Anne Hidalgo, the first woman, mayor of Paris : cherchez la femme !

For the first time in France, a woman, Anne Hidalgo ( Socialist party), was elected Mayor of Paris. In our male chauvinist country, when women enter a male dominated job, it usually means that this job has just become less attractive for men so far as either power or money are concerned.   Some  82% of teachers, 77% of the newly appointed  judges, are women. And if only 40% of doctor are female, given the long hours and the hardship of the job, they should be 60% by 2022.

Pussy power

Being mayor of Paris still remains a position that is very sought after by men. Contrary to the over exposed job of Prime Minister, who has not the power but takes the knocks and crashes for the President (as Premier François Fillon did for Sarkozy), contrary to the minister of Interior, whose future is to become the next Prime Minister ( Michel Rocard for François Mitterrand and now Manuel Valls) to make sure he won’t stand for the next election and thus allow the president another round, being the mayor of Paris could be the stairway to presidential heaven.  With a time span of 5 years, the action of the mayor is visible, the pressure is not too high… That is how Jacques Chirac sneaked into the presidential job.

Family business

When one sees that both candidates for the town hall were women and that the head of the Front National party is a woman, you could be forgiven for thinking that the situation of women in politics has greatly improved. It certainly has changed. If women in politics are no longer known for being former mistresses like Edith Cresson or Yvette Roudy with Mitterrand, Michelle Barzac, Michelle Cotta, with Jacques Chirac, they still need a solid family background to survive swimming with sharks. Extreme right Marine Le Pen is the daughter of her notorious father, Nathalie Kosciuscko Morizet is the the daughter of François, mayor of Sèvres, Martine Aubry, daughter of Jacques Delors, and Anne Hidalgo is the « adoptive daughter » of Bertrand Delanöé. The socialist government of 2012 made sure half of the 34 ministers were women and no longer confined to minor portfolios. The reduced new government  of Manuel Valls keeps this balance.

Le fait du prince

With the French party system, it is easier for women in France to reach the toughest heights of executive power - becoming a minister or even the Prime minister - than to be elected as mayor in a small town. The reason is very simple. These top jobs depend solely on political willingness. For Anne Hidalgo deputy mayor of Paris, it was « le fait du prince » for Bertrand Delanoë designated her as his natural inheritor. Nathalie Kosciusko Morizet would never have been able to candidate for the town hall, had she not conviced her party (UMP) to go for a primary election.

Minority Reports

This more democratic way of chosing candidates was launched by the socialist party for the presidential election in 2007 and thus allowed Segolene Royal to be a candidate.

In big cities, regions or counties, since the parity law vote in 2000, you need to have as many women as many men in the list (scrutin de liste). Even if,  as still happens, women are not always near the top of the list and thus in a position to be elected, it has certainly increased the proportion of women in politics ; They now represent 26,79 % of MPs, and 22,1% of senators. And women are still 50% of the French population…

Boys will be boys

In small towns or in some departments, where you vote for one person (« scrutin uninominal »), there is a good chance that the outgoing mayor, who mainly happens to be a man, will be reelected.   No wonder women represent only 13,8% of the mayors in France.    Since male chauvinism is a very French tradition like baguette or croissant, the glass ceiling remains often very low.

Boyz in the hood

As far as the place of women in French politics is concerned, the first hindrance was religion. Contrary to Protestantism, Catholicism does not allow women to become priests, so it give them little opportunity to train for power. Then came the Salic laws inherited from Clovis and the Middle ages; they specified that the inheritor of the throne should be a male.   And the reason why is very simple, if women were not allowed to become priests, how could they contemplate ruling the holy kingdom ? These very ancient laws were put back into fashion in 1328 for very practical reasons.

God save the Queen

Among the children of Philippe IV, Le Bel, whose three sons died, his daughter Isabelle de France was the sole descendant. But being the wife of King Edward II of England, her son, the future King Edward III would inherit the French crown too. Thus to prevent this major catastrophe, the French wise men of the period argued the Salic laws made it absolutely impossible for a woman to inherit the French throne. So to make a long story short, very short, if the chauvinist French put the Salic law back into fashion, it is because of the Brits. Unfortunately, this small episode had long lasting consequences for women. No Fairy Queen enchanted our history.

Not a way to treat a Lady

The French Revolution in 1789 was another missed opportunity. When the French feminist Olympes de Gouges wrote her « manifeste des droit de la femme » ( manifesto of women’s rights) in 1791, she claimed that if «  A woman has the right to climb onto the scaffold, she must also have the right to stand up in the Assembly » .   However her wish was partially fullfilled since she was sent to the gallow in 1793!    And because Napoleon I wanted a divorce from Josephine, he made sure that her claims could not be over-ambitious and that a woman must remain under the authority of her father or husband.

One woman, one vote

Later the World Wars allowed women to show they could handle themselves while men were fighting. Though there was some attempt to send them back to the kitchen in most European countries, they gained recognition. And they were granted little by little more space in the political arena. Thanks to the fight of the Suffragettes, English women above 30 year old, could vote as early 1918, whereas French women above 21 year old had to wait until 1945 to benefit from that privilege. Unlike most European countries, where the left wing parties helped women to break the glass ceiling, in France, it was the Left that postponed women’s vote. In 1936, the socialist, Leon Blum, who was in favour of female vote, and had for the first time three women in his government, renounced it. He realised that if women would vote, they would vote like their husbands for the right wing party and he would lose power; In the end, it was the General de Gaulle, who knew women would favour his status as war hero, who allowed them to vote in 1945. Still a long way to come !

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