Putin Should Be Shamed for Sexist Comments


Russian president Vladimir Putin directed sexist comments toward journalist Hadley Gamble after a recent interview. (Courtesy of Twitter)

“Beautiful woman, pretty, I’m telling her one thing. She instantly tells me the opposite, as if she didn’t hear what I said.” Russian president Vladimir Putin directed those two sentences to male audience members at an event during Russian Energy Week in Moscow two weeks ago. CNBC reporter Hadley Gamble had been asking Putin questions about gas supplies in an interview that he later ridiculed. These types of chauvinistic jokes should not be made by anyone, especially not by a world leader. 

Any criticism resulting from this debacle should have been aimed at Putin, not Gamble. Instead, Russian media outlets ran to condemn Gamble for her choice in outfit and her manner of speaking. Some even went so far as to accuse Gamble of being “an operative” sent to tantalize Putin. Multiple different hosts of Russian state TV denounced Gamble for turning herself into a “sex object” and behaving “shamelessly.”

Seeing all of this left me wondering: how on earth was this entire situation turned around on Hadley Gamble? How is it possible that Putin could say something with such clear sexist implications and get away with it? I came across an Inside Edition video that took a closer look at the incident, and the comments left by viewers were interesting, to say the least. Sentiments ranged from “how is calling a woman ‘beautiful’ sexist?” to “she’s just throwing herself out there.” While the latter is insensitive, yet disappointingly unsurprising, the former offers up a separate insight that is worth addressing. 

Calling a woman beautiful is not sexist if it is offered as a genuine compliment at an appropriate time and place. To claim that Putin’s intentions during this interview were genuine would be mental gymnastics at its finest. This claim is simply yet another excuse for his behavior. 

There’s a reason Putin turned to the crowd when he made those comments. The use of “beautiful” as a faux compliment wasn’t for her; rather, it was something said about her with a clear-cut motivation to undermine her intelligence. Putin did not like the questions Gamble asked, and his response was to make a disparaging comment at her expense in a room full of their colleagues, painting her as unintelligent in order to further his own agenda. 

The issue with Putin’s “compliment” should be abundantly clear: it attempted to reduce Gamble to little more than her sexual capacity. He tried to make Gamble seem as though she was just an object, and how could an object, devoid of competency, manage to ask him any hard-hitting or valuable questions? Putin’s comment was a clear act of manipulation meant to delegitimize the questions being posed to him. Referring to Gamble as “beautiful” was Putin’s way of invalidating her as a woman, invalidating her career and accomplishments and invalidating her purpose for being on that stage with him.

The most alarming part about this event was Putin’s success in changing the narrative. Russian media outlets swiftly slandered Gamble, directly influencing people’s response to Putin’s blatant wrongdoing, as seen in the aforementioned YouTube comments section. The factor here making all of this somehow socially acceptable is the fact that men like Putin are able to say and do these things with large public platforms in the first place. 

If it’s okay for the President of Russia to imply that a female journalist is just a sex object, why wouldn’t it be okay for young boys at home to think of women in that way? It is clear that leaders and public figures are able to perpetuate this dialogue easily without fear of any repercussions. Behavior like this on a large scale normalizes it on a smaller scale. Leaders need to be held to a higher standard, and that is why these degrading comments about Hadley Gamble should never even have been uttered by Putin. 

It shouldn’t matter if Putin didn’t like the questions he was being asked. It shouldn’t matter whether Putin felt like he was being “tempted” by Gamble. As the president of one of the most powerful nations in the world, he should have the self-control to not make statements as he did toward Gamble. As a world leader, he should have enough respect for women to not even think about them in demeaning ways; if he can’t manage that, then it would be better for him to simply stay quiet instead.

Gamble handled Putin’s statements in the most effective way possible. She didn’t allow his words to visibly impact her, but she shut down his joke quickly and powerfully by responding to Putin that she heard him “just fine.” However, this is a situation that Gamble should have never been put in, regardless of how well she responded to it. 

Hadley Gamble is an experienced journalist who has covered presidential debates, spoken to a multitude of world leaders and devoted part of her career to advocating for women in the Arab world. She is far more than just the beauty to which Putin tried to reduce her to. No matter how accomplished and qualified a woman can be, some men will always try to cut them down if given the opportunity. This behavior is made acceptable by rampant sexism in our society, like that displayed by Vladimir Putin. This phenomenon will not change unless people in high-profile positions do better.

Daniella Terilli, GSB ’24, is a marketing major from Westchester, N.Y.