OTTAWA - The headline on the Conservative party's latest mailout reads "He's in way over his head," but what's drawn around Justin Trudeau's head could be carrying a powerful subliminal message too.

A swirl of tiny little stars — reminiscent of Tinkerbell's trail of sparkles — frames the Liberal leader. He's shown with a goatee, open collar and his jacket slung over his shoulder.

The flyer produced for Conservative MPs to be sent to constituents contains several negative bullet points about Trudeau that are written in a cursive font, while the points lauding Prime Minister Stephen Harper are in a bolder print font.

The letter "i" in Trudeau's first name is capped with a star in the Conservative materials — like a pre-teen girl might apply to her name.

So what exactly are the Conservatives getting at here?

"I think there is a subtle attempt not necessarily to question Justin Trudeau's masculinity but to at least make him appear less masculine," said David Coletto, a Canadian market researcher and CEO of Abacus Data.

Coletto says recent polling shows Trudeau does just as well with men as with women, something that would worry the Conservatives.

"I think (the ads) are meant to weaken his standing particularly among middle-aged men, who are really the core of the Conservative government's coalition, so they're trying to shore that up...the idea that this guy's not a man's man, and maybe therefore not worthy of our vote," said Coletto.

The initial volley of the Conservative ad that ran last weekend was carried during a Blue Jays baseball game, an English Premier League match and a PGA golf tournament — all of which are overwhelmingly watched by men. The ad went into wider distribution during top-rated programs this week including Wednesday evening's broadcast of American Idol.

Christopher Greig, co-author of the book "Canadian Men and Masculinities," also believes the Conservatives are trying to frame Trudeau as "unmanly" in their most recent flyer. He explains that society has certain views on what an appropriately masculine identity is.

"Men who exhibit non-traditional gender behaviours or engage in non-traditional male activities or work, tend to get positioned as less manly," said Greig, a professor of education at the University of Windsor.

"In the Justin Trudeau case, the mention that he was a drama teacher sort of plays into those anxieties around being appropriately male, where drama has been historically gendered feminine."

When Conservatives were asked Thursday about a potential subtext in the ads said they saw nothing of the sort.

"I don't think anybody's saying anything like that," said Alberta MP Leon Benoit. "All the ads are saying is that he's not ready to govern this country as prime minister."

Greig notes that in politics, leadership is often equated with masculine attributes. He points to athleticism and an embrace of the outdoors as the Canadian angle on those ideals.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has used several traditionally masculine backdrops over the years. His media advisers have made sure he was seen riding an ATV in the North, playing hockey and watching hockey games. That kind of image-building was not lost on the prime minister when he was asked by a reporter whether he would ever get on a motorcycle with wife Laureen, who is a riding enthusiast.

"You've got to worry about image," he said in 2006. "I don't want to be on the back with my wife driving."

Trudeau is undoubtedly aware of the powers of masculine image-making. His lopsided win in a boxing match against then-Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau last year was seen as an answer by some to questions about his toughness. Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion tried to fend off similar questions by launching a website that featured him playing ball hockey and snowshoeing.

"I think all political parties work hard to ensure that they construct the public image of their leader as appropriately masculine," said Greig.

American gender studies scholar Bruce Curtis wrote about the "Wimp Factor" in the 1988 American election that pitted Michael Dukakis against George Bush Sr. Bush managed to overcome an image of being too tame, while Dukakis tried unsuccessfully to fight the image by driving a tank and playing baseball on his front lawn.

"It seems to me a method to divert attention from real social issues, and policies, to personality, so you have ad hominem attacks," said Curtis, now retired from Michigan State University.

Curtis notes that attitudes have changed over the years, particularly with women rising in the public sphere and the acceptance in many quarters of gay rights.

But with so much in modern politics about influencing strategic segments of the electorate, sowing doubt in the minds of certain pockets is the name of the game.

"If you question someone's masculinity, then you can also question their leadership capabilities, their ability to make decisions, their firmness," said Coletto.

"If you're able particularly in the current context, with weak economic conditions and now with what appears to be a rise in fear or worry about terrorism...it's almost a perfect combination to playing to those prejudices."

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  • Coming For MacKay

    Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay (left) is chased by Liberal MP Justin Trudeau in a motorized wheelchair during a wheelchair race relay on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. Twenty-five MPs and senators used a wheelchair for the day in support of the Canadian Paraplegic Association's Spinal Cord Injury and CPA awareness month.

  • Come At Me, Bro

    Justin Trudeau trains at Pan Am Boxing Club in Winnipeg on Friday Feb. 1, 2013.

  • Peekaboo!

    Justin Trudeau & co. making faces.

  • Riiiiip!

    Justin Trudeau splits his pants while pushing the "scrum machine" in support of Prostate Cancer Canada in Toronto Thursday, July 21, 2011.

  • Don't Shoot!

    Justin Trudeau gets his geek on at Montreal Comiccon in September 2012.

  • So Long 'Stache

    Justin Trudeau has his moustache shaved off to raise money for the Judy LaMarsh Fund, that supports female candidates, at the Liberal Party convention in Ottawa on Saturday, January 14, 2012.

  • All For One, One For All

    Justin Trudeau all dressed up for the Montreal Movember Gala in 2010.

  • Get Him!

    Pierre Trudeau's sons, Sacha, left, and Justin, tackle their mother's paperboy in Ottawa in this undated photo.

  • 'Family... And A Cow.'

    'Nuff said.

  • He Can Certainly Take A Punch

    Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau delivers a right hook to his older brother Justin during a play fight in 1980 at Ottawa airport as the boys await a flight with the return of their father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.

  • Be Honest With Me, Who's Cuter?

    Justin Trudeau strikes a pose with an adorable baby.

  • A Very Furry Christmas

    Justin Trudeau poses with his family on his 2010 Christmas card.

  • Game On!

    Former Liberal MP Ken Dryden, left, and Justin Trudeau play table hockey as they visit Sun Youth, a community organization, Monday, Jan. 14, 2008 in Montreal.

  • Yanking Their Chain

    Then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, left, watches as his 11-year-old son Justin swings on a chain during a tour of an old fort in the Omani town of Nizwa Dec. 2, 1983. Trudeau and Justin spent the day visiting the towns of Jebel and Nizwa 165 kilometres south of Muscat.

  • Rocking Out

    Justin Trudeau in Muskoka, Ont.

  • YeeHaw!

    Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, centre, has his cowbay taken by his son Xavier, 4 years-old, while his wife Sophie Gregoire, second from left, holds daughet Ella-Grace, 3 years-old, while they attend the party's annual Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Saturday, July 7, 2012. This is the 100th anniversary of the Stampede.

  • Like Mother, Like Son

    Eleven-month-old Justin Trudeau, urged on by his mother Margaret Trudeau, crawls up the steps of an aircraft in Ottawa on Dec. 5, 1972 to meet his father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau on his return from Britain.

  • Cutting A Rug

    Justin Trudeau dances with wife Sophie Grégoire before his speech at the Liberal showcase on April 6, 2013.

  • Next: What Is Pierre Trudeau Doing?

  • Magician?

    Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, wearing what someone called his "Mandrake the Magician outfit," walks down the grandstand steps to present the Grey Cup trophy to the victorious Montreal Alouettes in this Nov. 28, 1970 photo.

  • Hey, It Was The '70s

    Pierre Trudeau leans over to kiss an unidentified young lady to the seeming surprise of his recent bride Margaret. Trudeau and Margaret spent Saturday March 27, 1971 at maple tree farm here near Montreal at a sugaring out party.

  • Fur Wasn't Always Controversial

    Pierre Trudeau accompanies Margaret Sinclair, at the annual Governor General's skating party for members of Parliament in Ottawa Jan. 14, 1970.

  • Ditto For Seal Hunting

    Pierre Trudeau looks through the scope of his rifle while on a seal hunting trip in Baffin Island's Clear Water Fjord, July 29, 1968.

  • A Leg Up

    Pierre Trudeau shoes off his frisbee catching style while waiting to board his plane in Vancouver May 16, 1979.

  • Calisthenics Were Still Cool

    Pierre Trudeau had no trouble keeping himself occupied during a break from a boat trip down the Northwest Territories, Nahanni River, Monday Aug. 4, 1970.

  • The Outfit...

    Pierre Trudeau takes a wary look at an ice crevice, decides to chance it and makes the leap successfully during a midnight seal- hunting expedition at Clearwater Fjord in Canada's Arctic, July 29, 1968.

  • When in France...

    Pierre Trudeau receives a kiss from his wife Margaret during a tour of St. Pierre, France, Aug. 1971.

  • Running Man

    Pierre Trudeau in Guayana 1974.

  • Friendlier With Reporters Than You Know Who

    Pierre Trudeau sticks his tongue out to Canadian Press Photographer Peter Bregg during the 1972 election campaign. This photo was taken aboard the campaign plane where such antics were considered off the record. The photo was not made available until after the death of the prime minister

  • Disco Stu

    Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dances in Montreal Oct. 21, 1979.

  • Acting like a Beatle

    Pierre Trudeau sprints away from a crowd of female admirers in Ottawa April 22, 1968. They surrounded him outside the Parliament Buildings on his third day in office.

  • Posing with a Beatle

    John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, meet with Pierre Trudeau Dec. 24, 1969 in Ottawa.

  • 'I See Cigars And Rum In Our Future'

    Pierre Trudeau looks on as Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures during a visit to a Havana housing project in this Jan. 27, 1976 photo.

  • Acting Out A Tory Fantasy?

    Pierre Trudeau pretending to strangle himself with a tie given to him as he was presented with honorary membership in the National Press Club in Ottawa Sept. 17, 1968.

  • Unfortunate Hat

    Pierre Trudeau amuses a group of people in Fortune while on tour through Newfoundland, Aug. 3, 1971.

  • Oh Captain! My Captain!

    Pierre Trudeau takes a ride on the Bluenose, Aug. 1972.

  • Nice Form Pierre

    Pierre Trudeau works out at an Oshawa health club during a break in his 1968 election campaign.

  • Are The Flowers Too Much?

    Pierre Trudeau, with a garland around his neck and a Hindu greeting symbol in paste on his forhead, rides a camel Jan 12, 1971 in the village of Benares, India, where he dedicated a water well.

  • I Do Love Flowers

    Pierre Trudeau kids around with a carnation while waiting for voting results at the Liberal convention in this April 7, 1968 photo.

  • Indiana Jones Of The Great White North

    Pierre Trudeau tries cracking a dog sled whip while visiting Baker Lake in the Arctic, March 10, 1970.

  • Never Afraid To Dance

    Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Sheik Yamani, left, and Pierre Trudeau, right, dance a traditional Arabian dance while camping out in the desert in Madein Saleh, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 18, 1980.

  • Or Rock A Skirt

    Pierre Trudeau, seen here taking part in Maori ceremonial dance in Wellington, New Zealand May 13, 1970.

  • Got The Moves

    Pierre Trudeau does a dance after his campaign bus broke down in Montreal June 6, 1968.

  • Feather In The Cap

    Wearing a "feather in his cap," Pierre Trudeau attended the official opening May 20, 1983, of an archaeological excavation in Hull, Que.

  • Ballet: Act 1

    Pierre Trudeau, shown performing his famous pirouette during a May 7, 1977, picture session at Buckingham Palace in London, England.

  • Ballet: Act 2

    Pierre Trudeau, in a moment of joy over patriation of Canada's constitution, preformed his now famous pirouette at Uplands Airport on April 18, 1982 following the Queens's departure for London after the 4-day state visit which climaxed with the proclamation of the Constitution Act.

  • He Got It From His Father

    Pierre Trudeau is saluted by RCMP Officer as he carries son Justin to Rideau Hall in 1973.

  • Next: Justin Trudeau Through The Years

  • Prime Minister Trudeau and his then-wife Margaret leave the city's Notre Dame Basilica Sunday afternoon after the christening of their 22-day old infant Justin Pierre James, Jan. 16, 1972. Tasseled shawls kept the baby hidden from photographers and the 10-degree-below-zero weather.

  • March 1979 photo of the Trudeau children: Michel (front), Alexandre (Sacha) and Justin (rear).

  • It was a big day for Dad, but a long day for the three Trudeau children. Left to right, Justin, Michel and Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau attended the swearing in ceremonies of their father Pierre Elliott Trudeau as Prime Minister March 3, 1980 at Government House.