By Zayd Hamid
Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin is the youngest female head of state in the world. With that distinction comes attention to her private life. Marin gained national attention in mid-August after a risqué photo of Finnish model Sabina Särkkä was leaked after a party at Marin’s official residence, Kesäranta, after the Ruisrock music festival on July 8th. The photo shows Särkkä kissing another woman on the lips while bare-chested except for a sign reading “Finland” covering their breasts. Marin’s apology for the photo marks the third time in the week that she apologized for party events.
The Prime Minister faced attacks from Finnish tabloid Iltalehti for her behavior. Claiming that some partygoers chanted “flour gang,” a phrase understood by the tabloid to mean cocaine usage, Iltalehti implied that Marin took drugs at the party. Marin’s political opponents echoed these allegations such as Rikko Purra of the Finns Party who claimed that the videos of Marin “casted a shadow of doubt.” Mikko Kärnä of the Centre Party tweeted on August 18th that Marin should undergo a drug test, saying that “just for the sake of the discussion in public, it would be wise if the Prime Minister @MarinSanna voluntarily went through a drug screening, the results of which would be made public by an independent body. The people are also allowed to expect this from their prime minister. #flourgang.” Replying to a Twitter user, Kärnä called the situation “quite serious and sad.”
Under pressure from politicians and the media, Marin took a drug screening. Although results came out negative as reported by her office on August 22nd, the outrage persisted. The character attacks were fueled as additional outrage was caused by photos of Marin in compromising positions finding their way to the media from that same party. An alleged witness told Finnish tabloid Seiska that the “clearly intoxicated” Prime Minister had “danced intimately” that night “with at least three different men” and “sat on the laps of two different men.” Worse, Marin was shown with her wedding ring on during many of those videos and some onlookers have been quick to comment on her marital status.
Marin is no stranger to being attacked over partying; she was accosted in 2021 over partying whilst having been unknowingly exposed to Covid-19. She has weathered non-partying controversies too such as the backlash she faced after posing for the October 2020 issue of Trendi magazine wearing just an open blazer without an undershirt below to conceal her skin. Public outcry over that instance was divisive along gender lines. Mari Paalosalo-Jussinmäk, the director of the magazine group that publishes Trendi, noted that “if you had to generalize it, it will be men saying it was wrong, and women saying it was fabulous.”
Female politicians, such as Spanish politician Iratxe García Pérez who praised Marin by calling her “a young politician who does her job and enjoys her private life,” were far more likely to support Marin after the partying photos leaked too. Fiona Patten, a member of the Australian Parliament, also tweeted support for Marin on August 21st, saying that “if letting off steam at a party is the worst thing your prime minister has done, then you’re a pretty lucky country #solidaritywithsanna.” These two were some of the many women who rallied to Marin’s side as women across the globe flooded social media with pictures of themselves dancing and tweeting with the hashtags #solidaritywithsanna and #istandwithsanna.
Looking at Finland, a poll conducted by Helsingin Sanomat indicated that 42% believed Marin’s reputation was damaged by the leaked content. Speaking on that, Finnish journalist Harri Saukkomaa commented that “the world sees the Finnish prime minister enjoying life, but people see it here as clubbing on the public dime.” In contrast, Australians had no issue with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also “clubbing on the public dime” when he chugged beers at a concert the same day Marin’s drug test results came back. Across social media, many netizens pointed out that Albanese, an older man, was celebrated by Australians for being able to let loose but Marin faced character attacks.
Noting the double standard on gender, Finland’s first female president, Tarja Halonen, commented that “When breaking glass ceilings, you will naturally get scratched. Women, in general, tend to be measured not by the substance of their politics, but by their looks, their clothes or their family status.” It is self-evident that double standards are in play; while Anthony Albanese heard cheers echo when drinking at a concert and saw a similar response on social media, a tearful Sanna Marin addressed a crowd in Lathi with a broken voice and reddened eyes and told them that she was “learning from this” and that she is “only human.”
Indeed, Marin is only human and deserves, as we all do, to have a private life outside of our work. Marin said in her press conference that she had never missed a day of work and that is true. These character attacks brought her anguish but backfired as women rightly galvanized around Marin. Although Marin was humiliated by the reactions and demands of politicians, from outside of her party and the media, her reputation seems to have recovered tremendously after her negative drug test vindicated her.