Thursday, June 30, 2016

The art of seduction à la française


French male politicians are known for their ostentatious courtesy towards women, and some of them are exclusively renowned for their trade mark galanterie. These well-mannered attentions often mask an entrenched superiority complex and deep-rooted sexism. Sexism is an established badge of honor among French lawmakers. Women are still under-represented in both parliament chambers: they make up 25% in the senate and 27% of the lower house. Interestingly, the pervasive French-type machismo is ideologically neutral and consistently transcends the political spectrum. French politicians may not be worse offenders than their peers in other industrialized countries, but the Gallic media culture allows them to get away with it.

Until recently, the tabloid tell-all culture was alien to French media. French journalists are notoriously left-leaning and many enjoy quasi incestuous links to the Socialist party, for this raison they have been reluctant to unmask the shoddy behavior of lovey-dovey-lefty lawmakers who hypocritically break the strict harassment laws they have contributed to write (think of the infamous Dominique Strauss Kahn and his alleged sexual assault in a Manhattan hotel). On the other hand, right wing creeps are handled with less care.

I did not spend my professional life in France, and when visiting always found frustrating women’s acceptance of machisme ordinaire, such as routine flirtatious remarks on their looks and condescending comments on their professional achievements. Pity that too many French women believe that their enfranchisement requires a seal of approval delivered by an all-male jury.

In France, male chauvinism is institutionalized, enshrined in the law, from the Medieval Salic law which barred women from sitting on the French throne, to the Napoleonic code which subordinated them to fathers or husbands, a setback from the equality principles of the revolution. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the de facto unholy alliance between two historic foes, the church and the anticlerical parties, prevented the advancement of women’s rights: the former through its patriarchal oppression and the second because of its political prejudice. Women were considered too intellectually and politically immature to become full citizens.

Before the end of the Nazi occupation of France in the Spring of 1944, General de Gaulle’s government in exile, with the support of representatives of Communist resistance organizations, granted women the vote. It was regarded as a reward for their courageous resistance activities during the war. In fact, it was a political quid pro quo. The Communists expected them to massively vote for their party. De Gaulle was less altruistic, and rightly estimated that the newly empowered women would bring post-war stability to an ideologically divided France. Women made up more than 60% of the electorate. They voted for De Gaulle’s conservative government and the Communist party lost the elections.

If sexual shenanigans are still rarely exposed on the front page of reputable French newspapers, the online media is becoming more intrusive. In May 2016, a media website broke an open secret that Denis Baupin a Green party politician and deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament had for years sexually harassed several female party colleagues. Although he denied wrongdoing, arguing that a compliment is not harassment, he was forced to resign his position. An investigation has formally been opened.

Subsequently, 17 women, either serving or former ministers from the right and the left, came forward to say enough is enough with sexual arrogance and abuses in French politics. Even Christine Lagarde, the current head of the International Monetary Fund and France’s former finance minister, joined the signatories. As expected, with their trade-mark male chauvinism, the political alpha males ridiculed the protest as girly stuff. Some even implied a more somber plot: the women’s accusations were politically motivated to weaken the Green party. To make the case more attention-grabbing, the allegedly lecherous lawmaker is married to a government minister.

The 17 ministers’ column attracted world-wide attention and soul-searching in France. For many observers, the code of silence had been broken and recommendations were made to finally make the predatory males pay. Everyone had a view on the matter. This being France, philosophers joined the fray. They like to pass judgement on everything and everybody and can debate on any subject; sexism is certainly a tempting one for a good left versus right-wing argument. France probably has more self-proclaimed philosophers than cheeses! Some 300 and still counting.

Last year, 40 female political reporters wrote an open letter complaining that lawmakers treated them as sex objects, and that they were tired of their lewd remarks and roving hands. Some reporters hinted that information for sex was routinely suggested: info for an apéro! As indicated above, French journalists and politicians always had a close rapport. Many reporters have been romantically involved with politicians, some with disastrous consequences: remember President Hollande’s scène de ménage with his former live-in mistress Valerie Trierweiler. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was married to Anne Sinclair, a famous journalist, who stood by him during the Manhattan scandal (they have later divorced).


            dsk                       gtron

                                Three alleged sexual molesters.                                                               May have been spotted lurking along the corridors of the French parliament.

Le Figaro Magazine (May 20), a conservative week-end magazine, carried an interview of middle-aged philosopher Pierre-Andre Taguieff. The provocative title attracted my attention: The new abhorrent person is the middle-aged heterosexual white male (free translation)[1]. Not having lived in France for decades, I had never heard of PAT, but he is known in right-wing circles. He made his name crusading against political correctness he regards as a left-wing diktat. In the article, PAT argues that the Baupin scandal was a witch hunt, and that the investigative journalists who disclosed it were acting like morality police. PAT comes across as a very opinionated and conservative ideologue with patriarchal views on the men and women relationship: Baupin’s female accusers were running a gender war for political gains. By portraying themselves as victims of male political dominance, these vixen were acting out of jealousy, resentment, vengeance, mean-mindedness and were prejudiced against men (coined neo-sexism). According to PAT, it is open season on the middle-aged white man, who the neo-feminists regard as a threat for the human race. For me, his ranting against the so-called neo-sexism of aggressive neo-feminists is a text book case of an ingrained patronizing view of women. French philosophers take no prisoners as this anecdote will prove.

Outraged, I emailed PAT a mocking rebuke, arguing that I was very sorry to hear that middle-aged men like him were feeling threatened by neo-feminist attacks but at the same time I was extremely gratified to learn that I was a member of the neo-feminist tribe. To make my case, I quoted Roger-Pol Droit, another French academic and thinker, who had also commented on the Baupin story. Droit occasionally contributes to Les Echos, a French financial newspaper. Unlike PAT, he is not in denial, and expressed empathy with victims of sexual abuse. His editorial underlined the toxic effects of the coercive social and cultural domination men had over women for centuries. To my surprise, PAT replied with a condescending five-line email. As expected, his reply disparaged my female intellect, but also that of Mr. Droit! For PAT, Droit is as just a nice vacuous journalist. In addition, PAT took the opportunity to include links to his articles and made reference to a recent book which he had “dedicated to free, intelligent and beautiful women from all walks of life.” PAT could not resist adding beautiful women, evidence of his paleo-sexism. I dropped the matter and never replied.

     rogerpoldroit                taguieff

                    Roger-Pol Droit                                                  Pierre-Andre Taguieff

It is ironical that PAT and I are largely in agreement on another woman-related matter. I am referring to the reaction of the German left-wing feminists to the sexual assaults perpetrated by Muslim males in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Their lack of condemnation came as a shock to me. In my January 24, 2016 blog Winterreise, I wrote that “oddly, on the subject of Arab migration, the feminists’ support for women’s rights takes a back seat to their politically correct rhetoric.” For me, these feminists were in denial, condoning violence against women because of their reluctance to tackle the dark side of the ethnic and cultural traditions of the perpetrators. There are laws which carry punishment for violating our Western social norms; to ultimately protect social peace, they must be applied independently of race, gender and religion. PAT goes much further and argues that neo-feminists are quick to denounce the chauvinistic attitude of White males but fail to condemn culture-related violence because of their anti-racist obsession. In other words, violence perpetrated by oppressed minorities, I.e. migrants is regarded as more morally acceptable than that of the dominant class. PAT calls it the totalitarianism of political correctness.

I will not shout aux armes citoyennes to validate PAT’s theory. I am no philosopher but believe that women can fight ingrained male chauvinism without starting a gender war.

[1] “La nouvelle figure répulsive est l’homme blanc hétérosexual de plus de 50 ans.”