Russian President Vladimir Putin has always had — let’s go with “problematic” — views on women, but some of his latest comments in a new documentary are exceptionally offensive.
In a four-part series that will air on Showtime June 12 through 15, American filmmaker Oliver Stone talks to Putin about a range of subjects, from the president’s daily routine to his account of Edward Snowden’s defection to Russia. While the documentary “will teach you little about Putin and nothing about Russia,” writes Foreign Policy, it does capture the Russian leader making some snide, chauvinistic comments about women.
For instance, at one point while taking Stone through the Kremlin’s throne room, Putin tells the director that he doesn’t have “bad days” as president because he’s “not a woman.”
He then follows this with a false, pseudoscientific explanation: “I am not trying to insult anyone. That's just the nature of things. There are certain natural cycles."
In another charming moment from the interview, Putin denies that there’s any discrimination against gay people in Russia (there is), but adds that he isn’t comfortable showering next to a gay man because he wouldn’t want to “provoke” him. He also quickly points out that he’s a “judo master,” which sounds a bit like a threat of violence.
These comments may be hard to stomach, but they’re hardly out of character considering the kinds of things Putin has said — and done — as Russia’s leader.
In 2014, he made headlines in the US for how he responded to Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea: "When people push boundaries too far, it's not because they are strong but because they are weak," Putin said. "But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman."
In 2013, he said of a protest staged by topless women from the activist group Femen: “I liked it ... I didn’t catch what they were shouting, I didn’t even see if they were blondes, brunettes, or chestnut-haired.”
Putin’s latest — and frankly, tired — suggestion that women are less able to do their jobs because of their menstrual cycles is just one more example of his particular brand of misogyny: smug, demeaning, and backhanded.
It might be easy to brush off these comments until you remember that they reflect the attitudes of a man with a profound degree of power.
In February of this year, Putin signed a horrifying law decriminalizing domestic abuse, which, in Russia and elsewhere, disproportionately victimizes women. Estimates from police data suggest that more than 600 Russian women are killed in their homes every month, the BBC reported.
Under the new law, first-time offenders of domestic abuse won’t get a prison sentence unless their victims are injured to the point of hospitalization. They’ll face no charges at all if their partner chooses not to press charges.
Putin’s approval of this law is a disturbing reminder that when people in positions of power hold regressive views of women, the consequences can often be catastrophic.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Hillary Clinton was the secretary of state in 2014. Clinton had actually stepped down in 2013.