This Take on Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko Reads Like a Bad Parody of Misogyny

And says next to nothing about her politics.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Feb. 25, 2014, 6:57 a.m.

Early Monday morn­ing Ed­ward Lu­cas, a seni­or ed­it­or at The Eco­nom­ist, tweeted out what he deemed to be his “scath­ing take on Yulia Ty­moshen­ko.”

I clicked ex­pect­ing to hear her policies ex­cor­i­ated. In­stead what I got was a lur­id ac­count of her “for­mid­able charm,” as well as the “im­macu­late blonde tresses and some­times kit­ten­ish ways” that have some­times led politi­cians in Ukraine to un­der­es­tim­ate her.

I came ex­pect­ing to learn more about her in­volve­ment in the coun­try’s no­tori­ously cor­rupt gas in­dustry and her role in the Or­ange Re­volu­tion. But sev­er­al hun­dred words in, all I had learned of her polit­ic­al ap­proach was that she’s “pre­pared to use her un­deni­able sexu­al mag­net­ism,” and that an an­onym­ous am­bas­sad­or once dubbed a two-hour ride he took with her in a lim­ousine “the most sexu­ally threat­en­ing ex­per­i­ence of his life.”

What ex­actly is meant by sexu­ally threat­en­ing? Well, Lu­cas men­tions that her “eyes, coquet­tish tosses of the head, and coo­ing tones are al­most hyp­not­ic.” But, he warns, she is also “cap­able of ex­plos­ive an­ger.” And adds, “I have seen her shriek and curse in ter­ri­fy­ing erup­tions of rage: the kit­ten turns in­to a tigress.”

Take­downs of power­ful wo­men that re­volve around petty com­ments about their looks or tem­pera­ment are fa­mil­i­ar to any­one who’s been pay­ing at­ten­tion to the head­lines. Some­times the re­marks are subtle. Sheryl Sand­berg writ­ing in Lean In told the story of how at her wed­ding her sib­lings joked about how de­mand­ing she was as a kid.

“Some of you think we’re Sheryl’s young­er sib­lings, but really we were Sheryl’s first em­ploy­ees — em­ploy­ee No. 1 and em­ploy­ee No. 2. Ini­tially, as a 1-year-old and a 3-year old, we were worth­less and weak. Dis­or­gan­ized, lazy. We would just as soon spit on ourselves as read the morn­ing pa­per. But Sheryl could see that we had po­ten­tial. For more than 10 years, Sheryl took us un­der her wing and whipped us in­to shape…. “

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To Sand­berg the hu­mor was tinged with a sort of linger­ing sex­ism, in which boys who take con­trol are deemed al­pha and girls who do are deemed bossy. (Re­search shows fe­male lead­ers have to be much more con­scious about what traits they cul­tiv­ate and which ones they sup­press.)

But the cov­er­age of Ty­moshen­ko goes farther: It’s dis­miss­ing her polit­ic­al sub­stance by de­mon­iz­ing her sexu­al­ity. Ty­moshen­ko has been called Vladi­mir ”Putin with a braid” for her hard­line polit­ics, and yet the treat­ment of their su­per­fi­ci­al­it­ies could scarcely be more dif­fer­ent.

Putin’s mach­ismo has been met with fawn­ing and ad­u­la­tion, as de­scribed by Mar­in Cogan in her piece “The Secret Amer­ic­an Sub­cul­ture of Putin Wor­ship­pers.” The fact that he rides horses in the foot­hills of Karata­sh and hunts shirt­less has, if any­thing, en­hanced his polit­ic­al repu­ta­tion around the world. (The worst rib­bing he gets for it is when out­lets like The New York­er and The Eco­nom­ist pho­toshop his head onto the body of Olympic skaters.)

Ty­moshen­ko, mean­while, is vil­i­fied for her sexu­al­ity and “an­gel­ic looks” con­stantly. “Don’t let her looks fool you,” a par­tic­u­larly dim lede from The Daily Beast reads. “The wo­man of the mo­ment in Ukraine, whose crown of braided golden hair is cal­cu­lated to evoke myth­ic­al memor­ies of rur­al strength, has al­ways been a bet­ter icon than a politi­cian.” The post’s au­thor, Chris­toph­er Dickey, goes on to refer to her as a “hard-bit­ten ice queen,” (this fri­gid­ity stands in ap­par­ent con­trast to Lu­cas’ por­tray­al of her as a sexu­ally dan­ger­ous tigress). It’s not just the me­dia. Even her Ukrain­i­an nick­name of “gas prin­cess” is ques­tion­able.

Still noth­ing I’ve read ap­proaches Lu­cas’s story from Monday in which the most sub­stant­ive polit­ic­al thing we learn about Ty­moshen­ko is that her “au­thor­it­ari­an ways and er­rat­ic policy-mak­ing won few friends.” What the au­thor really wants us to know is that “her blonde hair be­came le­gendary” and that she’s “prone to ir­ra­tion­al, of­ten self-ag­grand­iz­ing flights of fancy.” That, and ac­cord­ing to a former and likely spurned ad­viser, she thinks she is the re­in­carn­a­tion of Eva Per­on.

I will not at­tempt to as­sess here her role in Ukrain­i­an polit­ics (as has been done skill­fully here by my col­league Mar­ina Koren). I clicked on Lu­cas’s art­icle be­cause I wanted to learn about her polit­ics from this seni­or ed­it­or at The Eco­nom­ist and self-pro­claimed Rus­si­an ex­pert. I came away con­vinced what he needs is a lec­ture.

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