In both “progressive” political cartoons and state-sanctioned propaganda, sexism and homophobia are weaponized to achieve political goals or to gain/sustain public support for biggoted or violent policy.
In the News:
“In June, the New York Times’ op-ed page published a video titled “Trump and Putin: A Love Story.” The brightly colored hand-drawn cartoon depicts a romance between the two leaders. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a strong, masculine man with a cool car; President Donald Trump is his doting loverboy. Putin leads them through the clouds on unicornback. Trump swoons. Their tongues tangle grotesquely. The animation was met with backlash. Phillip Picardi of them and Teen Vogue said the cartoon was homophobic and “beneath us.” The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald tweeted, “Homophobia for progressive messaging is still bigotry.” Others pointed out that it was just another variation of the tired joke that “Trump is gay for Putin,” repackaged for the newspaper of record.”
“It’s not just the New York Times. Since 2016, a flood of editorial cartoons, magazine covers, late-night skits, and memes have depicted Trump as being romantically involved or sexually attracted to strongmen and right-wing political leaders. Although intended to mock Trump’s strange—and noteworthy—political attraction to authoritarian leaders, these illustrations invoke old sexist and homophobic tropes. As they’ve become increasingly visible, some LGBTQ advocates and journalists have asked what message they really send.Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, chair of gender studies at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College, says it all comes down to old-school gender dynamics. ‘We live in a culture where there is this casual homophobia that still persists,’ she says. ‘It becomes our default way of thinking about the world. Thinking about who has greater power and who has lesser power, we think about dominance and submissiveness.'”
Support From Peace Science:
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first term in the early 2000s, the country has used strategic propaganda that combines political and sexual discourse to undermine global politics and promote a “new brand of Russian imperialism”. For most of the past two decades, this propaganda has followed the norms of Russia’s political and social spheres to reinforce the value of its “macho” masculine political leaders and to portray its rivals as feminine, homosexual, or otherwise “unnatural” and “degenerate”.
- Russia’s glorification of dominant masculinity and subordinated femininity is reinforced through propaganda. Specifically, by portraying Ukraine’s President, and other Western leaders, as homosexual or feminine, which is to say inferior based on the values and beliefs of current Russian society.
- When supplemented with the promise of reseating Russia as a great world power, propaganda infused with state-sanctioned homophobia and praise for the traditional “macho” masculine ideology has successfully maintained public support for Russian military action against Ukraine.
- “There Are Better Ways to Mock Trump Than Joking That He’s Putin’s Gay Lover”. By Rowan Walrath for Mother Jones. August 9, 2018.
- Peace Science Digest Volume 3, Special Issue Gender & Conflict (forthcoming): “Weaponized Sexuality: Dehumanizing Propaganda During the Russo-Ukrainian War”