The sanctimonious reaction to Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s night out, where she was filmed singing and dancing with friends, feels very 1950s. Surely she can do what she wants in her own time, as long as she’s not hurting anyone, regardless of how high-powered her job is?
Finish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Tokyo last month.Credit:AP
The response underlines the hypocritical world view applied to women – and particularly women in power. Not only is she female: Marin became the world’s youngest serving government leader in December 2019, aged 36.
Closer to home, our own prime minister was out and about on Monday night, having a drink at the Gang of Youths concert in Sydney, when he was spotted by an eagle-eyed audience member. Amid cheers and shouts of encouragement to do so, Anthony Albanese downed his beer. Of course, it was filmed, and the footage spread like wildfire on social media this morning.
We have a long history of our leaders – male only, mind you – drinking, and of lauding their behaviour when they do so. In 2015, then prime minister Tony Abbott downed a schooner in just seven seconds at a footy match in east Sydney. Long before he became PM, Bob Hawke set a record for downing a yard glass of beer at Oxford in the 1950s.
As Monday’s video of Albanese shows, we like to see our leaders in the real world, especially at a gig: it suggests he’s a man of the people, just like us. That he’s encouraged to skoll his beer is a throwback to another age, but possibly symbolises that knockabout nature so revered in Australian folklore.
Anthony Albanese was spotted at a Gang of Youths concert in Sydney on Monday night, where the Australian prime minister obliged the cheering crowd by skolling his beer.
That said, I can’t imagine any of our female politicians doing the same. What sort of outcry would ensue? The reaction to Grace Tame’s refusal to play nice with Scott Morrison last year showed how conservative our politics remains and how many still believe antiquated social etiquette should override personal beliefs.
There’s a long list things female leaders in Australia need to reckon with that their male colleagues don’t: what you wear, who you date, even, as former PM Julia Gillard found out in 2005, what your kitchen looks like.
Interviewing female world leaders for her book co-authored with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Women and Leadership, Gillard found that the sexism experienced is global. “One of the most common was that each of the women was conscious that when voters were looking at them as women leaders, they had to steer a narrow path between being seen as strong enough to lead, but not come across as so tough that people thought them unlikeable,” she told CEO Magazine in 2020. “There was this narrow, narrow path between empathetic but also showing that you had the backbone to do the job.”
How would Australians react if we’d seen a woman Prime Minister out partying? Part of my surprise about the reaction to Marin is that she is Finnish; Finland is a social democracy, renowned for its progressive policies around gender and equality. Surely there the response would be realistic rather than anarchic? Sadly not.
In Finnish newspapers and beyond, Marin was criticised for a lack of judgment, for being immature. Since when did dancing and having a few drinks with friends become a crime? Former British PM Boris Johnson and his staff made an art of it, even while the rest of his country was under lockdown. What is an appropriate way to spend a Saturday night, anyway? Playing the ukulele to your family after dinner, perhaps.
If we are to attract young people to politics – surely a good thing – we must allow them to live their lives, whatever they look like. Hopefully one day we will mature as a society and allow our leaders to live a little. Maybe then we will see a more diverse and representative parliament?
Do we expect to our leaders not to have private lives, even though the “private” part is very likely not? Or do we prefer that they not have a life outside politics? Marin responded to the criticism saying she was upset the footage had been leaked, even though she ultimately took a drug test to prove she had not taken anything. It came back negative, according to her government.
The breach of privacy is unfortunate but these days almost inevitable. Anything and everything seems to be recorded and when you’re a public figure – regardless of the setting – it’s unlikely to remain under wraps for long.
My favourite response to the criticism of a young woman having a night out with mates were the many videos tagged #Solidaritywith Sanna, showing women of all ages from all round the world dancing with friends, having a good time and owning what should have remained exactly that.
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