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Political pugilists: recuperative gender strategies in Canadian electoral politics.

There's been a perception about Justin Trudeau that he's the mother's son, that much of the mettle from the father descended to the other boy, Alexandre ... When [critics] heard that Pierre Trudeau's kid was going into the ring against tattooed, tough-guy Tory Senator Patrick Brazeau, they were licking their chops. (Martin, The Globe and Mail, April 3, 2012:A15)

ON MARCH 31, 2012, two Canadian politicians, Justin Trudeau and Patrick Brazeau, participated in the "Fight For the Cure" charity-boxing match. (1) Trudeau is the current Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Papineau, Quebec, and son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Brazeau was a Conservative Senator at the time of the match and was the former National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. (2) Trudeau challenged Brazeau to the match after Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Conservative MP Rob Anders declined the proposal (Delacourt 2011b). (3) The match took place at a gala and featured the fight in a central boxing ring. (4) There were three, two-minute rounds of boxing with Olympic-style rules; however, the match was interrupted on multiple occasions by the referee and halted prior to the end of the final round to prevent severe harm to the politicians. Although Trudeau was positioned as the underdog and bets placed on the match favored Brazeau (Quan 2012), Trudeau was the winner. The fight received extensive media attention across Canada both prior to and following the event.

The Trudeau name is one of the most iconic names in the history of Canadian politics (Marland 2013). For many years, there has been speculation about whether Justin Trudeau would follow in Pierre's footsteps and lead the Liberal Party of Canada. Although Justin Trudeau has been quoted on many occasions denying his interest in leadership (Delacourt 2011b) and distancing himself from his father's politics (Kinsella 2012a), seven months following the boxing match, he announced that he would be running for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. He was elected leader of the party on April 14, 2013.

Through a discourse analysis of 222 national newspaper articles published on the Trudeau versus Brazeau boxing match, this paper chronicles Justin Trudeau's transition from "precariously masculine" to "sufficiently masculine" and discusses the significance of this transformation for Trudeau's suitability for Liberal Party leadership. While scholars in the United States have documented the masculinization of the presidency and the benefits reaped by politicians who strategically deploy hegemonic masculinities (Coe et al. 2007; Duerst-Lahti 2007; Messner 2007), limited research of this nature exists in a Canadian context. This paper offers the concept recuperative gender strategies to describe how political leaders work to restore their public gender identities. For Trudeau, the boxing match provided the opportunity to publicly recover from threats to his masculinity and to fulfill the ideal gender requirements for a leadership position in electoral politics.


In the United States of America, a country where baseball, John Wayne, and General Patton are cultural icons, and where a steady stream of presidents use their military experience to become commander in chief, research has explored the relationship between masculinity and politics. For instance, Messner (2007) argues that Arnold Schwarzenegger's masculine persona, the "Kindergarten Commando," was a hybrid of toughness and compassion and was an important component of his political success as governor of California. Similarly, research on the deployment of masculinity by George W. Bush, following the events of 9/11, demonstrates the usefulness of masculinity as a political strategy in American politics (Coe et al. 2007). Coe et al. (2007) assert that President Bush relied heavily on masculinized ideologies in his public communication strategies, incorporating masculine themes such as strength and dominance, which were widely circulated in the press. Conversely, in mild and meek Canada, (5) internationally recognized for peacekeeping, pirouetting Prime Ministers, (6) and an enduring attachment to the Queen, research related to masculinity and politics may seem less relevant and is given insufficient attention.

The centrality of masculinity to the gendered culture of Canadian politics may be further camouflaged by the accomplishments of women such as former Prime Minister Kim Campbell (7) and provincial premiers such as Kathleen Wynne. Despite these successes, scholars question whether progress has been made for men and women who do not fit the archetype of a politician, which is often described as "male, White, middle-class, middle-aged, Christian, Canadian-born, and majority-language speaking" (Andrew et al. 2008:18). Bashevkin (2009:2) argues that Canadians continue to have "an uneasiness" with women in positions of political authority or leadership, which she calls a "discomfort equation" (women plus power equal discomfort). Minority women, in particular, experience increased difficulties when seeking to access leadership positions in politics (Black 2000).

It is important to establish that masculinity is not reduced to the male body and that women can also perform masculinity (Halberstam 1998). The benefits that masculine performances have for women can be paradoxical, as evidenced in the political news coverage of Canadian female party leaders (Gidengil and Everitt 2003). On the one hand, women face pressures to adopt masculine styles of leadership, such as combative debating styles, in order to gain media attention and demonstrate legitimacy (Gidengil and Everitt 2003). On the other hand, when women overemphasize masculinity, they risk moving too far away from acceptable gender standards for women (Gidengil and Everitt 2003). The balance is delicate and creates a difficult double bind for women leaders.

Political scientists argue that the connection between masculinity and politics is both naturalized and normalized in Canada (Bashevkin 2009; Raphael 2012). The boxing match between Trudeau and Brazeau is one of many rich examples of performances of masculinity by politicians. In some cases, these performances are memorialized and embedded in the legacies of political leaders. For instance, the "Shawinigan handshake" was coined in 1996 after Prime Minister Jean Chretien grabbed hold of a protestor's neck and lowered him to the ground during the Flag Day Ceremonies in Quebec (Delacourt 2011a). This story has been repeatedly reported in the news media and was affectionately recounted during speeches at Chretien's 80th birthday tribute in Toronto (Kingston 2014).

Adopting traditionally masculine qualities and traits, and performing them in a public forum, can be beneficial for politicians (Duerst-Lahti 2007). Duerst-Lahti (2007) maintains that masculinity is at the heart of political campaigns and is often in plain view. The author recalls the campaigns of John Kerry and George Bush writing that,

John Kerry played hockey, went windsurfing, shot geese, and touted his heroic actions during the Vietnam War; and George W. Bush flew a fighter jet, drove a racing boat, cleared brush, and continually talked tough about killing terrorists. Manly men, doing manly things, in manly ways. (Duerst-Lahti 2007:87)

These claims are echoed in Raphael's (2012) paper presented at the 2012 Canadian Political Science Association Conference, which examines the role of humor in Canadian political humor programs (8) aired during the 2008 Canadian Federal election. Raphael (2012) contends that a hierarchy among male politicians was evident in the programs. While Stephen Harper was portrayed in popular culture as "dominant, aggressive, and bullying," Stephane Dion was portrayed as "submissive, weak, and effeminate" (Raphael 2012:1). Raphael (2012) finds that humorists depicted Dion as "the nerdy kid" and Harper as "the bully" (p. 13). The author notes that in a Rick Mercer Report, "Harper ... is shown bullying Dion, whose stamp collection, when proudly displayed, is knocked to the ground by Harper" (Raphael 2012:13). The portrayal of these two leaders in humor programs is illustrative of the pressure politicians face to appropriately embody masculinity on the campaign trail. Dion's failure to embody and perform an authentically masculine political identity may have cost him the election.

It is clear that political staff work diligently to manage the image presentations of those in public office (Marland 2012, 2013). For instance, the current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is said to have "iron control" (Rankin 2012:265) over his government's public communication (see also Marland 2012). Harper has been described as "a poster boy for Canadian masculinity" (Rankin 2012:265). Commenting on his masculine brand, Rankin (2012) states
   The branding goal appears to be a desire to create and control an
   image of the Prime Minister as an active, capable, steady leader to
   defend the "True, North, Strong and Free", offer sound moral
   leadership in the international arena and, when needed, defend the
   world's vulnerable women. (P. 265)

This manly image of Harper is an extension of new nation branding strategies that are laden with "masculine tones" and have gendered policy implications for Canada, both domestically and internationally (Rankin 2012:266). The ways in which gender factors into the production and management of political brands has yet to be adequately conceptualized.


The term hegemonic masculinity, first discussed in the 1980s, continues to be an important concept for gender scholars (Messerschmidt 2012). From Connell's (1987) work, it is clear that hegemonic masculinity is an ideal form or a model of masculinity that is socially and historically constructed in relation to subordinated masculinities and in relation to femininities. Connell (1987) links the term back to Gramsci's writing on hegemony and his analysis of class relations and social ascendancy. Building on Gramsci, Connell (1987) positions hegemonic masculinity as a form of masculinity that is culturally dominant and ascends other masculinities. Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) maintain that hegemonic models of masculinity operate on three levels--the local, the regional, and the global. Under the regional level, it is visible in both culture and the nation state and is constructed by the masculine practices of individuals such as "feature film actors, professional athletes, and politicians" (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005:849).

Bridges (2009) notes that hegemonic masculinities are not fixed but rather have the capacity to transform, stating "we do not exalt hegemonic masculinities because they are hegemonic; they are hegemonic because we exalt them" (p. 91). Although there are different ways to exhibit hegemonic masculinity, and ideas of what constitutes hegemonic masculinity may change over time (Ricciardelli 2011), this paper will demonstrate the centrality of hegemonic forms of masculinity to Canadian electoral politics. Additionally, it will demonstrate that nonhegemonic masculinities are continually subordinated and deemed socially inappropriate in certain spaces (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005:846).

A number of empirical studies have applied the concept of hegemonic masculinity to examine how men are socialized into masculinities (see Messerschmidt 2012). Early research ranged from studies pertaining to educational settings (Becker et al. 1961), to criminal activity (Messerschmidt 1993), to sport (Messner 1990a). As studies in masculinity began to globalize and become more intersectional, notions of diverse masculinities emerged (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005).

Some scholars claim that masculinities have become quite flexible because there are a variety of ways for men to express, define, and perform their masculinity (Anderson 2009). For instance, research on families and fatherhood has suggested that fathers are no longer understood solely as the breadwinner--a hegemonic form of masculinity--but rather as having multiple roles, including primary child caregiver (Rutherdale 2012). By contrast, another body of literature questions the diversity of repertories of masculinity available to men (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005; Messner 2007). These scholars maintain that in order to succeed in certain spheres, men must try to conform to "exemplars of masculinity" such as those found in the media (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005:846).

More recent research examines hybrid masculinities, which Bridges and Pascoe (2014) define as "men's selective incorporation of performances and identity elements associated with marginalized and subordinated masculinities and femininities" (p. 246). Throughout the evolving literature, it is evident that universal notions of masculinity are problematic and that masculinities are not stagnant, rather they are subject to changes across time and space. The durability and importance of hegemonic forms of masculinity is where the primary area of contention lies.

In a Canadian context, some have argued that masculinity is in crisis because there has been a demasculinization or unmanning of Canadian men (Greig and Holloway 2012). For instance, Lingard and Douglas (1999) contend that educators are concerned with the feminization of schooling and the decline of academic performance among boys. The authors note that "recuperative masculinity politics" are used to help boys recover from this loss (Lingard and Douglas 1999). Recuperative masculinity strategies cater to boys through initiatives such as hiring more male teachers, implementing more hands-on learning, and involving fathers in the education of boys (Lingard and Douglas 1999; Martino and Kehler 2006). Cases of recuperative masculinity politics have been further documented in relation to men in advertising and television (Greig and Holloway 2012). For example, Greig and Holloway (2012) analyze the use of masculinity in Dockers' advertisements for men's clothing. Dockers' encourages men to reassert their lacking masculinity through ad campaigns such as "Wear the Pants" or the "Second Dawn of Man" (Greig and Holloway 2012:131).

Building on previous research, this paper proposes the concept recuperative gender strategies and uses it to understand Canadian electoral politics. This term signifies the ways in which gender can be appropriately recuperated and utilized for strategic advantage for and by people of various gender identities. Further, it allows for an examination of the recuperation of both masculinity and femininity in spaces that are not just feminized, but that may be masculinized, or gender neutral. This paper contributes to the call for research on the regional level (Messerschmidt 2012), focusing on the relationship between hegemonic forms of masculinity and Canadian political leadership.


This paper is based on a discourse analysis of Canadian newspaper articles published about the fifth annual "Fight For The Cure" charity-boxing match. This type of analysis allows for an examination of the role that discourses play "in the (re)production and challenge" of dominance and power (van Dijk 1993:249). In accordance with Joye (2010), this paper does not view language as neutral, but rather understands that "discourses create representations of the world that reflect as well as actively construct reality by ascribing meanings to our world, identities, and social relations" (p. 590). News discourses, specifically, are important to analyze as they both influence and are influenced by a variety of structures and institutions (Gazso 2004; Richardson 2007).

Data were collected through a search of "Canadian Newsstand," which contains the full text of major Canadian newspapers. Using FACTIVA, I accessed Toronto Sun articles, which were absent from the "Canadian Newsstand" search. The search term "Justin Trudeau and Boxing" yielded the most extensive list of newspaper articles on the topic. I screened the newspaper articles and included those that referenced the match and that utilized the words "boxing" and "Trudeau/Brazeau."

The data set is composed of 222 newspaper articles (see Table 1). The first article was published three months prior to the event on December 17, 2011. The final article was published six months following the event on October 11, 2012. Fifty-one of the newspaper articles were written prior to the match and 171 were written following the match. While the charity-boxing match continued to be mentioned after October 11, 2012, often in relation to Justin Trudeau's campaign for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, coverage of the event dropped considerably.

To gain a full understanding of the discourse surrounding the charity-boxing event in the media, the data set for this project includes articles from various sections of the newspaper (see Ferree et al. 2002; Korteweg 2008) (see Table 1). The majority of articles included in the data are "news" articles, with far fewer editorial or opinion-type pieces. In some articles the charity-boxing match is the main topic, while in other articles the event is mentioned in relation to the news stories of the day.

A series of questions were used to guide the data analysis process (Taylor 2008): (1) How is the event described in the articles (preevent and postevent)? (2) How are the participants discussed in news media (preevent and postevent)? (3) What do the newspaper articles suggest is the role of this event in politics? (4) How do the articles link the fight to Trudeau's leadership for the Liberal Party? Coding the data in this way allowed for an understanding of the functioning of the boxing match and the positioning of Trudeau as a leader. It became evident, through this coding, that gendered processes were at play. For example, prior to the match, Trudeau's fate as both a boxer and as Liberal Party leader was described as uncertain, insecure, and doomed for failure. Often this was linked to the fact that Trudeau was insufficiently masculine. As noted in the findings section below, this pattern was coded as "precarious masculinity."

The goal of this methodological approach is not to provide a comparative analysis between Trudeau and Brazeau, although I will note some interesting similarities and differences between the presentations of the two politicians in the media. Instead, the aim is to examine Trudeau's masculine transformation and the news media's depiction of the battle he waged against himself. (9)


From "Precariously Masculine" to "Sufficiently Masculine"

Prior to the boxing match, several of the articles depicted Trudeau's masculinity as precarious. He is described as feminine, as dangerously likely to fail, and as the unsafe bet. These articles refer to Trudeau as "too-pretty" (Coyle 2012), a "kid" (Macpherson 2012), "a lightweight" (Corbella 2012), and "the underdog" (Den Tandt 2012b).

Urbane, pedigreed, to-the manor-born, reed-thin Justin Trudeau, a down-and-dirty scrapper? A fighter, with the moxie to go toe-to-toe with an adversary, with all the world watching and nothing to rely on but his own grit, heart, lungs, wits and fists? Nonsense. Laughable. But not to him. (Den Tandt, The StarPhoenix, February 21, 2012c:D5)

Pretty much since man rose up on his hind legs, he's been using at least one of his newly liberated limbs to whack, jab, sling rocks at, stab, shoot, arm-wrestle, out-joust, out-drink or otherwise vanquish a rival. Enter into this long, lethal--and frequently entertaining--tradition, Justin "Too-Pretty" Trudeau and Patrick "Patronage Boy" Brazeau. Trudeau, the lean and well-pedigreed Liberal MP from Montreal, and Brazeau, the sinecured and rock-jawed Conservative senator, are to face off in a charity-boxing match today in Ottawa to raise funds for cancer research. (Coyle, Toronto Star, March 31, 2012TN1)

Both of these excerpts referred to Trudeau's slender appearance, calling him "reed-thin" and "lean." Additionally, both authors describe him as "pedigreed," a status that might work to his benefit in certain arenas, but not in the case of this match. Duerst-Lahti (2007) argues that male politicians "have their credibility challenged through attacks upon their masculinity, which are cast in terms of their being too feminine" (p. 91). Den Tandt (2012c) and Coyle (2012) present Trudeau as feminine, not only by referring to him as "too-pretty," but also by suggesting that he lacks the masculine qualities of "wits" and "strength," thus challenging his credibility. Brazeau, on the other hand, is positioned to win the match, and is constructed as "physically tougher" and "more brash" (Hiltz 2012).

Brazeau comes into this the odds-on favourite. That's partly because, where boxers are relatively inexperienced, strength and conditioning tend to win. Brazeau is likely the more powerful of the two, and may be physically tougher. The caveat: In the ring a fighter is utterly alone. There are no advantages conferred by name, race, class or reputation. And there are no pedigrees. There are physical stats, and there are results. Trudeau, as the underdog, has nearly everything to gain. His goal, he has already said, is to "acquit myself honourably," regardless of the outcome. (Den Tandt, Leader Post, February 21, 2012b:A11)

While the odds were stacked against Trudeau, a few newspaper articles do mention that Trudeau's height and reach could be advantageous.

Although the newspaper articles positioned Trudeau as insufficiently masculine prior to the match, they began to construct a hegemonic masculine identity for Trudeau following the match. (10) This statement characterized the shift from precarious masculinity to an earned hegemonic masculinity:

Last time I saw him he was a skinny little kid. Now, he's drawing crowds of people to get their picture taken with him. The ladies were especially smitten. It helps that Trudeau is movie-star handsome. It helps, too, that he decisively won that charity boxing match last month in Ottawa. The fight revealed a toughness that otherwise might not be apparent. Maybe that's why he did it. (Macpherson, The StarPhoenix, May 3, 2012:A3)

Unlike the descriptions of Trudeau prior to the match, many of the postfight narratives position Trudeau as "strong," "tough," "clever," "fearless," and "heroic"--words associated with hegemonic masculinity. This is not something that he grew into, rather it is something that he had to earn. As the above quote notes, if he had not participated in the event, his "toughness" would not have become apparent.

The articles confirmed that Trudeau was aware of the need to validate his abilities on some level. He is quoted the day following the match below:

Justin Trudeau has been caricatured, dismissed and mocked for his bravado, belittled by others for the lack of parliamentary acumen he sometimes brings to the game. But late Saturday night he proved something. He can punch. He can lay his ego on the line in a much-hyped charity boxing match and come up big, pummeling his trash-talking opponent, Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, into submission. He proved something else. "I proved a Liberal can take a punch," Trudeau said, after the bout as he met the media unmarked, barely tousled, not even breathing hard. It was an apt allegory for a party reduced to a Commons rump, a party that has itself been battered, but is still standing. (Harper, Toronto Star, April 1, 2012:A1)

Trudeau recognized that there is value in his ability to remain standing after being punched. This value extends to the broader Liberal Party, as he uses the words "a Liberal." Being able to demonstrate that he could handle the physicality of a boxing match legitimated both Trudeau and the failing Liberal Party. Many of the newspapers made references to Trudeau having become tough or having acquired "a toughness." No articles depicted him in this manner prior to the fight. For example,

In fairness, while he lacks the gravitas and resume of his dad and hasn't yet been called upon to prove any intellectual rigor, Trudeau has shown admirable toughness and determination so far in his short political life. From deliberately selecting a tougher seat in Montreal over a safer one to the charity-boxing match where he spent months training and then handily out-punched a younger and bulkier Conservative senator, Trudeau hasn't always taken the easy road. (Gormley, Leader Post, October 5, 2012:A10)

This suggests that being willing to take on a struggle is an important part of being a successful politician. Demonstrating "toughness" can be more significant than family history or "intellectual rigor." Connell (1983) states, "what it means to be masculine is, quite literally, to embody force, to embody competence" (p. 27), as seen in the above text.

Political scientists have maintained that there are opportunistic moments and turning points in the career trajectory of many politicians (Argyle 2004; Blais et al. 2002). Several of the articles note that although he was not strong enough to lead the Liberal Party previously, having participated in the match may have changed this fact. A few authors describe the significance of the event by utilizing the terms "turning point" or "rebirth":

Should Justin Trudeau stop playing coy, put family life on hold and leap into the Liberal leadership race, thereby saving the party of Laurier and Pearson, and perhaps the country, from certain doom? A growing number of observers of Canadian politics think he'll do just that, or at least that he should try, and that if he did, he'd acquit himself well. Since the big fight at the end of March - let's face it, that was the turning point--disparaging references to Trudeau as "the Dauphin" have been rare indeed. (Den Tandt, Gazette, May 11, 2012a:A12).

Newspaper excerpts such as these highlight the boxing match as a significant moment in the career trajectory of Trudeau.

A consistent pattern in the data was the discussion of Liberal leadership, which was explicitly mentioned in over half of the articles in the sample. In the very first article published on the event, a comment was made about Trudeau's interest in running for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada:

He surprised many a few months ago when he definitively bowed out of the next Liberal leadership contest, saying that Liberals should stop looking for another Trudeau to lead them from the wilderness. "One of the bad habits of the Liberal party for the last while is that it's been focused on 'if you pick the right leader, everything will fall into place and we can sit back and watch,'" he said this week. "I found too many people saying, 'Ah, Justin, we'll return to the good old days with a new generation and everything will be fine.' And I say no, this would be the worst thing for the Liberal party." Of course, he is constantly compared to his late father, who hadn't entered politics or started a family when he was 40. (Delacourt, Toronto Star, December 17, 2011b:A6)

The statement suggests that Justin Trudeau had no intention of running for Liberal leadership, or at least this is how it is constructed in the media. Although denying his interest in participating in the leadership contest may simply be a political tactic, this statement is more than Trudeau's attempt to avoid the question. Trudeau creates a narrative here that separates him from previous Liberal Party leaders, particularly his father. Yet, following the fight, the tone of the newspapers change and the possibilities of leadership become central to many of the articles' discussions. Selley (2012) questioned whether winning a charity-boxing match could lead to a political triumph for Trudeau:

Did Justin Trudeau's victory in a three-round charity boxing match over Senator Patrick Brazeau bolster his eventual claim to the Liberal party leadership and perhaps, some day, the Prime Minister's Office? (Selley, National Post, April 5, 2012:A14)

Similarly, only days after the match, Dunn (2012) submits the fight has created a "renewed" interest in whether or not Trudeau would run for leadership. Dunn (2012) writes in the Toronto Sun, "Trudeau has been the talk of renewed leadership speculation after he pounded Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in a charity-boxing match Saturday" (p. 46). These examples demonstrate that through his participation in the boxing match, Trudeau became sufficiently masculine and developed into a suitable candidate for the Liberal Party leadership.

Recuperative Gender Strategies

In the previous section, I argued that perceptions of Trudeau's masculinity were transformed from precarious to sufficient. Trudeau went from a candidate that was unsuitable for leadership, to a viable option. I contend that the newspaper articles depicted Trudeau's Liberal leadership potential as relying on recuperative gender strategies. Recuperative gender strategies are strategies that can be utilized by both men and women to recover, restore, or regain, an ideal gender identity. In electoral politics, politicians can engage in behaviors, activities, or performances that enhance particular aspects of their identity in an attempt to create a public persona or brand that aligns well with societal and cultural expectations of leadership, legitimacy, power, and authority (Marland 2013; Messner 2007). The ability to recuperate aspects of gender identity, and the strategies that are utilized to do so, are of particular interest to this paper.

As seen in the case of Trudeau, the media can play an essential role in this process, documenting or constructing the recuperative gender strategies employed by political leaders. The relationship between politics and the media is complex. The media provides an avenue in which political party and candidate messages can be presented to the voters, for better or for worse. The media also plays an essential role in framing the leadership potential of politicians. Blais et al. (2002) claim, "modern election campaigns are media campaigns" (p. 35). For politicians, visibility is extremely important. Not only do politicians need to be visible and focus on the right issues, they need to be presented in ways that are socially appropriate (Blais et al. 2002; Marland 2012).

For Trudeau, this boxing event acts as a recuperative gender strategy where he is given the chance to publicly perform and restore his weak masculine identity. As noted by Connell (1987), "hegemonic masculinity is a very public undertaking" (p. 184). In the newspaper coverage, Trudeau demonstrates both his ability to withstand violence and his ability to inflict appropriate levels of physical force:

On Saturday night, an MP and a Senator demonstrated more courage, sportsmanship, and mutual respect and yes, honour, than most of their colleagues will in their entire careers in Parliament ... These are not just virtues of the ring, they are the generic virtues of leadership. (Potter, Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 2012:A9)

Andrew Potter (2012) views the fight as demonstrations of "courage," "honour," "respect," and capable leadership.

Some articles referred to Trudeau's needs to recuperate his masculinity overtly:

At some level, I think Trudeau knew that and realized he could never have a successful career as a politician unless he took on that visceral Canadian sense of thuggishness and won it over along with the crowd. (Hill, Ottawa Citizen, April 7, 2012:B1)

Meanwhile, Trudeau will be running for the Liberal leadership, an event that promises to be a beauty pageant with one contestant. Trudeau is a wild card. He is unusually charismatic, and he showed formidable toughness and strategic sense in his boxing match this spring. (Maher, The Gazette, September 8, 2012:B5)

Both of these quotations allow for a better understanding of how hegemonic masculinity is strategically recuperated and utilized in the quest for power. The media presented Trudeau as searching for legitimacy and political accomplishment prior to the match. Following the match, Trudeau is constructed as a legitimate candidate for political leadership because he was able to recover traditional forms of masculinity, which remain essential to leadership (Potter 2012).

Moreover, the choice of boxing as the main event plays a significant role when thinking about recuperative gender strategies. Sport has been historically tied to performances of hegemonic masculinity (Messner 1990b). Messner (1990b) argues that an important component to being a man involves a desire for sport. It is a way to claim masculinity or to assert a masculine status that is often recognized beyond the playing field. Boxing has often been used as a metaphor for politics (Gidengil and Everitt 2003). However, traditionally, boxing has also been dominated and utilized by immigrant, blue-collar, and marginalized men as a way to achieve upward social mobility (Sugden 1996). Boxing's classed history requires us to raise questions about why Trudeau engages in it:

Why, I ask Trudeau, would you choose to expose yourself to the pain, and the potential humiliation of boxing? "That applies equally to running for office," he says, without missing a beat. "This is how I'm programmed. I'm a competitor ... I push myself to the limits of what I can do." (Den Tandt, Leader Post, February 21, 2012b:All)

Here, it is evident that Trudeau sees politics and boxing as similar endeavors that require comparable levels of commitment and difficulty. Trudeau's comments foreshadow the connections made between his quest for leadership and the boxing match in later news coverage. In the quotation below, Warren Kinsella (2012b) strongly makes the analogy between politics and boxing:

Politics, stripped down to its essence is like boxing. Get in a ring, beat each other to a bloody pulp as people sit on the sideline and cheer. That's why so many guys are drawn to it, and why so many gals are not. It's a vicious and ugly avocation, one that tries to dress itself up in finery of statesmanship. But women--being smarter than men--know what politics is. It's school yard brawling that pretends it isn't. (Kinsella, Toronto Sun, April 3, 2012b:17)

Kinsella (2012b) takes the boxing metaphor to a new level, suggesting that politics is really about men engaging in aggressive confrontations with one another and disguising it as "statesmanship." This practice is exclusionary toward women, yet mandatory for men who wish to participate in the political arena. This event reproduces and strengthens hierarchies of masculinity in political leadership, suggesting that politics is best suited for particular types of men and women.


The media coverage of the boxing match provided Trudeau with the opportunity to transition from precariously masculine to sufficiently masculine, regardless of whether or not this was his or the media's intention. (11) In Trudeau's case, the media actively constructed discourses around masculinity and legitimacy in Canadian political leadership. The media reinforced the messaging that "effeminacy is illegitimate for men, especially those who are leaders" (Messner 2007:469). By publicly recuperating elements of traditional masculinity, such as toughness, strength, and the ability to use force, Trudeau was positioned in the media as fulfilling the requirements deemed necessary for good political leadership.

The intention herein has not been to present Justin Trudeau as one-dimensional, but rather to illuminate the strategic value of recuperating traditional forms of masculinity for those seeking a position of leadership in politics. Messner (2007) points to a move away from "traditional masculinity" by "professional-class white men in the 1980s and 1990s," and a move toward a new "more sensitive form of masculinity" (p. 466). The ability to experiment with multiple forms of masculinity is a privilege only available to certain men in specific contexts (Bridges and Pascoe 2014). Trudeau's elite status provides him with a variety of masculinities at his disposal. As is evident in more recent news media coverage, Trudeau continues to draw on different aspects of masculinity as he travels along the campaign trail. He is able to wear a cowboy hat while canvassing in Alberta (Steward 2014), or mingle with the "ladies" at a fundraising event in a Toronto loft (Delacourt 2013a). At the same time, he can demonstrate the flexibility of his masculinity by practicing yoga on the lawn of Parliament Hill (Delacourt 2013b). This elasticity in gender performativity is permissible because Trudeau is able to recuperate traditional hegemonic masculinity in the boxing ring.

Gender scholars may think imaginatively about how the landscape of gender has expanded to incorporate multiple forms of masculinity. However, as this paper suggests, the pathways to power in Canadian politics remain narrow. Although new iterations of masculinities exist, the durability of hegemonic masculinity is still a feature of Canadian electoral politics. This paper developed the concept of recuperative gender strategies to describe the way in which politicians attempt to restore their public gender identities. Although the term is explored in this paper with respect to masculinity, recuperative gender strategies are not restricted to 11 those of a specific gender, nor is the term restricted to spaces that are predominately viewed as masculine or feminine. Future research is necessary to expand upon this concept and to examine the ways in which men and women can work to recuperate appropriately masculine and feminine gender identities, both in and beyond the realm of politics.


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Elise Maiolino

University of Toronto

Elise Maiolino, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, 725 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2J4, Canada. E-mail:

I am deeply indebted to Judith Taylor. Thank you for providing feedback and guidance on earlier versions of this paper.

(1.) This match was organized in partnership with the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and Final Round Boxing of Ottawa.

(2.) Patrick Brazeau was suspended from the Senate in February 2013, due to charges of assault and sexual assault (Payton 2013).

(3.) Both Trudeau and Brazeau have lost a parent to cancer (Hiltz 2012).

(4.) The combined funds, garnered from 500 attendees and numerous personal donations, amounted to over $200,000 (FFTC 2012). Although "Fight For The Cure" has hosted "white-collar" boxing matches with "local business leaders and celebrity bouts" for the past five years, the fight between Brazeau and Trudeau was the first to feature two Canadian politicians (FFTC 2012).

(5.) The phrase mild and meek is used in this context to refer to popular discourses that present Canadian society and culture as humble, apologetic, temperate, and polite (Brean 2014).

(6.) In 1977, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau was caught spinning a pirouette behind Queen Elizabeth during a G7 summit Conference in London, England.

(7.) Although Kim Campbell was not elected as Prime Minister of Canada, her political career can still be viewed as a success. Campbell was both a Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and a Member of the Canadian Parliament, where she served as a Cabinet Minister. She went on to win the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party and in turn became the Prime Minister of Canada. Campbell is the first and only woman to ever hold this title. She served as Prime Minister from June 25, 1993 to November 4, 1993.

(8.) Raphael's (2012) research examined The Rick Mercer Report, 22 Minutes, and the Royal Canadian Air Farce.

(9.) Brazeau does not feature as prominently as Justin Trudeau in the newspaper coverage. Brazeau was an important aspect in the match insofar as he provided an opponent for Trudeau. However, as I have noted in the paper, the portrayal of Trudeau's successful use of the boxing match as a strategy to recuperate his masculinity is not reliant on Brazeau. The focus is on the personal transformation of Trudeau from his precariously masculine identity to his sufficiently masculine identity, as depicted in the media.

(10.) After losing Brazeau requested a "rematch" (Den Tandt and Hiltz 2012) and claimed his "ego" hurt the most (Harper 2012). As a penalty, he is described as having to cut his hair and wear a Liberal jersey in the House of Commons for a week.

(11) As opposed to asking why the journalists came up with the appraisals they did, my paper investigates what this coverage enabled and precluded.
Table 1

Distribution of Newspaper Articles Analyzed

Newspaper              Count   Percent   Article type   Count   Percent

Ottawa Citizen          27      12.2     News            138     62.2
National Post           23      10.4     Column          50      22.5
Toronto Sun             21       9.5     Editorial       21       9.5
The Gazette             18       8.1     Letter           7       3.2
Toronto Star            17       7.7     Opinion          3       1.4
The Star-Phoenix         15       6.8     Comment          2       0.9
Calgary Herald          14       6.3     Profile          1       0.5
The Globe and Mail      14       6.3     Total           222      100
The Windsor Star        13       5.9
Edmonton Journal        13       5.9
Leader Post             12       5.4
Times Colonist           8       3.6
The Vancouver Sun        8       3.6
The Province             8       3.6
Winnipeg Free Press      6       2.7
Telegraph-Journal        5       2.7
Total                   222      100
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Author:Maiolino, Elise
Publication:Canadian Review of Sociology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2015
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