“Who’s (more than) a pretty boy, then?” The case of Justin Trudeau

Justin TrudeauTrudeau sweeps to power in Canada not unaided by his sex appeal. This is a leadership idea that dares not speak its name

Are you going to write about Justin Trudeau, a Canadian friend asked me. Er, yes. How could I not? His leadership campaign deserves more serious treatment than it received outside Canada. Even when it did make headlines, they tended to emphasize his pulchritude as much as his politics.

His rise to the top is hardly surprising. He was born on Christmas Day, 1971, the son of the then Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, himself a charismatic and reforming leader.

Trudeau under the Politics Today microscope

Is attractiveness influential in a leader’s career? Without doubt, according to leadership experts. But the research seems rather embarrassing for those of a rationalistic way of looking at business.

The presenters of the popular BBC program Politics Today [october 23 2015] were obviously puzzled by such flummery. Its craggy presenter Andrew Neil sustained a mood of amused detachment over the importance attributed to pulchritude of leaders. To explore the case, the programme included contributions from  social commentator Peter York, pollster Katherine Peacock, and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on how important looks are to the voters.

Varoufakis even outshone Neil in his expression of amused detachment, side stepping accusations of his own celebrity status.

The program also pointed out examples is the way unattractive political leaders may be rejected on the grounds of their not being leadership material. In the UK, Ed Miliband, the former leader of the Labour party consistently received negative reviews for his appearance and his public speaking style. It all made Ed an easy target for his many political opponents. The ad hominem treatment continued in the run up to the surprising General Election defeat of his party in May.

Female leaders can be too attractive

York and Peacock agreed on the salience of the attractiveness hypothesis. Peacock added a caveat that female leaders can be ‘too attractive’ for their long-term success.

The dumb blond stereotype

There have been plenty of examples of dismissive remarks about the factors which result in promotion of female business leaders. This may be taking us into the territory of the dumb blond stereotype, a repeated target in feminist theory concerning the objectifying the female form for sustaining power interests and sexual fantasies.

The dumb male stereotype

Trudeau may be the recipient of the male version of the dumb blond stereotyping. A thoughtful exploration in The Huffington Post argues that he too has been objectified in a similar sort of way.

Asymmetric attractiveness

Research by Professor Robin Martin (now of Manchester Business School) and colleagues looks more carefully at leader attractiveness and asymmetry of features.

Trudeau’s throne speech

This week, [December 6, 2015] Justin Trudeau gave his throne [inaugural] speech, promising major reform for Canada. Its scope, and Trudeau’s presentation style demonstrates that he is far more that a pretty face.

To be continued







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