Voices: The ‘party girl’ label has been weaponised to undermine powerful women

If you are a woman who likes to have a good time, you will inevitably be given a label. And the one you get will probably be determined by just how much fun you’re having. A little dancing here, a little alcohol there? “Wild child”. Anything remotely debaucherous? You’re having a “feral girl summer”.

This weaponisation of the “party girl” has been on full display this week as the news broke of Sophie Turner’s divorce from Joe Jonas, sending the internet into total uproar as people furiously speculated over what led to the split.

While nothing has been confirmed beyond the separation itself, which Turner and Jonas described in a joint statement as “amicable”, social media has been alight with tittle-tattle and much finger-pointing at Turner, alleging that her “partying lifestyle” was to blame. Others were quick to rush to the actor’s defence, resurfacing quotes from old interviews in which Turner describes herself as an introvert and explains she prefers staying at home instead of going out.

Regardless of the nuances of their situation, the noise around it is all too familiar. Unfortunately, even in 2023, a woman letting her hair down is still considered some sort of rebellious, audacious act.

Consider former Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin, who was ruthlessly criticised after a viral video showed her dancing and drinking with friends. The short clip made headlines around the world, with many complaining that she was ill-equipped to carry out her official duties. Marin was not only forced to defend herself in a public address, telling the world “I am human”, she was also later the subject of an official inquiry. Finland’s chancellor of justice ultimately cleared Marin of any allegations of misconduct, concluding that she had not neglected any of her responsibilities.

What is it about seeing a woman do this that seems to rub people up the wrong way? Is it envy? Resentment? A little bit of both?

Have we really not moved on from 1990s tabloid culture, when women in the public eye were relentlessly followed and scrutinised for going out? Cool Britannia became Cruel Britannia as snaps of female stars tumbling out of taxis were papped and sold to the highest bidder. All the better if they had some underwear on show. It wasn’t long before the likes of Zoe Ball and Sara Cox were given the derogatory label of “ladettes” for their party lifestyles, and have had to live it down ever since.

The message underpinning all this is that it’s completely fine for men to go out and let their hair down (even when they don’t have any), whereas women are almost never granted that same luxury – certainly not if they, like Turner, have children, or are in a position of political power, like Marin. If a woman dares to drink and be seen going out at night, she is somehow perceived as subversive or socially defiant. Yes. It really is 2023.

Party shaming is not okay when you consider how vital fun is if you are under any kind of stress. How has blowing off steam become a feminist issue? What is it about seeing a woman do this that seems to rub people up the wrong way? Is it envy? Resentment? A little bit of both?

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that it’s about freedom. There are few sights of liberation greater than someone dancing, and moving their body around without a care in the world. It’s as if society has a problem with that degree of liberation being expressed by a woman. And so, when it is, we’re quick to whack them with an oppressive label, like “wild child” or “party girl”, and it immediately strips them of their autonomy, preventing us from taking them seriously.

The same descriptors are almost never attributed to men. And if they are, it’s often seen as a good thing. Being “a bit of a lad” is seen as endearing, and being attracted to “bad boys” is still a thing. It baffles me that we still have double standards when it comes to something so life-affirming as having fun.

Who knows whether or not Turner is or was a “party girl” or a “party mum”. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. Because if being a “party girl” means having a laugh on the dance floor and enjoying time out with your friends, that should only ever be a cause for celebration.