Words: Kerry Justich
Iceland’s first lady is pulling back the curtain on what she calls an “incredibly weird job” that’s characterised by public appearances and preconceptions of being her husband’s accessory.
Canadian-born Eliza Reid penned an opinion piece for The New York Times, in which she got real about the undefined role of first lady that she acquired when her husband, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, was elected as Iceland’s president in 2016.
But even beyond what she takes on as the spouse of a head of state, Reid seems to grapple most with the public’s perception of the job.
The first lady even referenced an Instagram posted by European Council President Donald Tusk, which referred to a group of other women in her position — including Melania Trump — as “The light side of the Force.”
“As the spouse of a head of state, the Instagram made me cringe,” Reid wrote. “It is regrettable to see independent, intelligent women reduced to props who exist to support their husbands’ political agendas — to see them celebrated first and foremost for their sartorial decisions or, as Mr. Tusk’s post implied, their demure and gentle demeanours.”
Reid went on to question when we might see an end of the notion that wives of heads of states “traipse” around to sample wines while their male counterparts take care of “Serious Business.” She also acknowledged that she may be unwittingly contributing to those ideas on the occasion that she travels or makes appearances with her husband.
“I still resent the occasions when my presence is assumed rather than requested,” she wrote. “I am not my husband’s handbag, to be snatched as he runs out the door and displayed silently by his side during public appearances.”
Still, as a feminist in a privileged position, Reid is determined to use her voice to encourage others to re-examine the preconceived ideas associated with her role.
“I am not unaware of the irony that I am in the privileged position of being able to help shape debate surrounding gender equality because of something my husband has achieved,” she said. “I am extremely proud of my husband and his achievements — but no one wants to be judged as her partner’s accessory.”