If You’re Female, Society Takes a Sterner Attitude on Your Behavior

The trial-by-media of Finland’s prime minister for dancing and drinking has confirmed what many already know to be true: the rules for how women must behave in public are more stringent than for men

If You’re Female, Society Takes a Sterner Attitude on Your Behavior
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin gives a speech defending her work record and her right to a private life after criticism sparked by a video of the 36-year-old partying / Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva / AFP via Getty Images

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Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, has found herself again apologizing to the public, this time for the harmless after-hours fun she takes part in. Headlines across the globe recently carried stories condemning the youngest leader in Finland’s history after leaked videos were made public. And what was Marin’s grave sin? In the now-viral videos, she is seen partying and dancing with friends in a private apartment in Helsinki. 

After an official apology two weeks ago, the prime minister went so far as to take a drug test (which turned out negative) to clear up rumors about alleged substance abuse. Piling on to her troubles, a photograph of two topless women taken at a different party inside the Finnish prime minister’s official residence was published on social media after the “party videos” were released. 

Speaking to a crowd this past week, Marin made a tearful second apology in which she insisted, “I am human. And amid these dark times, I too miss sometimes joy, light and fun.” Last year, she had apologized when it was revealed that she had attended a party at which Covid-19 protocol was ignored.

It’s worth noting that many women across the world took to social media to express solidarity with Marin by uploading their own dance videos or sharing similar experiences. Though much ado was made about Marin’s supposed improper behavior, a video showing Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, chugging a beer at a concert amid a cheering crowd in Sydney emerged just days later to a much different reaction, confirming what many have already known to be true: When it comes to how we are expected to behave in public, the rules for women are far more demanding, and far less forgiving than they are for men. 

While it isn’t difficult to find examples of how more leeway is given to male politicians who make mistakes, this intense pressure and scrutiny presents itself in other forms. Last month, Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska’s appearance on the cover of Vogue sparked heated discussion. Many accused the fashion magazine of fetishizing or glamorizing war, while commentators debated the propriety of President Zelensky and his wife posing for the shoot just as the country enters its sixth month of war with Russia. Unsurprisingly, critics picked apart everything from the hairstyle Zelenska donned to the makeup she wore. Seated on marble steps with her elbows resting on her parted legs, even Zelenska’s pose was criticized for not being “lady-like.” This soon sparked the #sitlikeagirl hashtag across social media, as thousands of women uploaded photos of themselves in similar stances as a show of solidarity against what was seen as another instance of misogynistic backlash.  

In Canada, Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien found herself in the media spotlight in mid-August for a tweet she wrote in response to a question about a group of QAnon supporters who had gathered outside the city’s police station. Therrien’s tweet read, “People have been asking me to comment on the events of the past weekend in #ptbo. I hate giving airtime/spotlight to these imbeciles. Here is my comment: f**k off, you f**kwads.” Therrien was invited by numerous Canadian outlets to discuss the tweet, including the CBC’s radio program “As It Happens.” During her appearance, guest host Susan Bonner questioned Therrien about her “harsh” choice of words, insinuating that it was a “stunt” done for attention before asking if it was the mayor’s actions that were responsible for drawing those sorts of incidents to her city. “Men get away with saying this kind of stuff frequently,” responded Therrien. “And when a young woman does it, suddenly there’s a different standard.”

But profane language isn’t the only thing that women are to avoid in their speech. After a video started circulating online in which she made a comment on stage on April 30 calling an “imam-hatip” (Turkish religious school) graduate a “pervert,” Turkish pop star Gulsen (Gulsen Bayraktar Colakoglu) was arrested in her home in Istanbul on Aug. 25. She was taken to court over charges of “inciting hatred and hostility among the public.”

This layer of policing is pervasive. Women are constantly subjected to unwarranted criticisms about how we dress, how we sit and how we conduct ourselves when others are watching or even in private (if such a space still exists in this day and age). One of the most egregious examples of this is found in the criticisms that because Marin was drinking with her friends, she would be unable to fulfill her duties as the country’s leader should a sudden emergency strike. You simply see nothing like that for male leaders — in fact, their regular dinners with wine are photographed as state occasions.

There is no “boys will be boys” for girls, but there is a constellation of pejorative terms and crude archetypes for women who deviate from these expectations — profane labels that, if uttered by those at whom they are hurled, risk placing them in the hot seat at a national radio station or worse. We’ve just observed Women’s Equality Day in the U.S., but a quick scan of the headlines confirms that women in public life are still subjected to double standards and behavioral expectations that don’t apply to their male counterparts.

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