LONDON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, known for pushing boundaries on how politicians deal with gender and its language, may have done it again.
But when he left a town-hall-style meeting in Edmonton, Alberta, last Thursday, he was trailed by public sneers and accusations of sexism after video footage surfaced this week of an exchange in which he corrected a woman for using the word “mankind.”
He said she should use “peoplekind.”
A conservative tabloid, The Toronto Sun, accused Mr. Trudeau of “mansplaining” and unfurled footage of what it called the “gaffe-tastic” prime minister’s top three malfunctions: “from insulting a veteran to creating a new word that even millennials would find ‘unwoke.’ ”
But others said the criticism was highly unfair and taken out of context. What’s all the fuss about? Here’s a primer.
The encounter occurred on Thursday, when the unidentified woman, who said she was with the World Mission Society Church of God, asked a long-winded question. She complimented Mr. Trudeau for recognizing the “ability and power that women actually possess.”
Then she said, “Maternal love is the love that’s going to change the future of mankind.”
His left hand waving, the prime minister interrupted her: “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind,’ . It’s more inclusive.”
The crowd cheered in response to Mr. Trudeau’s comment.
“We can all learn from each other,” he said, acknowledging the applause with a beatific smile.
But critics were not having it.
Notably, a lot of the derision came from British, Australian and American commentators. Some originated from the conservative and far-right fringes. They accused Mr. Trudeau of “virtue-signaling” and political correctness run amok.
The American political commentator Ben Shapiro, a frequent critic, tore into him with insults ranging from “idiotic” to “sycophantic.” The Australian conservative commentator Rita Panahi said Mr. Trudeau’s use of “peoplekind” was an attempt to “appease those desperate to find offense where none exists.”
Others just thought the prime minister should’ve found a better way.
Christina Sommers, the author of “Who Stole Feminism?” and a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, posted on Twitter: “Dear @JustinTrudeau Using the word “mankind” is fine. Publicly embarrassing someone for using it is not.”
Robyn Urback, a columnist for CBC News, and Michelle Rempel, a Canadian politician, also scolded Mr. Trudeau on Twitter.
When Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal Party took control of the government in 2015 in a stunning rout of the Conservatives, the scion of a political dynasty was seen as a breath of fresh air.
Suddenly, Canada became hip. Mr. Trudeau was seen as the emoji politician North America craved. Young, tall and athletic, he was married to a former TV host, Sophie Grégoire. With their three children, they made for a photogenic first family.
He quickly became one of the world’s most “viral” political leaders. A video of him schooling a reporter on quantum computing has been viewed more than 1.8 million times. A photograph of him hugging panda cubs in 2016 set the internet aflame.
Someone later turned it into a butter sculpture.
His “bromance” with President Barack Obama enhanced the idea that Mr. Trudeau could do little wrong. (Mr. Trudeau offered an alternative description for their relationship: “dude-plomacy.”)
But the Trudeau magic has begun to wear off, and conservative critics accused him of being smug and condescending and possibly staging public outings for their viral factor.
His policies on more substantial issues also came under scrutiny. He backtracked on what seemed like an open invitation to Syrian refugees during an address to the United Nations amid a surge in migrants fleeing the threat of deportation from the United States.
A Washington correspondent for The Toronto Star, Daniel Dale, said that the “pile-on” was misleading and that Mr. Trudeau had merely been “lightly ribbing a woman who was rambling about the power of women.”
Indeed, the woman herself laughed. “There you go, exactly. Yes, thank you,” she said.
A political columnist for Vice, Drew Brown, posted a full video of the meeting, which ran for nearly two hours.
“After watching the extra three minutes around the clip in question, it seems like this is less a snuff film of ‘common sense’ than it is the prime minister doing a reasonably good job of handling an intensely religious Christian-adjacent heretic,” Mr. Brown wrote. He added, “It’s a good example of the right-wing propaganda pipeline in action.”
The National Post, founded by Conrad Black, Conservative Party house organ and no friend of Mr. Trudeau, took the view that it was a joke that fell flat after the questioner spoke about a variety of things for more than four minutes.
The debate comes as Canada has been pushing other gender neutral verbal expressions, including the Senate recently passing a bill making the national anthem gender neutral. Though Mr. Trudeau wasn’t behind it, he was supportive.
Even though Liberal poll numbers are flagging at the midpoint of Mr. Trudeau’s tenure, he remains far ahead of the opposition leaders.
Supporters note he is one of the first male leaders to brand himself a feminist, and he has said that he’s committed to gender equality. He wrote an essay on raising his daughter and sons to be feminists, nominated a woman to the Supreme Court and defended gender and social equality in a recent speech in Davos, Switzerland, in which he referred to the movements spurring a sea change in gender dynamics.
“MeToo, Time’s Up, the Women’s March — these movements tell us that we need to have a critical discussion on women’s rights, equality and power dynamics of gender,” he said.
His cabinet has an equal number of men and women. In 2016, he announced that a Canadian woman would be the face of the country’s newest bank notes, expected in 2018.
But some people can’t seem to let go of “peoplekind.” And that raises a question.
No. No, it is not.