Sunday, January 11, 2015

Valerie Sperling's "Sex, Politics, and Putin"

Valerie Sperling is Professor of Political Science at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia, and reported the following:
On page 99, we find ourselves at the heart of the book’s argument, surrounded by evidence of female sexuality being used in the service of male political authority in Putin’s Russia. The book on the whole looks at how politicians and political activists across the Russian political spectrum use gender stereotypes about femininity and masculinity, as well as homophobia, to bolster their legitimacy and to undermine their opponents. Page 99 sports several examples of pro-Putin activists using female sexuality to show that Putin is desirable both as a man and as a state leader.

Putin’s masculinity was a political trademark of his regime starting almost immediately after his ascension to power as Russian president in 2000. This intensified over the course of his first three terms in office (the first two as president, and the third as prime minister). Images of Putin flying fighter jets, subduing a Siberian tiger, driving a Formula One racing car, or going fishing and horseback riding without his shirt, were staples in the Russian media. But masculinity is not only about what men do. A male politician’s “manly” image is also enhanced by attractive young women’s support for him. Putin’s image-makers embraced this tactic.

In October 2010, as a gift for Putin’s 58th birthday, twelve female students and alumni of Moscow State University’s prestigious journalism department published a calendar featuring photos of themselves in lingerie, each woman suggesting herself as a potential lover for Mr. Putin. In a similar vein, in July 2011 an all-female group called “Putin’s Army” announced an “I’ll Rip [it] for Putin” contest via an internet video clip that ended with a cleavage-boasting young woman ripping open her tank top to demonstrate her dedication to Putin. That same month, a bikini carwash took place in Moscow in Putin’s honor, where scantily-clad young women from the “I really do like Putin” group volunteered to wash Russian-made cars – endorsed by Putin -- for free. Putin’s “birthday gifts” over the next few years also highlighted his desirability and manly strength.

On page 99, we learn that Putin’s Army and the “I really do like Putin” group were not spontaneous manifestations of support for Putin, but rather, were projects of the Kremlin-sponsored youth organization, Nashi (“Ours”).

While shedding light on the use of these tactics in Putin’s Russia, Sex, Politics, and Putin also reveals the extent to which political discourse in any country depends on gender stereotypes.
Learn more about Sex, Politics, and Putin at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue