I’ve spent many hours butchering the catchy tune in Vladimir Putin’s campaign video. Lately, however, I’ve been captivated by something else about it: the dancers’ abysmally low standards for men.

In the video, two attractive young female dancers declare that Putin would be the ideal partner because he doesn’t drink and doesn’t beat his wife. Rather, they believe, Putin would be strong, sober and certainly wouldn’t abandon his partner. When I think of a prospective partner, I tend to think more about positive traits than about the absence of negative ones. This advertisement, intended to convince female voters of Putin’s character, provides a glimpse into Russian society and alludes to a wider debate related to cultural relativism when confronting gender and other forms of oppression.

Just as perceptions of gender shift over time, they also change from place to place. In The Social Construction of Gender, Judith Lorber posits that social constructions holds individuals to strongly gendered norms and expectations (56). When those expectations are so abysmal that they make us cringe, I believe that it is our duty to speak up and to criticize. The upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia ought to provide a platform for the world to call out Russia for its poor human rights record.

Lorber, Judith. Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. Estelle Disch, ed. 4th edition. 2006.

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