The recent controversy regarding the Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, might be elucidated by Jacques Lacan’s famous “woman does not exist”. Marin is the youngest PM in Finnish history, taking office at 34, and often seen as a symbol, also outside of Finland, of feminist achievement. In August 2022, two private videos were leaked, which show Marin partying with her friends. In the videos, she flirts, sings, poses in front of the camera – an almost paradigmatic example of what Joan Riviere called “feminine masquerade”, later taken up by Lacan. When the videos went viral and global, many neoconservative and neo-masculinist groups on social media, predictably criticized Marin many variations of the phrase, “she shouldn’t dance with a man that was not her husband”.

Furthermore, in one video a friend of the PM mentions ‘flour’, which experts say might have been a reference to cocaine. Members of the opposition immediately called for a drug test of the PM for possible substance use. The PM first tried to wait it out, but then eventually took the test, which was negative.

In the weeks that followed, the outcome looked much more positive for Marin. The large majority of voters and politicians, in Finland and abroad, rallied to support her. Pundits now believe that it might end up as the perfect political campaign to kickstart Marin’s party, the rather dusty Social Democratic Party (as the PM was losing support and accused of being out of touch with young voters). Instead her party is now ‘hip’ and the German newspaper-tabloid Bild called Marin the “coolest PM in the world”. Many women worldwide, including Hillary Clinton, shared videos or images, showing support for Marin and encouraged her ‘to keep on dancing’, and targeted the critics for being openly misogynistic. Marin had not broken any laws, compared to, for example, Boris Johnson’s now infamous parties that were illegally held during lockdown.

What really needs to be addressed, however, is the particular form that this misogyny took – how it was fixated on Marin’s body. The call for a drug test clearly indicates that the neoconservatives and neo-masculinists saw the problem with Marin’s behaviour as having some bodily ‘cause’. (‘If Marin is masquerading like that, it must be because she is on drugs’). What bothered the (male) critics seemed to be the question Freud asked, (but hesitated to answer) in his later years: ‘What does woman want?’.

What really bothered the critics was what seemed to be Marin’s particular ‘feminine’ enjoyment. Lacan makes the pun on feminine jouissance, that it is encore/en corps (more/in the body). It is 1) ‘more’ (compared to male phallic enjoyment), 2) it is ‘still there’ (when it shouldn’t be) and 3) it is ‘in the body’. Was not the critics call for drug test exactly a kind of reactionary response to this “more”? A call for a DNA test that would be able to locate and measure Marin’s jouissance Lacan uses the example of the Theresa de Avila in her ecstatic enjoyment and it was as though the male critics saw in Marin some version of Theresa, that both deeply fascinated and horrified them. What if it could be measured, evaluated? (‘how lovely if we could put feminine jouissance in a laboratory, see what it really is’). Lacan made the claim, however, that feminine jouissance had the paradoxical property of not existing, and yet still be there (encore/en corps), somehow, in the body. “It is false that there is another one, but that doesn’t stop what follows from being true, namely that it shouldn’t be/could never fail to be that one.”[1]

This paradox is repressed, however, not simply by the neoconservatives, but also from the ‘progressive’ pole in support for Marin. Both very much need to affirm that ‘woman exists’ (and emphatically so). In both cases, the ontological paradox is reformulated through a ‘moral issue’ (a moral issue which derives its surplus-enjoyment from this paradox).

[1] Lacan, J. On Feminine Sexuality. The limits of love and Knowledge. Book xx, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. B. Fink. (W.W. Norton. 1999), 60.