Why are Russian women still such a target for Western media?
Most of us, especially those with Catholic backgrounds, are familiar with the ‘Madonna/whore’ complex. This ‘either/or’ Western construct seeps into pop culture and creates stereotypes of women. It’s a cross that most women must bear (no pun intended).
In Western society, there is still the expectation that women must be compliant and not express themselves sexually, otherwise they may be considered a whore. Conversely, men’s sexual appetites are freely expressed and celebrated by the media. Time may have changed some perceptions, but objectification of women and misogyny remain rampant. And in Western culture, when it comes to Russian women the negative stereotypes are compounded with Russophobia.
We’ve witnessed it many times. Russian women are often portrayed in news stories in Western media as sexually alluring, very flawed and cold-hearted. There are very few nuanced or realistic depictions. This is carried into popular culture, as we have seen in comedies such as ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ and even action thrillers from the likes of Marvel.
In 2022, we have become used to the neoliberal crowd decrying bigotry and the stereotyping of people, but there still appears to be no problem in attacking Russian women. This was recently demonstrated in the ‘Sex and the City’ spin-off ‘And Just Like That,’ which casually referred to women who owned luxury apartments in New York as “Russian hookers.” It appears vile micro-aggressions like that that are acceptable, as long as the victims are Russian.
On social media, snide remarks are commonplace. I was somehow caught in the crosshairs of this phenomenon after I came forward about Joe Biden. Democratic trolls accused me of being a Russian spy, “a Russian whore who makes all her money on her back,” and other slurs I will not repeat. All this, and I am an American citizen.
I remember a distant cousin calling me frantically. “Are you a Russian agent?,” she asked. “I just finished watching ‘The Americans’!” (This was the TV show set in the 1970s that follows Russian spies posing as Americans and was very loosely based on an actual spy cell found in the US). I reminded her that I was her cousin, after her breathless barrage of questions. I told her not to always believe the New York Times. We have not talked since. These narratives do their damage.
Another example of this bias is a recent conversation I had with a “silence breaker” from a famous sexual misconduct case to whom I had sent a piece that I’d written for RT. She replied sanctimoniously, “Tara, sending love, but I will not click on the article. Supporting Russian media is a non-starter for me.”
We engaged in an intense back and forth as I presented some historical context and argued with her, defending RT and Russia, but the whole exchange almost drove me to tears. She replied that this was her “boundary” because she was a history graduate from an Ivy League college and she “knew” Russia. I retorted that I had a law degree. She apologized casually if she “had offended me.”
I disputed her views, but bigotry is often hard to soften. The hypocrisy of her position was maddening, but her biased perception is based on years of carefully crafted Western media propaganda aimed at vilifying Russians.
There is a level of desperation to force an enemy on the American public consciousness.
US and British intelligence have significant influence over Hollywood and the mass-produced films and television that send messages, rewriting history and vilifying whole nations. It’s a partnership of subliminal manipulation that the public dutifully laps up. This is how the real wars are fought, with the subtle art of mass-produced messaging. As everyone knows, conflicts are not only conducted via weapons and the military. The psychological attacks using propaganda are part of the Western empire’s long game. The medium of film and TV, with the help of social media, is the perfect battleground for the constant promotion of negative stereotypes of any perceived enemy.
The objectifying and demeaning portrayal of Russian women in western media is a staple of this, and has become a long-standing tradition, as we have regularly seen in James Bond movies where they are bedded then brutalized by the English secret agent. The Russian woman is to be viewed as conniving and deadly, and yet vulnerable to the strong western spy.
This same boring narrative repeats in ‘The Red Sparrow’ where the Russian spy, trained as a dangerous honeytrap, falls in love with a “heroic” American agent. It’s the same plot, with different actors. Even Marvel’s Natasha Romanoff is a comic-book character reduced to the same predictable stereotypes. To add insult to injury, the stars of these films are usually never Russian.
These depictions are dehumanizing, harmful and inaccurate. It would be refreshing to see media portrayals of Russian women who are positive role models, such as the famous soprano, Anna Netrebko, or the Duma member and first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, or the acclaimed poet, Anna Akhmatova.
Instead, the Western media brushes aside the mass achievements of Russian women in the arts, politics and sciences to concentrate on vapid portrayals designed to make their audiences numb to any relatable, positive qualities. Hopefully, when the West’s latest tensions with Russia are resolved, perhaps it will be time to finally admit the country and its people were never the enemy in the first place.
As Anna Akhmatova wrote about unrequited love “I’m not asking for your love—/ It’s in a safe place now …”
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.