Recently, thirty-six-year-old Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin was heavily criticised after private videos of her partying with her friends surfaced on the internet. In one of the videos, Marin was seemingly drinking alcohol and dancing with her friends and in another picture that was published later, two influencers were shown to be posing topless in her official residence. She faced severe backlash and the public went on to call her behavior “irresponsible and inappropriate.” Opposition party leader, Riika Purra, called for Marin to take a voluntary drug test which, later on, came out as negative. Marin said, “I have nothing to hide. I have not used drugs and therefore I have no problem taking tests.”
In a world where woman struggle to find representation in male-dominated fields, especially in politics which is deemed as an elite gentleman’s club, Finland seemed like a female utopia headed by a young, Sanna Marin and a coalition government where all five party leaders are women. However, she has had to prove her capability over and over again, being frequently character-assassinated for simply letting her hair down and hosting parties as a young woman.
It is not the first time that a woman in a position of power, had to deal with unwarranted moral-policing for merely existing in the public-eye. Marin was pressurized into issuing a public apology due to the international outrage. “It’s private, it’s joy, and it’s life,” she said. “But I haven’t missed a single day of work.” The very problem lies in the fact that she had to publicly apologize to defend her right to privacy and produce justified evidence to prove that she is capable of handling her duties as a Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, male politicians have unabashedly used their gender privilege and gotten away with hosting rowdy parties at their offices. Boris Johnson’s “party-gate” scandal where he was seen having alcohol and partying at 10, Downing Street, neither spurred as much outrage nor, did he have his character questioned like Marin. Going back in history, John F. Kennedy’s many infamous affairs were treated like an open-secret and instead of being shamed, the public heralded him as a “ladies’ man.” Donald Trump has been accused by several women for sexual misconduct since the 1970’s. He also, has quite the reputation for making problematic comments about women in general and especially his female contemporaries like, accusing former U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, for using “woman’s card” to win more votes in elections.
The first woman to contest for U.S. Presidency who was also a woman suffrage icon, Victoria Woodhull, was discouraged from her endeavours by the public who called her “Mrs. Satan.” Not much has changed since then as, democratic Congresswoman and woman of colour, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was trolled on the internet for her “Tax The Rich” dress that she wore to the Met Gala with the intention of spreading a political message. That is not all she has had to endure in her political career, as she has been a frequent target of criticism by conservatives like Ted Yoho, who boldly accosted her at the US Capitol. Lindiwe Mazibuko, former Opposition leader of South Africa, was publicly body-shamed during a budget by ANC MP, John Jeffrey who said, “while the Honourable Mazibuko may be a person of substantial weight, her stature is questionable.”
Closer home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly passed sexist remarks about his female contemporaries. One of them being directed towards Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, “I am happy that Bangladesh Prime Minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism.” he said. In Kolkata, film actresses and TMCP MP’s Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan, were bullied for donning western attires inside the Parliament, where there is no strict dress code to be maintained.
Such instances ranging from all over the world, solidifies the harsh reality where women are subjected to constant surveillance under the male gaze. Women in politics have to brace themselves against misogynistic heckling, sexist slurs and other derogatory name-calling from the start. A woman in the public eye has to choose her steps cautiously because, even breathing wrong can result in her being trialed. From choice of attire to a smile, every action is closely scrutinized.
However, male politicians have successfully maneuvered themselves around several sexual harassment allegations, problematic comments, and corruption cases, still relishing support en masse. They have never had to worry about their clothing or body language because it is naturally assumed they are very serious, hard-working figures.
This unearths a very deep-seated issue prevalent in our society and we must ask ourselves – why do female leaders face prejudice?
In Japan, research finds that only 38% of people were open to having a female head of government. A study conducted among 30,000 people by Pew Research Center in India stated that only one in every ten believe that women are better political leaders than men. Therefore, the egalitarian vision of India as well as, other “progressive” nations still have much to work on. The vast authority-gap exists because women are generally considered to be ill-fitted for leadership roles because they are seemingly agreeable or docile, some also viewing their motherhood as a hindrance in professional lives.
The bitter truth is that gender injustice in politics is largely overlooked and has been normalised to the point where a woman preparing to start a career in politics should expect misogyny and sexism as by-products. Lastly, the image of a teary-eyed Sanna Marin trying to defend her private life while, the mass holds a smear campaign against her reminds us of nothing less than a nefarious witch-trial. We must accept that the world has not been kind to its female leaders and there is still a long way to go till we can finally combat such malpractices and be wholeheartedly, welcoming to a woman in a position of power. If men and women alike do not start endorsing female politicians, these witch-trials will continue to persevere.
Rituja is a self proclaimed film and music connoisseur who loves writing about the world around her and wishes to see the downfall of patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram.