Written by Taylor Glenn

In The News

The audacity of help

Canada’s first lady Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau faced a huge backlash when she admitted she needed help to cope with her workload. But it doesn’t make Taylor Glenn feel angry, it makes her feel validated.

Sophie_Grégoire-Trudeau (Public domain)“If you need help, bark like a dog.” – Gendry
“That’s stupid. If I need help I’ll shout ‘help.’” – Arya
–George RR Martin, A Clash of Kings

Oh, Canada.

I’ll admit that before this recent furore over Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau and the Terrible Help Admission, I didn’t know that much about her. Sophie, I mean, not Canada, who I actually think of as a guy with a good hockey mullet.

Not much, apart from Michelle Obama calling her “a soulmate,” and oh yeah, she’s married to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one of the world’s coolest heads of state. The guy whose uber-diverse cabinet selection goes viral every other week, and whose refreshing statements about feminism have put more skittish world leaders to shame. So Sophie’s street cred was firmly established by association, but I’d never gotten around to, you know, properly web-stalking her.

Google ‘Justin Trudeau’ (and who hasn’t? *cough*) and the second search term suggestion after ‘Justin Trudeau net worth’ is ‘Justin Trudeau wife’ (I suppose that’s better than ‘Justin Trudeau nets wife’).

It’s no wonder Sophie’s got an air of celebrity about her, even if people do identify her through spousal association: she’s a former TV presenter; a busy mother of three; and (let’s go ahead and crack open Pandora’s box like a nice cold Labatt Blue eh?) she’s conventionally attractive.

She and Justin are a sexy young couple in power. Cue the perfect storm for a sea of outrage when Sophie admits in an interview that she’s a bit overwhelmed and could use another staff member to support her.

Dig deeper than the tabloid fodder and, by all accounts, she seems to be a remarkable person. She’s deeply committed to various charitable causes, ranging from eating disorders, with which she has personally struggled, to cancer and cystic fibrosis. She’s thrown herself into her very public though technically unofficial role as sidekick to Prime Minister by donating her time and persona to support causes which echo the human values they’re both known for espousing. (Spouses who Espouse, maintain a happy House?)

So it’s kind of sad to learn more about this dynamic woman only after political rivals and members of the public lobbed harsh criticisms at her when she admitted she’s got normal human limits. And let’s not forget the cruellest of all possible insults which got thrown her way: she was called a Kardashian. The internet knows no bounds of cruelty, for we all know the very worst thing to be is a beautiful but functionally useless, indulgent Kardashian.

“Not only do we need to change how we view asking for help, we need to stop demonising vulnerability. We are all vulnerable. Admitting so only makes us function better within society, not worse.”

Sure, there are themes running throughout the backlash which go beyond the help theme – there’s perhaps a conversation to be had about privilege and public resourcing. But to the furious Twitterati detractors who shouted, “She’s not in touch with the average woman in Canada!” I ask you: is Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau the most worthy target of criticism when it comes to public spending in the political sphere? And why is it that when a woman in power asks for help, she’s personally lampooned and out of touch – but when a man does the same, he’s merely delegating, or outsourcing?

When former Conservative PM Stephen Harper scrapped plans for a national childcare initiative which had been promised, was the public outcry as personally vicious? I don’t remember people shouting he was out of touch with the average woman in Canada – because the idea he could be in touch was so ludicrous in the first place.

To be sure, men are also victims of society’s apparent allergy to asking for help – just ask anyone who’s been told to ‘man up’ and get on with it when they’re flailing – but this storm in a Stanley Cup (yeah, I mostly know about ice hockey, sorry for the poor range, Canada) seems to have more to do with what happens when a woman dares to ask. When she dares to showcase vulnerability and says, “I’m trying to do it all, but it’s not quite working.”

Let’s step back from her situation for a moment, folks. She’s not overwhelmed because she can’t fit in her eyebrow microblading appointments, it’s because of the number of requests which come in asking her to support charities.

And did I mention THEY HAVE THREE CHILDREN? For the record, I’ve got one (who has interrupted the writing of this article about 37 times) plus a largely self-centred job which requires little to no fashion sense, a part-time babysitter and supportive partner and, spoiler alert: I’m often overwhelmed and could use more help too.

Sophie admitting she’s overwhelmed by hundreds of requests for charity support along with raising three kids, being in the public eye, and being expected to be perfect doesn’t make me feel angry at her. Instead, I feel validated that it’s OK to not try to push oneself to the very edge of sanity to get shit done.

I don’t mean to deify her – I’m sure she’s a total jerk when she plays badminton or whatever – but we owe ourselves a moment to get to the heart of this matter: asking for help signals vulnerability. And for too long we have equated vulnerability with weakness.

'Help' written in sandPsychologists have long studied the so-called power of asking for help. Stress management workshops (which I once led – ha HA!) rely heavily on the art of boundary setting, of saying no, of asking for help. So why do so many of us remain hell-bent on holding people – especially women – to such damaging standards?

This sabotaging approach sets up the damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario: ask for help, and you appear weak and incompetent. Fail to ask for help, and we will sit back and watch with popcorn as you have your public meltdown. Here’s a razor blade, now go shave your famous head.

So not only do we need to change how we view asking for help, we need to stop demonising vulnerability. We are all vulnerable. Admitting so only makes us function better within society, not worse.

Brené Brown, an academic and ‘vulnerability researcher’ is famous for her Ted Talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ which has amassed over 24 million views. Why so popular? Well, she herself admits to a lifetime of shaming herself and others for appearing weak – then she had a breakdown and decided to dedicate her career to exploring these themes.

Brown went on to study people who had achieved healthy social connections and self-care to look for patterns, and was surprised to discover that the common denominator was that they all embraced vulnerability. They acknowledged their limits, their fears, and their need for help, without shame.

Let’s use this media explosion around one woman’s bold display of vulnerability to embrace vulnerability and asking for help as a strength, not a weakness. To remember that all of us need support in order to function. The successful one-woman show with no support is a glamorised myth, and sooner or later, we all need to ask for help. Let’s make that an OK thing.


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Written by Taylor Glenn

Taylor is an American comedian, writer, and former psychotherapist based in London. She has a two-year-old and a dead basil plant.