Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has been in the eye of the storm ever since a video of her partying with her friends went viral on social media. The 36-year-old, who is the world’s youngest PM, even took a drug test to prove that she wasn’t under the influence of narcotics while hanging out with her friends. This story, however, isn’t just about a politician being criticised for having a good time. It is about a young woman being put under scrutiny for leading a public life and working a high-pressure job. While it is okay for her male peers to blow off some steam, people went on to shame Marin for the same. How is that not sexist?
Marin has received immense support from women in Finland, who shared videos of themselves partying to call out the sexist targeting of their leader. On August 24, Marin teared up as she spoke about the controversy at an event in Helsinki. “I am human. And I too sometimes long for joy, light and fun amidst these dark clouds,” she said, further adding, “It’s private, it’s joy, and it’s life. But I haven’t missed a single day of work.”
The fact that Marin had to defend a simple thing like partying with her friend, something that we all do, no matter what age, with the argument that she wasn’t cutting corners on the work front, speaks volumes about the unreal expectations that we have from women leaders. We expect them to live and behave a certain way. Wow, Larissa Waters breastfed her child during a parliament session, how cool! Jacinda Ardern‘s daughter interrupted her during a live social media session, so cute. Kamala Harris was seen jogging up the Lincoln Memorial stairs, inspiring.
Sanna Marin party scandal: When did having fun become scandalous?
We only approve of women leaders when they appear focussed and in control – be it on the job, while tending to their family or towards their fitness. Even when they unwind they are never expected to lose control. Fun for women leaders is an act curated to make them win the approval of their voters. On the other hand, a man like Donald Trump gets elected as President of the United States, despite making disturbing statements like ‘grab ‘em by the pu**y’, which we are expected to take in a lighter vein. Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent years in power before finally being strongarmed into tendering a resignation for partying during the COVID-19 crisis. Nonetheless, Marin was put on trial instantly, as soon as her party video went viral.
The sexist gaze with which we view leadership is crystal clear. There is a different set of standards for men and women. Sticking to our patriarchal outlook, we dismiss unruly behaviour by a male leader because ‘men will be men’. Women, however, are supposed to be responsible and lead an ideal life, as good role models.
Defending her right to have some private space, Marin said, “I want to believe that people will look at what we do at work rather than what we do in our spare time.” But I do not agree with her entirely here. We need to look at what our women leaders do in their spare time, how they unwind and what’s their idea of fun. But we need to do so with an open mind. Enough with curated images and videos that portray our female leaders as champions and trailblazers. We want to see them enjoying life. We want them to advocate the importance of unwinding so that women don’t feel guilty about taking time off their duties or having a night out with friends.
This is a great opportunity for women across the world to rid leadership of stereotypes and add more of a very important quality to its many aspects – humanity. At the end of the day, these women leaders are human beings – they need the company of their friends, and they need to be able to let their guard down. They need to be accepted for who they are as people, not just the carefully presented image that is meant to appease everyone.
The views expressed are the author’s own.