Peoplesplaining Is No Joking Matter

Earlier this week, Canada’s Prime Minister interrupted a woman to correct her after she used the word ‘mankind’. Trudeau asked that she instead use the word ‘peoplekind’ in order to be more inclusive. This exchange garnered international criticism, which led the Prime Minister to respond by saying the whole thing was just a “dumb joke”.

Apart from the fact that the Prime Minister used a word that doesn’t exist, à la Sarah Palin’s ‘refudiate’, he then claims it was a joke. This, to me, is much worse than if he had simply apologized.

Why does this man think it is okay to joke around about feminism, if that is indeed what he was doing? And, much more gravely, to do so while interrupting a woman, an action that women have had to put up with for centuries. Strip away his title, and what happened here is this: a man in a position of power interrupted a woman who dared question him in order to ‘mansplain’ something, or make a joke. This is something that has happened to most women at work, at social events, in meetings, and sometimes in their own homes. This is not new. In fact, it seems hauntingly familiar. Women have historically worked very hard to not be shut down, not be talked over, and not be talked down to.

Then again, perhaps we should not be looking to government for examples of feminism, or to push forward the causes of women. Rather, we ought to be finding ways to make it easier for women to start businesses (Canada is currently in 18th place when it comes to ease of starting a business) so they can be successful without relying on affirmative action, a policy the current government champions incessantly. Perhaps we should work towards expanding private sponsorship of refugees so women can be sponsored by communities in Canada in order to gain a chance at a better life. Perhaps the government should stop fighting women who wish to bring forward a sexual misconduct class-action lawsuit against the Canadian Forces. Or perhaps we should force the government out of the business of deciding which morals are better for women since they don’t believe women can figure it out themselves, as is the case with the Summer Jobs Program.

Government imposed morality, including when it comes to feminism, does not work because political leaders are not infallible, and politicians should not be in the business of picking moral winners and losers. A simple look back at history shows that whenever a government has attempted to impose values and symbols on people, the results have been devastating.

I made a conscious decision to use the word ‘humankind’ during my undergraduate studies, and continue to do so today. I believe that word makes more sense when referring to men and women, and it is a real word that people use. I know many other academics, authors, and everyday people who do the same, with no prompting or pressure from government. Individuals can move forward with their views on women and equality without the help of government or Prime Ministers. As Sarah Skwire points out, Muriel Rukeyser sums it up quite well in a piece of writing found here.

We’re good, Prime Minister; we don’t need you to fight for us by shutting us up.