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What's behind the Justin Trudeau 'peoplekind' controversy? A National Post investigation

Is Justin Trudeau guilty of mansplaining grammar to a young woman? Or is he just really bad at cracking jokes? These are the questions pundits around the world are apparently debating today, after a clip from Trudeau’s town hall in Edmonton last week went viral.


The video shows a woman in the midst of an excruciatingly long question about religious charities. At one point she says the phrase “the future of mankind,” which prompts Trudeau to interject and say “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind,’ because it’s more inclusive.”

The clip certainly looks bad for Trudeau; he interrupts and appears to be shaming the woman for using male-gendered language, plus he uses a neologism that his critics find ridiculous. Others suggest that viewing the full version of the exchange makes it clear Trudeau wasn’t being entirely serious.

Regardless, to save you from ever needing to have an actual real-life conversation about this, the National Post presents a comprehensive guide to the controversy.

Seriously: Why should I care about this?

Nobody’s making you care, but you’re here reading the article, so let’s not pretend you’re uninterested.

Given Trudeau’s celebrity and his penchant for publicly declaring his feminism at every opportunity, it’s not surprising that right-wing rabble-rousers have jumped all over this.

“How dare you kill off mankind, Mr. Trudeau, you spineless virtue-signalling excuse for a feminist,” says the calm headline on a Piers Morgan column in England’s Daily Mail.

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But it’s not just the notion of a left-wing feminist mansplaining gender to a woman that has helped this catch on: It also taps into the heated debate over pronoun usage, particularly when it comes to the use of gender-neutral alternatives in place of “he” or “she.”

Indeed, the person most famous for arguing against the mandated usage of gender-neutral pronouns, Canada’s own Jordan Peterson, was quickly booked onto Fox & Friends to discuss Trudeau’s use of “peoplekind.”

“I’m afraid that our prime minister is only capable of running his ideas on a few very narrow ideological tracks,” Peterson said on the show Tuesday. “I think he runs an ideology in his head and accepts the output without question, and I think we’re really going to pay for it in Canada in ways that we can’t yet imagine.”

Is it possible everybody’s overreacting here? Was Trudeau just trying to be funny?

To paraphrase a famous line from his father: Who among us can claim to know the nature of Trudeau’s thoughts? The critics may be right in pointing out that what came out of his mouth was an ill-considered lecture on language, but there’s also reason to think that in his head the prime minister was trying to make a joke.

When viewing the full exchange, the woman’s question (which starts at the 1:06:37 point in this video) lasts an astonishing four minutes — a substantial portion of which consists of her proselytizing for her church, to the growing annoyance of the audience.

She rambles on the theme of female equality in religion, and at one point she thanks Trudeau for ensuring gender parity in his cabinet. Even the sentence that ultimately leads Trudeau to interject is oddly contradictory on gender, though perhaps on purpose: “Maternal love is the love that’s going to change the future of mankind,” she says.

So Trudeau’s comment might simply have been a joke about the irony of it — and also an attempt to relieve tension, given the audience had been booing the questioner for taking so much time. The woman herself seems to have taken it in that spirit, as she laughs and says “Exactly!”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a town hall meeting in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Further evidence: Trudeau has a history of making weird off-the-cuff jokes that land poorly. Most infamously, at a conference in October 2014, he made a cringe-worthy joke when asked a serious question about whether he would continue the combat mission in Iraq.

“Why aren’t we talking more about the kind of humanitarian aid that Canada can and must be engaged in?” he said. “Rather than, you know, trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are. It just doesn’t work like that in Canada.”

The phrase “whip out our CF-18s” dogged Trudeau for months afterwards, as he was accused of being a politician who can’t be taken seriously on the world stage.

OK, so I guess there’s a chance it was just a stupid joke. But does the word ‘peoplekind’ even make sense?

There is a substantial amount of literature on the use of “mankind,” some of which argues the term should be fine for continued usage even in these more-inclusive times, since it originally derives from the Old English word “mann,” which generally meant all people, not just men.

But given the easy alternatives that don’t have male-centric connotations, the consensus among modern style guides is there’s no good reason to use “mankind.”

Most of these guides suggest going with “humankind” or “humanity” as the best options. The word “personkind” is less commonplace, but still used occasionally.

But “peoplekind”? Nobody says that. Why Trudeau chose to go with that word instead of the significantly more natural options might be the real mystery here.

Source: nationalpost

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