On Sanna Marin and policing of female politicians

August 26, 2022 10:30
Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin (Photo: Reuters)

The Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin made world headlines this week – not because of any ignominy or scandal, or any particular moral defect, but because she was found (gasp!) “partying” at a nightclub in Finland. The verdict? She’s “unreliable”, says one paper; she lacks “judgment”, says another. And thus, in the shadows of the tabloid press and a relentless patriarchy, Marin was dragged through the mud for… spending a part of her downtime at a venue that ordinary folks would frequent for recreation.

In analysing the ‘backlash’ over Marin, it is hard not to notice the overtly sexist and misogynistic undertones – or overtones – in some of the commentary. Inferring from Marin’s decision to party – on that single evening – the claim that she is ostensibly ‘permissive’ or ‘unbridled’ in her personal ethic; and moving from this observation to the conclusion that she is thus ill equipped to lead a country – despite being one of the more popular leaders in contemporary Finnish history, is downright berserk. The language employed to describe her embeds judgments of purported lasciviousness, or that her recklessness renders her an unscrupulous character, or that she has allegedly ‘disgraced’ and ‘embarrassed’ Finland for enjoying herself. Undergirding this all, of course, is the controlling view that women should only be allowed to enjoy themselves in private – and that any and all behaviours in the public limelight, even in a country as ‘liberal’ as Finland, must be subject to the highest forms of scrutiny.

Now, of course, the sceptic would rejoinder as follows – surely, it’s not about women. Surely, we’d police male politicians for… tearing up the dance floor at a nightclub, too!

Except when Gove and Tugendhat popped down to the Cruz 101 nightclub in Manchester during the Tory Party conference last year, they were praised for knowing how to “have a great time” by a prominent UK paper; another praised them as they “spun and twirled” to Whitney Houston – brilliant stuff. Or, indeed, remember that one time that Cameron took a guest of the highest honour down to the pub to enjoy a splendid serving of fish and chips. Or, indeed, when Trudeau sought to ‘demonstrate his credentials with the people’ by paying a visit to the craft brewery – just two weeks back! Men don’t get nearly as much hate, or bigoted judgment, or bizarre scrutiny and commentary, as women in politics, or elsewhere.

Perhaps the issue with Marin’s being at the nightclub is that she is conflating the public with the private – she “got too close to a few blokes”, so to speak. But who are we to judge an individual for the persons they opt to associate with, and the mannerisms through which they do so? Marin neither broke the law nor engaged in anything morally unsavoury – the only crime she had, was she had fun as a woman! And that’s apparently anathema to armchair critics (often privileged, upper-class or middle-class men), who have little better to do than to indulge in extensive ad hominems against the subject of their political chagrin.

There is so much to talk about – to critique and comment, to oppose and reject – when it comes to the current Finnish administration’s foreign and domestic policies. To hone in on whether its Prime Minister is dancing her heart out, is most certainly counterproductive in virtue of its distractionary and irrelevant nature. If we truly are seeking to make constructive suggestions as to how Finland could move forward and upward – we’d be much better off focusing on policies. What this suggests, by the way, is that we shouldn’t fall for the ‘excuse’ that the critique of Marin’s behaviours is an attempt to rectify the internal malaise plaguing Finland today. Let’s call a spade a spade – the attacks on Marin are blatantly misogynistic.

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Assistant Professor, HKU