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Women can be as cruel as men

Catherine the Great: plotting an invasion of Crimea?

Boris Johnson isn’t known for being a feminist, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. Standing for election in Henley in 2005, he promised male constituents that voting Tory would “cause your wife to have bigger breasts”. Yet now the PM is “spotlessly progressive”. This week he loftily declared that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was an example of “toxic masculinity”. Were the Russian president a woman, he said, the “crazy, macho” invasion would never have taken place. It’s a nice thought. Alas, it’s not “remotely true”.

Take Catherine the Great (1729-96): like Putin, a “Russian despot who annexed Crimea”. Or the 8th century’s Irene of Athens, who overthrew her son Constantine as ruler of the Byzantine Empire by having him “captured, imprisoned and blinded”. Isabella of France (1295-1358) invaded England to overthrow her husband Edward II. Olga of Kiev (c.890-969) avenged her husband’s assassination by having all his enemies “either buried alive or burnt to death”. Female rulers, it turns out, can be just as “cruel, brutal and power-mad” as the men. The PM’s argument ends up coming across as rather patronising. If only we put those “dear, sweet, innocent creatures in charge”, he seems to imagine, they would just “calmly iron out their geopolitical differences over a chilled glass of prosecco, before settling down to some nice juicy gossip about Strictly or Victoria Beckham”. Doesn’t sound very feminist to me.