between different ways men understand themselves.
From my experiences travelling across the country over the past two months, I’ve met many young men who don’t benefit from these narrow views on masculinity. The lives of these young men don’t easily fit into the narratives applauded by international summit delegates, but are nonetheless critical to understanding our country today.
The Prime Minister’s shortcomings are not unique to him. I have spent a lot of time trying to balance legitimate, critical discussions about the harmful ways some men understand masculinity (e.g. extremists and violent criminals) with the need to inspire a positive, affirmative identity in men (e.g. committed fathers and responsible mentors). What helps me is walking alongside the men among us who, quite plainly, need hope, optimism and moral encouragement. And there’s a lot of them out there.
My travels across Canada were inspired by my book Why Young Men, in which I write about the dangerous allure of violent movements to struggling young men. We called this national tour The Road Home in recognition of the need for more Canadian kids to feel at home in this country.
After I spoke to hundreds of students at an Alberta school, I walked down a hallway to the teachers’ staff room. A 13-year-old boy stopped me to ask, “How did you learn to control your anger?” For him, this was a pressing question because he had recently returned to school after being expelled the previous year for fighting. At 13, he already joined and quit a gang. He didn’t want to get expelled again.
In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, I spent time with groups of high-school students to talk about overcoming failure. I failed the Ontario literacy test in Grade 10, and we talked about what it takes to bounce back and find success as a student. Some of the boys could barely sit still. Others were very tuned in, and wanted me to go deeper with my remarks. At one school, a boy raised his hand and asked, “Have you ever been depressed? What did you do?” At another school, a boy with similar feelings asked, “Where do you find the motivation to stay alive?” He was thinking about suicide.
Even men my own age had heavy subjects on their minds. In every city I visited, men confided in me about separating from their wives, anxieties related to fatherhood and generally feeling a lack of moral support from their social networks. I saw pain and uncertainty in their eyes.
Do any of these young men strike you as people who need more negativity in their lives? That their Prime Minister is thinking of them when he sweepingly associates their male identity with toxicity, “gender impacts” and poor decision-making? The openness I’ve been privileged to see in young men across Canada comes from the fact that I’m not out here to point a finger at them or carry out some ideological agenda. I’m focused on how I can help more young men overcome adversity, turn away from moral relativism and share their gifts with the world.
I know what it’s like to think you have no gifts to offer others. Too many young men are in that same dark place. In reflecting on the Prime Minister’s views on masculinity, there’s something bigger at stake here than the partisan posturing that dominates.
Our government leaders, and the many institutions they influence, must be mindful of how they’re discussing Canadian men, and if their words and actions are actually inspiring positive change or just more ivory tower virtue signalling.