Opinion: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau misunderstood allyship

It was barely 11 a.m. on March 7, and my Facebook feed was inundated with responses to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s post for International Women’s Day. A photo of her and her “dreamy” husband holding hands and staring sweetly into each other’s eyes was posted on her Facebook page, above a caption encouraging women to “celebrate the boys and men in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are.” Grégoire Trudeau asked women to take pictures holding hands with their male allies, and share them on social media.

She defended the post by saying that if boys and men are not “part of the equation” of equality, peace and prosperity cannot be achieved.

She didn’t mention the word “feminism” in her post, but bear with me on this one because when we talk about gender equality, feminism is what we’re talking about.

I agree that we need more people who identify as men supporting the feminist movement. I believe that feminism works better when we understand that people of multiple different identities are affected when women’s identities and bodies are devalued and dehumanized. But I also believe that we need to be critical of who occupies space in the movement, and at what times. I don’t think it is appropriate to ask that on International Women’s Day women take on the work of bringing men into our circles. Not to mention the heteronormative assumption that a person who identifies as a woman needs a “male ally” at all.

These observations have been made by other, better feminists than myself.

I keep coming back to something I read in a blog by Dr. Brittney Cooper, a gender studies professor who specializes in black feminist thought. She wrote that an ally “is a process and a set of actions, not an identity.” As a woman who is white, cisgendered, and able-bodied, allyship is a controversial idea I think about often. I know I have a lot of work to do to be a better ally and a better feminist. Saying that holding hands and using a hashtag on one day of the year counts as allyship trivializes the important work that others are doing to be substantive allies—whatever that might look like in a given community. And of course, on a day meant to recognize women, the focus should be on those people who are normally not given a voice.

Grégoire Trudeau can promote gender equality any way she wants. I’m not here to say that she doesn’t believe in that equality she’s asking for. But personally, I disagree with her method.

Feminism is at the root about gender, but it is also more complex than that. Nobody is a perfect feminist, but we should all be invested in making each other better. On International Women’s Day, there are other relationships we can champion. What about asking cisgender women to listen to the voices of trans women or gender nonbinary people? What about asking white women to question their race-based privilege? Why not directly address men and ask them to take on the responsibility of privileging the ideas and voices of women in their own circles?

What would a world look like where women didn’t have to hold hands with men to get people to understand that all women are deserving of justice and recognition of their importance as human beings?

– Photo by Justin Samanski-Langille