Yesterday—Saturday, April 7—I posted a Substack article about something that had been gnawing at me for a long time: the destructive force of feminization in western politics and culture.
It’s not a misogynistic perspective—I bent over backwards to make that clear—just a sense that the stigmatization of masulinity and maleness is wreaking havoc on our world and should therefore probably stop.
Along the way, I used Ukraine as an example of the way in which crises (usually war) tend to get a society focused on what really matters.
Specifically, I wrote:
Ukrainians aren’t arguing about pronouns, gender, or the sins of their country’s past. They’re much too busy just trying to survive. A Ukrainian seeking a “safe space” isn’t looking for a place where no one disagrees with him, but somewhere he won’t be blown up or shot. That’s obviously not a desirable state of affairs, but it is a state of affairs, and such conditions are a purifying fire that burns away all that is superfluous and supercilious.
And what do I find in this morning’s Berlingske while I drink my coffee?
While the Russians kill, Western men live out “sexual war fantasies” with Ukrainian refugees
Solveig Gram Jensen, Berlingske.dk, April 8
It looked like a total refutation of what I’d written less than a day earlier.
It lays things out up front:
At the same moment that the Russians invaded Ukraine, tens of thousands of men in the West began searching for “Ukrainian escort girls” or “Ukrainian refugee porn” on the Internet.
“It is disturbing. There are men whose first reaction to the war was how they could come into sexual contact with these women,’ states Valiant Richey, who is the OSCE’s special representative and coordinator for combating human trafficking, to the German news magazine Der Spiegel .
Since then, the market has adapted to the demand with lightning speed.
And today it is easy to fulfill the most perverted sexual fantasies with Ukrainian women. For example, the newspaper The Irish Times already reported a few months after the outbreak of war that one of the country’s largest escort websites offered its customers the opportunity to live out their “war-inspired fantasies” with Ukrainian women.
The article spends some time mapping out the complexities, examining both the supply and the demand sides of the “market” for the sexual services of Ukrainian women.
An important reason why it can go so quickly is probably connected to the fact that it is mostly Ukrainians who are responsible for the sale of the women’s sexual services. This makes it considerably easier to establish the contact.
And for the time being, there is no indication that the development can be slowed down. The “recruitment” of the women takes place in society’s gray areas, regardless of whether it is outright human trafficking or women who are forced to become prostitutes.
“In reality, we have not found very many concrete cases (of human trafficking of Ukrainian women at the outbreak of the war). This is not surprising, because it is difficult to find them, and even more difficult in a context where prostitution is legal,” Valentin Richey explains to Der Spiegel.
The article ultimately references a February article in Foreign Policy (“Ukrainian Women’s Looks Are None of Your Business“) by a Ukrainian journalist:
In reality, not even the women who stay in Ukraine can escape the advances of Western men.
The Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Povoroznyk reports on this in the journal Foreign Policy. She is active on social media, and experiences both on her own body, but also in general, how the appearance of Ukrainian women is a constant factor on the web.
Even if they are affected by war. And even if they make up 22 percent of the Ukrainian defense, perform critical tasks in civil society or keep the family together, they are met everywhere on social media by comments about their appearance.
Even men who support Ukraine’s fight against Russia tend to fetishize the women and refer to them as things rather than people.
Povoroznyk’s article offers an interesting perspective on the changing perceptions and realities of Ukrainian women from the years of Soviet occupation through the present. It’s nowhere near as damning as the Danish article about her article. Its overall tone is well represented in one particular passage (my emphasis):
One of the oddest aspects of this is the focus on Ukrainian women’s looks. There has been a vigorous debate among Ukrainian supporters about why people tend to fixate on Ukrainian women’s physical appearances. That includes claims like “Ukrainian women are hot and good at cooking.” Personally, I haven’t found these remarks terribly offensive—although, perhaps, I’ve just got bigger issues to worry about at the moment. But the stereotypes concerning Ukrainian women (and Eastern European women in general) are troubling and potentially harmful—and they point to issues of gender and national identity that a postwar country will have to reckon with.
Far from contradicting the points I made on Substack, the bolded portion of that passage actually reinforces them. In a real and serious crisis, things get prioritized very quickly. The fetishization of Ukrainian women is indeed weird, but it’s a weirdness that pales in comparison to that of an invading army. Povoroznyk doesn’t seem to have any trouble prioritizing her problems appropriately.
Gram Jensen, on the other hand, ends her own article by sniffing out some sexism in the lone comment to Povoroznyk’s Foreign Policy article.
Even her article in Foreign Policy has had a sexist comment along the way. Here, a reader with the username Mack53 quotes from the Beatles song “Back in the USSR”:
The Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
In order to point out:
“Yes, I can find much else to admire about Ukrainian women, especially these days, but the observations of John Lennon and Paul McCartney are timeless.”
The guy’s just quoting a Beatles tune that was a hit before your mother was born (heh), and saying there’s a lot to admire about Ukrainian women besides their looks, especially these days.
Probably not a sentiment you’re going to get from, say, a Ukrainian woman who’s off fighting Russians, or who’s been sheltering with her children in the basement of their apartment building while her husband is off fighting to repel the invaders.
But some nice cheap easy points for a Danish woman working out of Brussels.
Featured image: Former (2015) Miss Grand Ukraine, Anastasiia Lenna, poses with a rifle. She posted this image (without my caption) to her own Instagram account days after the 2022 invasion with a text saying that anyone “who crosses the Ukrainian border with the intent to invade will be killed.”