You only have one staff member and deal with most of your business from your family’s dining room table, scrambling to get everything done while keeping tabs on your three children. This scenario probably sounds pretty familiar to most entrepreneurial moms trying to launch a startup business, only this is the reality of Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau and this is no startup enterprise — it’s Canada. The responsibilities she’s juggling entail mingling with foreign heads of state alongside the prime minister, while working with multiple charities supporting women and girls across the country. Yet, when she told Canadians she felt stretched a bit too thin, they were far from sympathetic.
Grégoire-Trudeau recently suggested, in an interview with Le Soleil, that she struggled trying to do everything all at once and could use a little extra help. “I’d love to be everywhere but I can’t,” she said. “I have three children and a husband who is prime minister. I need help. I need a team to help me serve the people.”
Regardless of your political leanings, the appropriate reaction to this statement doesn’t involve resorting to sexist bullying of Grégoire-Trudeau on social media. Yet, using the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #PrayForSophie, internet commenters attacked Grégoire-Trudeau for her desire to take her role seriously and her suggestion that she may need more support to meet Canadians’ demands.
— Cat Cdn Poli (@CatCDNPoli) May 14, 2016
Sophie-Gregoire Trudeau: moving women forward by acting like a spoiled princess, inspiring. #PrayForSophie
— Caitlyn Madlener (@CaitlynMadlener) May 12, 2016
— Mr. Glen A. (@Glen_Allan_) May 12, 2016
As Canada has no official “First Lady” position like the United States, many point out that we don’t owe Grégoire-Trudeau anything. And while they may technically be right, there are problems with that line of reasoning: Elected or not, we still have a very specific set of expectations of the prime minister’s spouse, regardless of whether or not we make them explicit. For example, if the prime minister’s spouse decided that she wanted to return to her former job as an entertainment reporter on etalk, Canadians would likely find that inappropriate given her public role.
While Grégoire-Trudeau may have no official title other than “wife,” we still expect her to make Canada look good on the international stage and devote all her energy to supporting the prime minister while simultaneously telling her she doesn’t actually have a job.
Grégoire-Trudeau’s request is especially reasonable when you consider the fact that Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s wife Mila Mulroney had three staff members working under her when he was in office. When you compare Grégoire-Trudeau’s setup to those of other spouses of foreign leaders, it’s relatively modest. Take Michelle Obama: The American first lady has a staff of about 24 serving under her. And in France, it seems to vary on a case by case basis but Carla Bruni-Sarkozy reportedly had eight staffers. And like Canada, the U.K. prime minister’s wife Samantha Cameron has one staff member working under her, though this makes more sense in the U.K. when you consider the fact that the Royal Family perform many of the activities often left to foreign leaders’ spouses in countries without a monarchy.
Grégoire-Trudeau spoke to Le Soleil about the fact that she couldn’t respond to as many of Canadians’ requests as she’d like to: “It’s hard to choose, because it’s touching when people ask for your help. People really lay out their suffering in some of the letters I receive.”
While it’s totally fine if a prime minister’s spouse decides against pursuing public life as actively as Grégoire-Trudeau does, why fault her for trying to work more closely with Canadian groups requesting her involvement? Why resort to calling her a “princess” or insinuate that she’s spoiled when her request is reasonable given past political precedents set in Canada and abroad?
You don’t have to agree with everything our prime minister’s wife says or does, but the extreme degree of backlash against a woman requesting support to properly fulfill her professional responsibilities is unfair. It’s time to accept that being the prime minister’s wife is an actual job.