Another day, another woman being derided for what she’s wearing. It’s so commonplace that it’s boring. This time, the woman in the line of fire was Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister. She’s a formidable woman. The first in her family to go to high school and university, she became Finland’s youngest ever prime minister at 34. What an honour for the people at Trendi magazine to interview and photograph her for a cover feature. But thanks to good old fashioned misogyny, her achievements aren’t what we’re talking about.
Marin was photographed wearing a black blazer with apparently no shirt underneath. It’s not a particularly risque photo. She is standing, relaxed, before the camera, softly smiling, hardly posing. It’s almost a slightly edgy version of a LinkedIn profile picture. Women have posed for magazines in far less, or even nothing at all. In none of these contexts are sexist responses acceptable. For Marin to be slammed as ‘attention seeking’ and ‘inappropriate’ even for a fairly modest photo speaks volumes about how some people believe women’s bodies should be policed.
People like to dismiss feminists like myself and millennials like Marin as snowflakes, but the real snowflakes are those who get offended by the mere sight of a woman’s flesh. It’s incessant. Every year, Ofcom is flooded with complaints over Amanda Holden’s frequently plunging necklines during Britain’s Got Talent as if children must be protected from seeing cleavage. Back in February, the Labour MP Tracy Brabin was branded a ‘tart’ for wearing a dress that exposed her shoulder. Her shoulder. What kind of damage could the sight of a bare shoulder do? Was that something we weren’t told about?
People like to dismiss feminists like myself and millennials like Marin as snowflakes, but the real snowflakes are those who get offended by the mere sight of a woman’s flesh
It’s bemusing that people still whine about what a woman wears in 2020. It’s perhaps a little arrogant that some keyboard warriors pass judgment and think their moans could change anything. How do these people find the time, energy and headspace to get offended enough to let the world know just how upset a woman with a blazer on and nothing underneath makes them? Do they have nothing better to do? Do they not have more pressing concerns – like the current pandemic? We should, as a society, be past this.
“But Sanna Marin governs a whole country!” you might think. Yes, but she still has her own autonomy. She still has as much of a right to do what she likes as anyone else. Surely she can be trusted to make decisions, even personal ones like what to wear, that won’t undermine her office. Equally, if she was going to undermine her professionalism, there are far easier ways to ruin her reputation completely. She could be photographed smoking cannabis or wearing a Nazi uniform – you’ve probably forgotten that Prince Harry did all of those things until I reminded you just then. There’s also clearly a double standard at work given that she is being policed more than Boris Johnson ever has for appearing at press conferences looking, at times, like he forgot to brush his hair before he left Number 10.
We treat female bodies like they are dangerous, things to be hidden away, as if they send men into spirals of lust that biology excuses them from controlling
There’s something insidious about all this fuss, however. We are once again seeing modesty culture at work, a not so distant relative of rape culture. This is the root of sartorial misogyny. We treat female bodies like they are dangerous, things to be hidden away, as if they send men into spirals of lust that biology excuses them from controlling. It’s a way of transferring accountability from the men who become predators to the women they assault. Seemingly small incidents like the case of Sanna Marin are the offspring of very big and deeply ingrained problems.
It is tiresome and frustrating to see woman after woman seen for what she’s wearing and not for what she stands for. It upholds so many toxic ideas that aren’t fit for the 21st century. They serve nobody. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a woman’s body and the clothes she puts on it are none of your business.