Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, a gender-equality advocate and the spouse of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sparked a controversy on International Women’s Day last year when she posted a suggestion on social media: “Let’s celebrate the boys and men in our lives who encourage us to be who we truly are, who treat girls and women with respect, and who aren’t afraid to speak up in front of others.” Critics said the day is about honoring women—not men.
Trudeau discussed the incident at the 9th annual Women in the World Summit on Saturday, saying, “First of all, I’m a women’s rights advocate and I have been for 15, 20 years. People know this. Obviously on International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the amazing efforts and sacrifices women have made before us, and us standing here, making more efforts to pave the way so that future generations can see higher and further and wider. But gender equality and feminism cannot evolve in our humanity if we’re not bringing our boys and men along.”
In a powerful conversation about gender and feminism with Stephanie Mehta, editor in chief of Fast Company, Trudeau said, “Lots of boys around this planet are being taught right now as we speak that girls are lesser than them. This is toxic to everybody. And it’s toxic to boys. Boys deserve better. They deserve better than to grow up in a society that teaches them to be only strong, only courageous, dominant and ego-centered. They deserve more than this because they are amazing creatures who have the capacity to become open-minded, open-hearted, courageous and strong and tender and wise human beings. Let’s not underestimate their potential.”
Trudeau explained why she has made young people an important part of her platform, describing her own battles as a teenager who suffered an eating disorder. “I was looking for my true self. I was looking for truths within me and wanted to know why I was suffering,” she said, noting that she felt hopeless and helpless. “Eating disorders, like any other compulsion, are kind of the tip of the iceberg. It’s the fear and anxiety underlying that are most important.”
When she made the decision to speak out about her childhood struggles as an adult, she said, she wondered if she was making the right decision in telling such a personal story. “The response was amazing,” she said. “Through our paths of suffering, we unite.”
She urged people to look within and ask important questions of themselves. “I often ask, ‘What is the inner conversation you have when you wake up in morning, or when you’re alone and nobody’s watching? Is it compassionate, peaceful? Do you tell yourself: God, I did well. I’m healthy, I have a healthy body. Or is it always comparing yourself to other people, not feeling good enough, tall enough, beautiful enough?’ We need to be honest with ourselves. Self-care allows you to lead a life that you don’t need to escape from. Compulsions are escapes.”
She noted that she wants to see young people continue to get engaged in political discourse. “Sometimes I feel like the political process in government feels so far away from young people,” she said. “We need to have complex, sometimes awkward conversations that are based on truth, because on this planet right now, the truth is in danger on many levels. And when human beings distance themselves from their own inner truth and the truth around them, we can’t see ourselves in our own inner light. And that is to our detriment. When youth live in fear of not being able to become who they are, as adults, they can’t become the creative beings they are meant to be on this planet. So youth empowerment is related to the future of humanity.”
When asked how she feels about the fact that her husband has labeled himself a feminist, she joked, “First of all, big deal, saying you’re a feminist. Should be normal, right?” She added, “Language is very important—don’t get wrong.” But the next step, she said, is to consider: “What do we do in our lives to create equality within?”
As for handling life in the spotlight as the spouse of the prime minister, she said, “We’re grounded people. My husband was brought up with both feet in respect and grounded into mother earth. We bow to this life and these opportunities that have been given to us. We see it as a gift to connect with other human beings. When you start on a path of creating goodness for others, I see it as a path to service.” She added with a laugh, “It’s crazy work, but it’s good crazy.”
As for whether she has any political aspirations, she said, “I am in the political sphere! I’m also very much involved in my children’s life. I’m a mother, and I love to take care of other human beings. It’s not a definite no, because I never say no to anything. You never know in life. But I think the path of service through the political arena, through what my husband does, for now it’s enough to handle.”
Additional reporting by Yasmeen Qureshi.