Have you ever seen a picture of Vladimir Putin with a woman? Apart from Angela Merkel, it’s difficult to imagine. Putin and a horse? Of course. Putin and a tiger? What could be finer! Putin and a lady? Crazy.
Putin is the de facto leader of the new Macho International, the movement that unites George Galloway and Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, and propels Donald Trump ever onward in the United States. It is the movement of the golf-club revolutionary, the simultaneously triumphant and self-pitying, the irrational and trite dressed up as “common sense”.
The new macho’s obsession is with perceived bodily violation. In its most literal form, this manifests in Putin’s state homophobia. Less obvious but with similar undercurrents are the extremes of the Leave EU campaign, driven by fear of foreigners and little more, and the Trump promise to build a prophylactic barrier to protect the United States. It is all very Jack D Ripper in its obsessions – penetration, contamination, dilution, weakening: “A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice,” the cigar-chomping Brigadier General announces in Doctor Strangelove.
What does this have to do with women or International Women’s Day? Well, at first glance, nothing. No girls allowed. This is a club for men. Men doing manly things, like smoking cigars and invading Crimea. Men saying manly sayings, nodding in agreement when someone confirms “If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that you don’t poke the Russian bear.” Men barely able to contain their admiration for Bashar al Assad’s brutality, feigning sadness as they point out that he may be cruel, but he at least provides stability (like a philandering but wealthy Edwardian father).
The model wife is not Trump’s romantic partner per se, but the reward due to men like Trump
In this world, women are either accessories or invisible. Galloway and Trump display their younger, beautiful wives like medals – indicators of their masculine brilliance. In a revealing episode recounted by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone Trump singles out a lookalike at a rally in New Hampshire: He “tells him he hopes the guy is making a lot of money. "Melania, would you marry that guy?" Melania Knauss, The model wife is not Trump’s romantic partner per se, but the reward due to men like Trump.
Putin and Farage do not wear their medals in public, keeping the optics 100 per cent masculine. Lyudmila Putina, Putin’s ex wife, was never really acknowledged in public; he may or may not be now in a relationship with former athlete turned politician Alina Kabaeva, who may or may not have had his child.
Much fun is had with the fact that Nigel Farage, who has built a career opposing EU immigration, is married to a German woman: but few people could tell you her name or what she looks like. Her name’s Kirsten Farage. Wonderfully, the UKIP leader’s first wife was also a foreigner, an Irish nurse called Gráinne Hayes. Trump's wife is also, of course, an immigrant. Somehow that doesn't count.
To focus on the most macho of men and their relationships to women may seem an odd way to approach International Women’s Day, but the emergence of this reactionary trend is worth noting in any discussion about the challenges women face. Online, its extremes are reflected in the Men’s Rights movement,a whining strop, fuelled by younger men who look to the likes of Trump as some sort of paradigm. At the very fringe is the AltRight movement, young men who combine the petulance of the MRAs, 4Chan trollery and a fondness for the racist justifications of 20th century fascism. The left has its “brocialists”, comfortable mansplaining to women that “identity politics” (including feminism) are distractions from the real struggle of growing facial hair and writing lengthy partial justifications of Stalinism.
Extremes don’t spring from nowhere, though. There isn’t a single man in the soft centre where most of us live who hasn’t, at the very, very least, subconsciously but nonetheless overtly patronised a woman in conversation, at one end of the continuum.
And yes, yes, I know. Not all men and all that. But the Macho International is real and growing, with its figureheads, its tropes, its bear-rape-wilderness-epic and on and tediously, dangerously on.
It’s boring and crass, but it's enticing for some. It must be stopped.