The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

You Can Leave Your Hat On

January 25, 2018

With an avalanche of news about the government shutdown, DACA, CHIP and Stormy Daniels, the American news media did not have too much time to cover Putin’s nipples (this time around), even though it was a great opportunity to update the famous horse riding photograph. On the Russian Orthodox Epiphany night Putin was photographed bathing in ice cold water in the Seliger Lake, displaying both his Orthodox Christian devoutness and manly sass.  Why does he do that? While for some in the West these displays of machismo can seem gay, in Russia they are gobbled up as the ultimate display of virility and strong leadership. Moreover, they have a deeper political meaning for the population that sees Putin as a spiritual leader, a pastor that would guide Russia to a brighter tomorrow.

Valerie Sperling discussed in her book “Politics, Sex, and Putin” how Russian politics has become increasingly sexualized and masculinized, building a patriarchal gender hierarchy. And, as numerous feminist scholars would confirm, there is also a semantic connection between governing and intercourse that implies hierarchy of relations, whether it’s based on  button size or not. But it’s not just about sex – there was no sex in Soviet Union, there was love! The masculinised leader also has to provide some pillow talk in the form of spiritual guidance for the population. In other words,  apart from being a sex idol, the pastor needs to display in-depth knowledge of his flock, protect it from danger and devote his life to it – the features that Foucault attributed to pastoral power in College de France lectures (1977–1978).

Given that Putin is already protecting his flock from foreign agents and homosexual propaganda and even knows  what (whom?) the President of the US did in Ritz Carlton, he just needs to maintain the hype around his manly flesh. The fascination with the sovereign’s body in general is often sexualized: if one considers a nation as an organism,  it is essential for it  to reproduce – hence the purported necessity for longer missiles. This aspect can be interpreted through matrimonial, i.e., sexual duties (towards the nation). For example, the famous song “I want a man like Putin” (Takogo kak Putin) describes the aspects of an ideal man that are literally described as duties:

One like Putin, full of strength

One like Putin, who won’t be a drunk

One like Putin, who wouldn’t hurt me

One like Putin, who won’t run away!

The girl band complains about how their previous boyfriends used to drink and get into trouble and now they want a man “like Putin.” The desire to marry Putin could also be compared with the religious “marrying” of God whether verbally (greeting of Shabbat as bride in Judaism, nuns as “brides of Christ” in Christianity) or even physically in pre-Christian religions. Thus, the figure of the pastor is seen not only through his governing functions but also through his physical duties as a husband toward his wife. Another example could be seen in the calendar that was prepared by female students of the Moscow State University faculty of journalism in various stages of undress, who emphasized different aspects of “dutiful” power performed by Putin, like extinguishing forest fires and burning loins, “who else, if not you?” (i.e., to run the country) or promoting Russia’s car industry. This rhetoric shows how the shepherd is supposed to keep watch over the sexual needs of his flock and, given Putin’s divorce from his wife Lyudmila in 2013, he has now made himself more fully “available” to the (sexual) needs of the nation.

So, get ready for more on the Putin nipple front. Mother Russia needs a man like him.

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Elizaveta Gaufman is Assistant Professor of Russian Discourse and Politics at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. She is the author of "Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis"