Sophie Gregoire Trudeau’s muddled message: Men must be on board to improve women’s rights

Click to play video: 'Sophie Grégoire Trudeau slammed for International Women’s Day post'
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau slammed for International Women’s Day post
WATCH ABOVE: Sophie Gregoire Trudeau is doubling down on a Facebook post she made about International Women's Day. It's a picture of her and her husband, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, holding hands, with a caption saluting men for their role in promoting equality. As Vassy Kapelos reports, the post fell flat with some women – Mar 8, 2017

While Sophie Gregoire Trudeau‘s post encouraging the celebration of men on International Women’s Day might have missed the mark, her message did make an important point: men have an important role to play in furthering women’s rights.

“We’re never going to fix the whole problem,” said Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management.

“If we think that we look out in the world and we see there’s discrimination taking place and then we just focus on women, or ask women to change or focus on changing things for women.

The internet let out a collective groan when Gregoire Trudeau suggested that women use International Women’s Day to celebrate the “male ally” in their lives.

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WATCH: Sophie Gregoire Trudeau fires back at critics
Click to play video: 'Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau comments on earlier social media post praising men on International Women’s Day'
Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau comments on earlier social media post praising men on International Women’s Day

“Together, we can create a movement that inspires more men to join the fight to build a better tomorrow with equal rights & opportunities for everyone,” Gregoire Trudeau said Tuesday in a social media post.

A common online reaction: “This seems to really miss the whole point.”

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“This day is about focusing on women’s issues and working for change,” said Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation in an email to Global News. “That’s not to say there isn’t an important role for men.”

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The reality is, in Canada and around the world, men still make a lot of the decisions that impact women’s lives.

“Right now it’s very clear that men are the ones who hold most of the positions of power so we should be expecting them to be a part of the solution,” said Kaplan.

Men hold the bulk of senior roles in the Canadian workplace, and make more money.

And while women make up half of Canada’s population, they hold just 26 per cent of seats in the House of Commons.

Kaplan said there needs to be “critical mass” — about 30 per cent representation — in a workplace before women become the norm instead of an anomaly.

“We can’t just say, ‘sprinkle a little female on top and we’re going to get a better result.’ We need to actually pay attention to achieving critical mass,” said Kaplan.

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Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose spoke in the House of Commons Wednesday and honoured the female trailblazers who have paved the way for women in politics.

“They were the ones that stood up and fought for the things that advanced women,” said Ambrose. “Never forget that.”

Standing her ground, Gregoire Trudeau later responded to the backlash in a follow-up post.

“Well, now we’re having a conversation!” said Gregoire Trudeau. “Our goal is gender equality, and fighting for it is going to require men and women working together.”

At an appearance Wednesday, she stuck to her message:

“Obviously, we are celebrating the magnificence, and the beauty and the intelligence and the spirit and the courage of women today, on International Women’s Day,” said Gregoire Trudeau.

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“And may we also thank the men around us who believe in us, who want more equality in their lives and for us, and who we can also learn from.”

The day can be both about celebrating women and encouraging men to get involved, said Senior, adding “This isn’t either/or.”

“It’s time to say gender equality is a men’s issue. We will never achieve gender equality without men and boys stepping forward to do their part.”

Kaplan cautions against rewarding men for every small act in favour of women’s equality.

“I think it’s one thing to appreciate that men need to be involved in this with us.

“It’s another thing to glorify men for even taking small actions when they really should be actively part of the solution,” said Kaplan.

— With files from Amy Minsky

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