Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia

Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia

Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia

Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia


Sex, Politics, and Putin investigates how gender stereotypes and sexualization have been used as tools of political legitimation in contemporary Russia. Despite their enmity, regime allies and detractors alike have wielded traditional concepts of masculinity, femininity, and homophobia as a means of symbolic endorsement or disparagement of political leaders and policies. By repeatedly using machismo as a means of legitimation, Putin's regime (unlike that of Gorbachev or Yeltsin) opened the door to the concerted use of gendered rhetoric and imagery as a means to challenge regime authority. Sex, Politics, and Putin analyzes the political uses of gender norms and sexualization in Russia through three case studies: pro- and anti-regime groups' activism aimed at supporting or undermining the political leaders on their respective sides; activism regarding military conscription and patriotism; and feminist activism. Arguing that gender norms are most easily invoked as tools of authority-building when there exists widespread popular acceptance of misogyny and homophobia, Sperling also examines the ways in which sexism and homophobia are reflected in Russia's public sphere.


In October 2010, as a gift for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s birthday, twelve female students and alumni of Moscow State University’s prestigious journalism department published a calendar featuring pin-up photographs of themselves looking as if they had walked out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Offering witty, sexualized quips, each young woman suggested herself as a potential lover for the prime minister. “You put the forest fires out, but I’m still burning,” smiled a fifth-year student illustrating the month of March. The following summer, in the run-up to the election campaign for the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, a series of video clips appeared on the Web, each featuring attractive young women in various stages of undress, proclaiming their support for Putin and President Dmitrii Medvedev. While the women of “Putin’s Army” tore off their tank tops and promised to “Rip something—or someone—for Putin,” the “Medvedev Girls” stripped down to their bikinis in a Moscow square in support of the president’s new policy opposing public beer drinking.

Russian politics was rife with images reinforcing the masculinity of the regime’s leadership, not only those reflecting Putin’s endless series of macho acts (riding a Harley Davidson with a Russian motorcycle gang, shooting a Siberian tiger, flying a firefighting helicopter to quell the forest fires that choked Moscow in summer 2010, etc.), but also images emphasizing attractive young women’s support for the regime as it strove to remain

Kristina Potupchik, “Devushki zhurfaka MGU razdelis’ dlia Putina,” October 6, 2010, http://

“Porvu za Putina!” [video], July 13, 2011,; Alina Lobzina, “Stripping for Beer and Medvedev,” The Moscow News, August 4, 2011, http://

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.