On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin garnered a lot of negative attention in the United States with an answer to a journalist’s question about how Hillary Clinton has repeatedly compared him to Hitler. “It’s better not to argue with women. But Ms. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements,” said Putin. “When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.” Anyone familiar with Putin probably wasn’t too surprised to hear that his tiger-tranquilzing, hang-gliding, polar-bear-collaring, shirtless strongman persona includes some old-school, casual sexism, especially since this isn’t the first time it’s been on public display.
In fact, this week was not even the first time Putin that has responded to Clinton’s criticism of his personality with one about her gender. In 2008, Hillary Clinton joked to a New Hampshire crowd that Putin “doesn’t have a soul.” When asked about the jab, Putin suggested that, “At a minimum, a head of state should have a head.” This comment was widely interpreted to be a reference to the head at the top of a man’s penis, as opposed to the kind every human has on the top of their body.
In 2006, a journalist overheard Putin saying something truly sickening to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose then president, Moshe Katsav, had been accused of raping and sexually harassing female subordinates. “Greetings to your president,” Putin told Olmert. “What a mighty man he turns out to be! He raped 10 women — I would never have expected this from him. He surprised us all — we all envy him.” A Kremlin spokesman later admitted that those “words were pronounced” by Putin, though he suggested that some aspect of the joke had been lost in translation.
More often, the Russian president’s thoughts about women are covered in an oily layer of what he likely views as “chivalry” or “smoothness.” He once responded to a tabloid report of his long-rumored affair with a Russian rhythmic gymnast by saying, “In other publications of the same type, the names of other successful, beautiful young women from Russia are mentioned. I think it won’t be unexpected if I say that I like them all — just as I like all Russian women.” (That’s right, Russian gals, your president is checking every single one of you out.) He followed that up by scolding journalists who “with their snotty noses and their erotic fantasies, meddle in other people’s lives.”
At this year’s Olympics in Sochi, a young female volunteer told the Russian president that it was “a dream” to meet him. “I’ll pinch you later,” he promised, probably with a creepy wink.
And then there was this backhanded compliment for Pussy Riot, whose members, you might recall, were imprisoned for protesting Putin in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior: In 2012, after a reporter refused to say that band’s name aloud, a “visibly disgusted” Putin insisted, “You see, if you can’t say it in front of me, it means it’s an indecent word. These girls must be talented — they forced you all to say that word,” he said. “Is that normal?” He was considerably less uptight a month earlier, when he was asked about a 2008 demonstration where Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova participated in a public orgy. “Some fans of group sex say that it’s better than one-on-one because, as with any collective work, you can skive off,” he volunteered.
And, finally, who doesn’t shudder at the memory of Putin’s reaction to one of FEMEN’s topless protesters? “I liked it,” said the Russian president, who managed to give the woman a cheesy two thumbs-up. “I did not catch what they were shouting. I did not even see if they were blondes, brunettes or chestnut-haired.”