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A controversial woman president or a controversial first lady – what does the future have in store for France?

Sharika Nair
25th Apr 2017
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If presidential candidate Marine Le Pen wins, she will become the first woman President of France

French National Front’s Marine Le Pen, along with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, will be facing off in the final runoff to the French Presidential election on May 7. In the first round of voting, Le Pen was slightly trailing behind Macron, with 21.4 and 23.9 percent of the vote share, respectively.

Le Pen, 48, has carefully transitioned from a fringe right-wing candidate to a strong candidate by toning down her party’s strong right wing leanings while also strengthening her female voter base. Le Pen’s supporters have been trying to boost her image and showcase her as a feminist, in the style of Hillary Clinton, to the public. They have even used Hillary’s slogan #ImWithHer as an online rallying cry.

macron le pen
credit: creative commons

The irony though is that even if Marine becomes the first female President of France, it’s doubtful if she is a good choice for women’s empowerment. Despite requests from French women, she avoids describing herself as a “feminist,” and has been critically called a “pretend feminist” by the French feminist group Osez le Feminisme.

Le Pen had taken over as leader of the National Front from her father in 2011. She has tried to increase her appeal by softening her stance on issues like abortion, invoking French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, and highlighting her identity as a twice-divorced mother of three. She has stated though she supports keeping abortion legal, she believes that abortion is a serious moral issue that is too often regarded as trivial by French culture. She even expelled her father from the party for making pro-Nazi statements.

However, many of Le Pen’s promises remain controversial. She has promised to permanently close French borders, to reinstitute the franc as the national currency, to shutter all mosques, to ban religious hijabs, to curtail immigration, and to pull France out of NATO’s command structure. She has also promised to defend women’s rights against Islamism, which is less pro-women and more anti-Muslim.

On the other hand, if Macron were to win, France would get a very unusual first lady. Macron met Brigitte when he was a high school student and she was his drama teacher. She is 24 years older to him and has three children from her previous marriage. It is rumoured that his parents had asked her to stay away from him for a few years due to huge age disparity. The couple has been married for 10 years now. In a speech after winning the first round of the vote, Macron, 39, thanked Brigitte for being “always present.” Without her, “I wouldn't be who I am.” Brigitte is playing an active role in Macron’s campaign, advising him on speeches and effectively helping set his agenda.

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