Controversy of the Week: Putin's Female Ideal

This past Friday, the 8th of March, we celebrated International Women’s Day. For once, my Instagram feed was filled with only positive messages of women supporting and uplifitng each other. On Instagram, I try to only follow people who post valuable and uplifting content but, as we all know, it’s easy to get sucked into the comparison trap. All the posts of girls sharing the women in their lives who have made a difference and continue to inspire them each day that were crowding my feed on Friday were a joy to see. This feeling continued all day, until I found an article in the Independent covering President Putin's view of International Women’s Day...

In Russia, IWD is celebrated - but it is predominantly a way of reinforcing outdated gender roles and derogative stereotypes. In a speech apparently meant to celebrate the women of Russia, Putin said;

You manage to do everything both at work and at home and at the same time you remain beautiful, charismatic, charming, the centre of gravity for the whole family, uniting it with your love”. 

Admittedly, this is, at first glance, considerable praise. However, Putin then went on to say:

“What does a young woman need to maintain her figure? Three things: a workout machine, a masseuse and a suitor”

...and here is where the problem lies. Putin is praising Russian women for the way they fit into the role created for them by a patriarchal society. It is clear from this second statement that Russian stereotypes of women still enforce objectification of the female body, viewing exercise as a necessity for women to maintain their figure and thus still be considered attractive by men - because of course only women of a certain size can be beautiful...

The fact that a young Russian woman ‘needs’ a suitor further enforces the dominant patriarchy - heaven forbid a woman should initiate a date by herself! No, she must be pursued by the authoritative male, forever confined to the role of ‘damsel in distress’. While Putin does at least acknowledge women in the work place, he then goes on to diminish this by once again reducing women to a mere aesthetic commodity in suggesting that remaining ‘beautiful, charismatic and charming’ is more important than this anyway.

If you search #internationalwomensday on Instagram, you will see that this was the most popular post;

It perfectly sums up the current climate in which we women find ourselves - there is still significant gender pay gaps, and inequality in the highest paying jobs of large companies. In fact, according to The Independent, there are more people named David and Steve in CEO roles than there are women and ethnic minorities! 

Undoubtedly, our society has come a long way in recent decades. Yet it is statements like Putin’s which reveal how women are still viewed in some parts of the world as not much more than a pretty housewife. Women, whatever their size, age, ethnicity and cultural background, deserve to be given equal opportunities and celebrated in our society. We need to look beyond the space that women fill with their bodies, and instead look to the space they fill with creativity, knowledge and unique outlook on the world.