Trudeau Says He'll Call Himself A Feminist 'Until It's Met With A Shrug'

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested he doesn't deserve a pat on the back for calling himself a feminist. In fact, Trudeau says he'd prefer if there was no response at all.

"I'm going to keep saying loud and clearly that I am a feminist until it is met with a shrug," Trudeau said Wednesday during a discussion on gender equality at the United Nations in New York.

justin trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a meeting on gender equality at United Nations headquarters on March 16, 2016. (Photo: Jason Szenes/EPA via CP)

At an event hosted by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, the prime minister was asked why he's comfortable using the term to describe himself. Trudeau said he didn't understand why the "Twitterverse explodes" and how it's a story every time he calls himself a feminist.

"It shouldn't be something that creates a reaction. It simply is saying, I believe in the equality between men and women and I believe that we still have an awful lot of work to get there," he said.

"That's like saying the sky is blue and the grass is green."

The observation that using the word garners international interest suggests there's more work to be done, Trudeau said.

"It shouldn't be something that creates a reaction. It simply is saying, I believe in the equality between men and women."

At a World Economic Forum panel discussion in Davos, Switzerland in January, Trudeau sparked applause when he said people shouldn't "be afraid of the word 'feminist.'" Men and women should use it to describe themselves any time they want, he said.

Clips of Trudeau's remarks quickly went viral — a video posted to Al Jazeera's Facebook page has been viewed more than 13 million times.

And the Liberal Party of Canada also made sure to promote the moment online.

Gender Parity starts with the letter 'F' #wep #becauseits2016

Posted by Liberal Party of Canada | Parti libéral du Canada on Friday, January 22, 2016

 

But on Wednesday, the prime minister suggested he's just reflecting something his generation and those younger find rather obvious. Or, as he twice put it, "sort of… duh."

"We should be standing up for women's rights and trying to create more equal societies. Duh," he said. "We should be respecting diversity and pushing back against racism? I mean, come on."

Trudeau also suggested the attention he's getting isn't related to a "specific exceptionalism" on his part, but a shift that comes with a new generation of leadership.

"I'm just one of the first of our generation to poke through and to take his face on the world stage," he said. "And any one of my generation might have done as well as I happen to be doing."

Trudeau also conceded that while his father Pierre was a "great guy" who promoted equality and fairness, he's uncertain if the former prime minister would have qualified as a feminist.

A lot more work to do in Canadian politics

Though he received some kudos for his gender-balanced cabinet, Trudeau admitted that with female representation in the House of Commons at just 26 per cent, things are a "long way" from equal.

As he did at the WEF, Trudeau brought up that some pundits were unhappy with his pledge to appoint an equal number of men and women to cabinet, arguing the appointments should be based solely on merit.

"Men should be lucky I only made it a 50 per cent woman cabinet because it wouldn't be fair to go purely on merit-based, as we all know," he said.

He also opened up about his efforts to recruit women to run under his party's banner, particularly International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland. The prime minister said he had to ask Freeland, a former New York City-based journalist, a "whole bunch of times" to uproot her family and run in a 2013 byelection in Toronto.

justin trudeau chrystia freeland
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauds International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland at a news conference in Toronto on Jan. 13, 2016. (Photo: Chris Young/CP)

Trudeau said the reaction was different when Liberals would recruit men.

"One of the things we saw, when you ask a man if he wants to run for politics, his first question is: 'So, when do I start?' If you ask a woman if she wants to run for politics, her first question is: 'why me?'" he said.

Trudeau added that if you have to ask a woman "on average 14 times" before she'll agree to run for politics, there's no time to waste.

Parliament designed for 'old, white guys'

The prime minister said his government is also looking at way to make Parliament more family-friendly as a way to encourage more women to run for office, especially those with young children. The institution, he said, was "designed for old, white guys."

Trudeau hinted that changes could be coming to the sitting hours and travel requirements for MPs.

The prime minister also encouraged fathers to take parental leave.

RELATED: Trudeau On Gender Parity: There's A Lot Of Work Still To Do

And he said businesses should do more to promote equality.

"One of the things that has shown effectiveness is just making people report explicitly on the gender balance within their organization, within their boards at the highest levels,'' Trudeau said. "That incentivizes positive behaviour in meaningful ways.''

Later Thursday, Trudeau received a special commendation from Catalyst, a U.S. non-profit dedicated to the progress of women in the workforce. The group lauded Trudeau in January for "championing women's rights and bringing women into the broader political dialogue."

With files from The Canadian Press, previous files

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