“IF Putin was a woman, which he obviously isn’t,” said Boris Johnson, in an interview with German media, “I really don’t think he would have embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has. If you want a perfect example of toxic masculinity, it’s what he is doing in Ukraine.” Is he right?

What even is this toxic masculinity?

The idea that there is a set of cultural norms and expectations of men that are associated with harm to society – including the suppression of emotions and use of violence as an indicator of power. Not everyone likes the concept, however, because it’s a gender-binary based theory, which ignores sociopolitical context.

Putin is sometimes cited as its poster boy with many pointing to the images of his macho, bare-chested horse-riding. Boris Johnson mocked this recently, joking that other leaders should, “show them our pecs” to prove “we’re tougher than Putin”.

Hang on, hasn’t Johnson been known to do his own shows of such masculinity?

Like when he demonstrated those push-ups, saying, he was as “fit as a butcher’s dog”? Or his chat about Brexit being about “taking back control”?

But by Russian standards, the PM seems like just a puppy. Recently he was mocked and body-shamed by Vladimir Solovyov, a television presenter known as “Putin’s voice”, who pointed to a photo of the Prime Minister snapped on a morning run, saying, “A new type of macho, gender appropriate.”

I’m not sure it’s true a female leader wouldn’t lead her country into war. What about Maggie and the Falklands?

Yes, and Catherine the Great and Indira Gandhi... we can all think of examples of Iron Ladies who have presided over war or forms of violence. But there has also long been a belief that, as the author Stephen Pinker once wrote “women have been, and will be, the pacifying force.”

What does the research show?

Professor Oeindrila Dube examined Europe from 1480-1913 to see if states led by women experienced more peace than those led by men. What it showed was that female leaders were more likely to participate in war than male leaders during this period.

So women are worse than men?

Not necessarily. Perhaps they are just under more pressure to exhibit masculine traits when leading within a patriarchal system.

I see. So even women leaders are under pressure to display toxic masculinity?

The pressure is on all of us to be tough guys if we want to lead.

And is toxic masculinity really the problem? Isn’t it really the good old-fashioned patriarchy?

Good point. Let’s call a toxic spade a spade. Name it and shame it.


READ MORE: Does Russia’s Ukraine attack sink world’s net-zero dream?