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Feb 19 2018
by Rina Lee

Canadian and US Students React to Trudeau’s "Peoplekind" Comment

By Rina Lee - Feb 19 2018

Last week, the world, as Piers Morgan from the Daily Mail describes, witnessed the untimely demise of mankind. And much like the asteroid believed to have pronounced the death sentence for all dinosaurs, this recent annihilation of mankind was also unexpected, to say the least. No one could have anticipated such an event.

Out of mankind’s doomed ashes, however, arose a shining new species – one which will never fail to be precise, polite and politically correct. It was the birth of Prime Minister Trudeau’s “peoplekind.”

As can be seen in this video, during a Q&A session held at MacEwan University, Edmonton, Prime Minister Trudeau interrupted a woman who posed a question using the word “mankind.”

“We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind,’ because it’s more inclusive,” Trudeau corrected. 

News of this incident spread like international wildfire. Almost immediately, Twitter erupted into a mixed barrage of ridiculing sarcasm, praising support and insistence that this event was neither of great significance nor worthy of so much media attention and energy.


Although Morrow, as could be seen in his Twitter post above, makes a fair point that Trudeau's one time use of the controversial "peoplekind" pales in comparison to issues such as racism and homophobia, it's also important to realize that this event does, in fact, raise a critical question with regards to contemporary governance. How do we define the fine line between political preciseness and absurd accuracy? How do we differentiate between what is necessary and what is redundant?

It’s no secret that conversations about gender inequality and power imbalance have been steadily on the rise, with initiatives such as #TimesUp and #MeToo rocking global social media. Countries all around the world have thus been placed under increasing pressure and scrutiny to adopt policies of gender neutrality and equality. Canada, for instance, has recently changed a line in its national anthem from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.”

But what about Trudeau’s attempt to replace “mankind” with “peoplekind?” Can there be such a thing as taking grammatical gender-neutrality to the extreme?

“Until Trudeau brought up this issue last week, I've never given the word ‘mankind’ a second thought,” commented Victoria Andrews, a student at the University of Alberta. “It’s never bothered me before and it still doesn’t bother me. I think it’s because we already know that this word had never been construed as a term designed to demean women. To be honest, I think Trudeau maybe applied the idea of equality a little too far out of context. Changing policies will be effective. But how effective will changing words be in the long run?"

“For me, it really depends on the context in which it was used in," Amanda Park, University of Oregon, said. "Obviously, it’s not right if someone was throwing around the term ‘mankind’ purely for the purposes of mocking women. From my experiences, though, that kind of unacceptable behavior rarely seems to happen with words like ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ once we’re past kindergarten. It's pretty widely understood that 'mankind' refers to all humanity.”

Trudeau is not the first to encourage gender neutrality in the usage of the English language. According to The Express, in March 2017, Cardiff Metropolitan University advised its students that language should be as "gender-neutral" as possible, going so far as to even publish a list of 34 words that its students should avoid, such as “forefathers,” “sportsmanship,” and of course, “mankind.”

A spokesperson for the university announced, "The Code of Practice on Using Inclusive Language sets out a broad approach to promoting fairness and equality through raising awareness about the effects of potentially discriminatory vocabulary."

Dr. Joanna Williams at the University of Kent disagreed with this "insulting" policy, however, saying, "These words have evolved over a long period of time and they don't have sexist associations."

Lindsay Meredith at Indiana University presented a differing opinion.

“I wouldn’t call either the policies of Cardiff Metropolitan University or the actions of Prime Minister Trudeau insulting at all,” she said in an interview with Fresh U. “Maybe a little over-the-top, maybe a little too precise, maybe a little unnecessary – but insulting? Far from it. This shows that they care about the gender gap and that they are willing to take the initiative to establish some sort of basis for equality – even though it may not perhaps be the most effective method. It's a huge step forward from where we had been a hundred years ago."

The prime minister's use of the word "peoplekind" does indeed reflect the huge advances that women have made towards achieving equality in the last century. Perhaps, Trudeau's remark should be something to be celebrated, not ridiculed or complained about. 

Of course, true equality has not yet been fully realized, and there's no denying that a long road still lies ahead of us. Recent events on global social media, such as #TimesUp and #MeToo, have shown us just how long that road may be.

But one thing remains clear: actions will always speak louder than words. 

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Rina Lee - University of Toronto

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