Like most Canadian citizens, I was delighted to see the back end of our former Prime Minister Harper as he conceded defeat to the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau. Although I’ve felt slightly disconnected watching both the campaign and the reaction to Trudeau’s win from my home in Sydney, Australia, I’ve been fascinated by what arguably became one of the main campaign foci: Trudeau’s hair. ‘Hair’ clearly stood in for much larger hang ups about Trudeau’s appearance, masculinity, sexuality, and life choices. Both the gleeful memes celebrating Canada’s ‘hot’ new Prime Minister (the National Post asked if Trudeau was ‘the sexiest politician in the world‘) and the sneering claims that being a drama teacher and the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau hardly qualify him to run the country (the ol’ ‘get a hair cut and get a real job‘ argument) seem to tell us more about hegemonic masculinity in the world of politics than anything else.
But first, in case you haven’t been paying close attention and you think Trudeau’s hair wasn’t a big campaign issue, here is a summary:
Arguably, hair-gate kicked into full gear when the Conservative Party started referencing Trudeau’s locks in their attack ads- they commented that Trudeau was ‘not ready to lead’, but added ‘nice hair though.’ The ‘nice hair though’ became somewhat iconic. In her excellent piece ‘The Feminizatin of Trudeau’, Winnipeg Free Press Editor Shannon Sampert summarized: “the Conservatives tend to belittle his leadership skills by focusing on his hair. It’s become a common insult. Trudeau has nice hair, but no policy.” In 2012 the Toronto Sun reaffirmed this argument with the headline: “Justin Trudeau: Great hair but no credentials.”
But the Conservatives and Canadians have not been the only hair-obsessed. The international reaction to Trudea as a candidate and as the future PM has largely been framed around his hair. The Economist called him the “hair apparent“, the UK’s Mirror noted his “luscious brown hair, spellbinding eyes” and “chiseled physique,” Spain’s El Mundo called Trudeau Canada’s “pretty boy,” and the The Huffington Post has a gallery with differently named versions of Trudeau’s iconic locks. By the end of the campaign, each Canadian candidate’s hair had its own (unofficial) Twitter account, and Mulcair’s beard had two: @trudeaushair, @graybouffant (for Harper), @MulcairBeard and @Mulcairsbeard. Continue reading
My students and I have unlocked the key to writing a blockbuster romantic comedy script. When lecturing on masculinities in my Gender and Human Rights course I gave students the following challenge: think of an stereotypical, ideal-type character that symbolizes one form of hegemonic masculinity. Remembering that hegemonic masculinities are fluid ideal types that vary across history and context, students came up with answers like “the macho rugby player,” “the workaholic CEO,” “the playboy” and “the quiet, rugged cowboy.” After getting them to list the qualities that define these masculine types, I asked them to imagine a scenario or event that would completely challenge, undermine, or seemingly contradict these masculine identities and to talk about how their immediate community and society might react. Well, the answers produced almost every romantic comedy script you can imagine.
Here are a few examples:
Scenario 1: Rugby player decides to be a stay at home dad
Result: fans and teammates are shocked, hilarity ensues. I think there is an entire sub-category of comedies dedicated to macho men trying to raise babies: “Three Men and a Baby,” “Kindergarten Cop,” Vin Deisel’s “The Babysitter”
Scenario 2: star athlete reveals a secret love of ballet/opera etc, or, more specifically, hockey player reveals a secret love of figure skating
Result: his mates initially ostracize him but end up being impressed with is skills. This is loosely the real plot line of “The Cutting Edge”, a cheesy 90s romantic comedy.
Scenario 3: playboy falls in love
Result: “Crazy, Stupid Love”and a million other romantic comedies premised on the macho main character ‘softening’ as his goofy sidekick ‘hardens’ up- the result is that both find true love.
Scenario 4: Rugged cowboy comes out of the closet
Result: you see where I’m going here.
So what’s the take home message? Romantic comedies could not exist without very specific and stereotypical ideas about masculinity (and femininity). We tend to over-examine the representation of women in popular culture (for good reason) but are less apt at looking at how the construction and unraveling of masculinity is key to almost any Rom Com script. Never mind the fact that there is almost always a great example of complicit masculinity- those characters that do not fit the stereotype of hegemonic masculinity but who benefit from the power structures associated with the identity. Think “Pretty Woman”, where a hardened CEO softens under the spell of employee while his jerk of a partner grapples with the situation. Go on, think of your favorite Rom Coms and spot the hegemonic masculinity/complicit masculinity at play. Have fun.