No, the President of Ukraine is NOT Your Next Romance Hero (Stop Sexualizing Him)

This is a different kind of post for me. Usually I’m here writing about books I still think about, NaNoWriMo experiences, and the occasional Taylor Swift post. Nothing is ever political or really about current world events. Until now.

In case you haven’t heard, Ukraine is in the middle of a war with Russia. Families are being separated, people are dying, and the President is doing everything he can keep his people safe.

Somehow, Internet discourse turned this into a discussion about how attractive the Ukrainian president is. There are subReddits where women and men discuss their attraction to President Zelenskyy, going so far as to theorize the size of his testicles.

Marvel fans have taken to TikTok, turning Zelenskyy into a member of the Avengers and the war into an Internet meme.

Adding to that dumpster fire, a now deleted thread by a romance author revealed that several romance writers are using him as the inspiration for their love interest/romantic hero. Some even said that they’re writing about him as a character in their war love story.

Here’s the thing - he’s not your next romance hero and no one has the right to turn him into one.

One would think that it’s common sense not to take war so lightly, to turn a president into some kind of war sex symbol. But apparently, it needs to be said that he’s an actual human being and not some figure for romantic sexual fantasies. On top of that, there are many reasons why this is one of the worst things you could do online right now.

Insensitivity to the war

It shouldn’t need saying, but there are real people dying from this war on a daily basis. There are people out there fighting for their lives and the right to have their country make independent decisions. They have a leader who is trying his best to maintain their freedom and minimize death. How is any of that less important than his attractiveness?

Does his appearance immediately dismiss any of the work he’s trying to do? I mean, this is similar to how women are treated when they’re successful and attractive. Somehow, the Internet can’t comprehend a person being both, choosing often to focus on the person’s appearance instead.

If Zelenskyy weren’t attractive, would any of these online “conversations” be happening? Would anyone be photoshopping his head on Captain America’s body or declaring that they’re writing a “very steamy war romance” featuring him as the hero?

The people who are physically safe and distanced from the war are somehow using their safety to make this about sex, romance, and fiction. Not having to worry about a bomb crushing your house is apparently a green light to fantasize about a nation’s president doing dirty things to your fictional characters and/or yourself.

How is any of that remotely okay?

What you’re actually saying

You don’t respect him as a person. Plain and simple, you have no respect for him or what he does. It’s not respectful to see him giving speeches about why he won’t back down and turn that into theories about how great he would be in bed or the length of his penis. Nothing about that is respectful in the slightest, and the ones posting about this online are doing so from their very safe homes, far away from where a very real war is raging and affecting lives.

His efforts are only for your wet dreams. I mean really, that’s what it comes down to if you see him protecting his country and all you can think of is what he looks like naked. Everything he does only fuels a dirty imagination for yourself or your romance novels. His job is just a part of a character description for whatever fictional hero you scrape together from this. Whether it’s a literal fictionalize version of him or someone inspired by that, you’re turning him and his current efforts into a book. A piece of fiction that becomes about his body and how you think protecting his country makes him sexually and romantically desirable.

a screenshot of a questionable post about Zelenskyy and Ukraine
highly questionable post

This highly questionable post I found could be a strange metaphor or the blurb of a romance novel I hope the world never sees. Either way, it’s taking a tragedy, a trauma that people are living through, and making it the equivalent of a badly written blurb to a trashy romance novel.

Not even the fact that he used to be in the entertainment industry justifies that. I don’t care if he made suggestive content in the past, it’s not grounds to sexualize him.

And to the women who make these comments, how are you behaving any differently from the men who tell you that your only value is in how you look and not what you do? How is it any different from stooping ot their level and making everything about sex and appearance? We scream and shout about how it’s wrong for men to do it to us, so why don’t you realize that it’s wrong to reduce a man to the same thing we’ve been through and feel disgusted by?

Forget that he’s a devoted husband and family man. That’s right. Something all these online posts forget is that President Zelenskyy is a married man with two kids. Not that any of this would be okay if he were single. The fact that everyone conveniently forgets his wife and children is equally problematic.

There is always the chance that his family will come across these comments. Posts that are being circulated a lot because it’s linked to buzzwords about him and Ukraine. What happens when his wife see online support broken up with thirst posts about her husband? What happens when his kids see their father’s face above a thread of all the sexual things people imagine about him?

Tell me, what happens then? Will they really sit back and be fine knowing that the Internet has turned their husband and father into some kind of war sex symbol because people don’t have basic respect for him or his family?

The war itself isn’t important. Yeah, that’s what these posts are saying - “Screw the war that people are dying in, the President is hot and I’d like to wrap my legs around him.”

People are forgetting that a war is taking place, pushing it aside when they make comments like this. To these people, the war only matters because it brought Zelenskyy to their attention, made his actions worthy of romantic fantasies. They don’t think about the families separated or the trauma Ukraine is going through. Because why would any of that be important if the Presiden is hot?

Painting romance authors in a bad light

Broadly speaking, romance authors already get a lot of flack for the genre they write in. This isn’t making it any better. You’re not helping yourself as a romance writer if this is how you react when a war happens.

I sorely wish I had screenshots of the Twitter thread of romance authors justifying why it was okay to sexualize Zelenskyy and turn him into a fictional hero. I wish I could show you some of the things said before it was all deleted and the original poster went private. If you could read the things said, it’d really make you think about how disconnected some people are with reality.

screenshot of deleted Twitter thread about romance authors fictionalizing Zelenskyy and sexualizing him
now deleted Twitter thread about romance authors turning President Zelenskyy into their romance hero

It’s sickening to know that there are a group of authors out there who look at this war, this great tragedy that is taking so much from real people, and making it all about how they’ve found inspiration for their next romance hero.

Several tweets I saw before the thread was deleted said something along the lines of “I was struggling to write my romance novel but then I read about Zelenskyy and wrote 10K words about him last night” or “He’s the inspiration for the hero of my steamy war novel that’s now set in Ukraine and features a young President and the woman he’s not supposed to want/have.”

It shows and speaks of a disconnection with their actions, an ability to forget that he’s a real person and not some caricature that exists for fiction. It’s appalling.

Invalid arguments

There are inevitably defensive arguments when people get asked why they’re sexualizing Ukraine’s president or turning him into a sex symbol in their book. None of them are valid, but I’ve come up with a list of what people have said online because some people need it laid out step-by-step why their actions and words are wrong.

“Everyone copes differently.” The stupidity that emanates from this makes me want to throw something. No. You’re not the one coping with war. You’re not the one being torn away from your family. You’re not the one starving because soldiers are taking everything. You don’t have anything to cope with.

This is not a good excuse for any of this. There is no way to use this as the explanation for sexualizing Zelenskyy. If this is how you cope with hearing about other people dying in a war that’s NOT happening to you, I really have no words to describe how disappointed and disgusted I am.

“He’s only an inspiration.” It doesn’t matter! You’ve actively told people that he’s who you’re writing about, who you’re basing a character off of. If I wrote about an insensitive person on the Internet doing inappropriate things and said openly that you were the inspiration, wouldn’t you be mad? That’s not any different than what you’re doing to him.

He shouldn’t be an inspiration for your romance novels, period.

“Every author takes inspiration from real people.” This feels like an extension of the Bad Art Friend debate that has been going on in the writing community for months. Let me cut this one down easily and clearly.

That’s not a valid reason. That’s not a valid reason for taking a real man and making his real work into something that’s only about romance and sex. It’s not a valid reason for fantasizing about him. It’s not a valid reason to turn those fantasies into pages and pages of smut.

Taking inspiration from real people is far different from turning a person into a fictional character that you and readers will ship with themselves or other fictional characters. Especially in a romance novel, it’s different to use a real person as inspiration. And I highly doubt that Zelenskyy goes to bed at night, happy that his efforts to save his country have the potential to inspire romantic scenes or sex scenes in a novel that will be be sold for profit, none of which will go toward Ukraine.

“He won’t know.” So if you don’t know, can I write all the dirty scenes I want about you? Turn you into nothing more than a list of attributes for a romance novel?

It doesn’t matter that he won’t know, it’s not right. It’s never right to turn a real person into a fiction of your imagination just so you’re “justified” in sexualizing them.

What happens if he does find out? What happens if after all this is over and books get written about him or inspired by him, he finds out? Do you really think he’ll be happy to know that some of the hardest times of his life were turned into romance where everything is solved through the power of love and good sex?

“I couldn’t help being inspired by how great he is.” You can be inspired and not turn that into a romance novel.

I don’t know what it is in your head that sees him as inspiration and immediately thinks of putting him in a novel, but it’s not right. Even if you’re doing this to every person who inspires you (and I really hope you’re not sexualizing all your inspirations), that’s not okay.

It’s insensitive and wrong and shows that you don’t really care about the real people who are suffering as long as you can get writing material out of it.

In conclusion, stop being so insensitive and making it all about you. Stop sexualizing a man who is trying to keep people alive and make sure they have a safe country to return to. Stop acting like you can do whatever you want because none of the bad things are happening directly to you.

Have some class, have some compassion. Think for a moment, for goodness sake.

If I see any romance novels inspired by him and this war, I’m going to be severely disappointed in each and every one of you.

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  • Maggie says:

    This is a really well thought out post (and better than any twitter rant I was gonna go on, ha). And you make a really good point about the double standard here - if it were a woman in leadership and people were making these kinds of comments publicly, they would be criticized. But no one seems to bat an eye when the leader in question is a man.

    Anyway, if people (especially Americans) could stop making everything about themselves, that'd be really great.

    • Charmaine Lim says:

      Thank you. It makes me sad that as we watch the war worsen, there are still people out there making it about their fantasies. I wish they could see him as a real person rather than a piece of meat.