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    Man’s world: French glass ceiling remains intact despite equality laws

    PARIS: There are three female candidates preparing for the French presidential election scheduled for next April in France.

    The socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, the president of the far-right National Rally, Marine Le Pen, and the spokesperson for the far-left Workers’ Struggle party, Nathalie Arthaud.

    A fourth candidate, Valerie Pecresse, president of the Regional Council of Ile-de- France, could join them if her fate is positively sealed at the end of the congress of the right-wing Republicans.

    During a congress scheduled from Dec. 1 to 4, active supporters are called upon to vote and choose between five candidates, including Valerie Pecresse, who will wear the colors of the Republicans during the next presidential election.

    Glass ceiling

    If the latter is chosen, there will be four women running for the supreme office, which will be a first in France, in comparison with the previous polls.

    Does this mean that equality between women and men in the public and political life has made progress? We cannot be so sure.

    Equality in France may be well codified in legal texts, and while women may be present in various political bodies, power remains predominantly male.

    Key positions such as the presidency of the National Assembly, the presidency of the government, and of course the presidency of the republic itself remain preserved for men, until further notice.

    The only exception in the history of the Fifth Republic was the appointment of Edith Cresson by the former president, François Mitterrand, to prime minister back in 1991. As for the rest, the ascent of a woman to a supreme post has always been held back by the “glass ceiling.”

    Only two female politicians, Le Pen and former socialist minister Segolene Royal, have reached the second round of a presidential election. Royal had faced and lost to former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, while Le Pen suffered the same fate against President Emmanuel Macron in 2017.

    Unpreparedness, fragmentation

    It should be noted that both showed a lack of preparation against their respective competitors in the debate that usually precedes the second round of the elections. It is highly doubtful that any of the three — possibly four — female candidates on the starting blocks for 2022 will stand a chance of being present in the second round.

    The reasons for this doubt are integral in the nature of the next campaign, which promises to be as difficult as it will be volatile. The extreme fragmentation of the French political landscape certainly has something to do with it, as does the density of economic, social, and security problems exacerbated by a neverending health crisis in COVID-19.

    But the reasons for doubt also lie in the positioning of each of the candidates and their characteristics. Anne Hidalgo, a French woman of Spanish origin and mayor of Paris since 2014, snatched the socialist candidacy after a bitter battle with several officials of her party, still shattered since Macron came to power.

    Her candidacy will suffer due to the weakness of the party and the bad image the French have had of her during her years as mayor. She stagnates in the polls at an excessively low level that does not exceed 5 percent of the voting intentions and is struggling to be heard by the voters.

    They describe her as a bad and incompetent candidate with brutal methods and “not close to people.” So, she is a really hated candidate, even in her own camp, where 49 percent feel the same way.

    On the other hand, Le Pen is in a better position, as she has the support of her party and progresses in polls which give her between 19 percent and 21 percent of the voting intentions.

    Le Pen’s deepy legacy with the far-right party started at birth. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front, now known as the National Rally. However, her surprising breakthrough in 2017 in the second round of the last presidential election is far from certain this time around.

    It is hampered by a major obstacle, which is none other than potential candidate columnist Eric Zemmour, who is slowly shattering her electoral base and who is credited, after a recent decline, with 15 percent of voting intentions.


    Le Pen went to great lengths to distance herself from her father and to shield far-right politics from a more rudimentary approach. Here she is forced to stand out from Zemmour, who does not shy away from any provocation, even hatred for the despondent and the left behind.

    Nathalie Arthaud, 60, is certainly the most serene of the candidates. She is already in her third campaign and is hovering around 1 percent of voting intentions. Arthaud knows full well that she will never make it to the second round, let alone the Elysee Palace. She is content, as a good party activist — having joined at 18 — to make the voice of the workers heard.

    Her ideas and campaign slogans are quite simple: Increased salaries, free healthcare, retirement at 60 and the end to overseas French military operations.

    Barring a dramatic twist, it is unlikely that a woman will be elected to the presidency at the end of the 2022 election. Despite the shortcomings and obstacles facing the various candidates, it is important not to underestimate the misogyny that continues to characterize the political class and even certain French media.

    On the 30th anniversary of her appointment in Matignon last May, Cresson described her task to the press as “11 months in hell.” The only female former French prime minister, now 87, considers that she has been “betrayed everywhere.” 

    She explained: “Everything I accomplished successfully went unreported, on the other hand, they reported and twisted my words to make headlines.”

    To prove her point, she said that she told the then-Foreign Minister Roland Dumas one-on-one that “the Japanese work like ants.”

    Her words were echoed by a French newspaper claiming that she said “the Japanese are ants,” which prompted intense protests from Japan.

    This is just one episode among many recounted by Cresson, who had become the target of the political class and the media and who believed she was sacrificed on the altar of misogyny.

    However, this misogyny is still present in the French political class, to such an extent that the National Assembly has decided to opt for a harsh method to fight it: Cut an MP’s salary in half if they make sexist remarks to a fellow MP.

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