International Women’s Day (8th March) not only commemorates the historical struggle of women throughout the world to obtain the same rights and opportunities as men but, by providing an opportunity to reflect on the present state of female equality, to identity the more important areas of discrimination still remaining to be combated in the years to come. Though in France the day was made official in 1982, it is perhaps a measure of the strong sexist attitudes still firmly anchored in the French male mentality that some public figures (especially in the masculine-dominated world of politics) still feel free enough to make pronouncements guaranteed to turn all self-respecting feminists purple in the face. Here are some real examples of French male sexism. The comments that follow are from my Englishman:

 

‘But who’ll look after the children?’

That was the question a former Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, asked (perhaps he’s changed his tune since) on being informed that Ségolène Royal, the former  socialist President’s ex-live-in partner, (they had four children together) was a candidate in the Presidential Election of 2008. How dare she postulate for the position of Head of State? We all know politics is a man’s world, and that a woman’s real place is at home with the kids. Strangely enough, it was the Socialist party, of which Monsieur Fabius is a prominent member, which over the last decade or two has made great efforts to promote female parityand combat sexism in politics. Or was his question simply motivated by sour grapes at not having himself been chosen as the Socialist presidential candidate?

 

‘I’ve tried to promote women as much as I can, even though our briefs can be very technical.’

Stéphane Le Foll, Agriculture Minister in the same government repeating the widely-held French male view that anything technical is sure to get a woman’s knickers in a twist. Yes, yes, we’ve heard it all before. Women drivers never know whether the engine’s at the front or back.

 

‘I’m said to be a misogynist. But aren’t all men? I’m talking about those who aren’t gay.’

David Douillet, former Olympic Heavyweight Judo champion, and former right-wing Minister of Sport saying that real he-men like himself prefer other he-men. And where do women fit into all this? Is he implying that these creatures are just there simply to satisfy men’s physical needs, and it’s only queers who think otherwise?

 

‘To our women, our horses … and all those who mount them!’

Apparently, this was the favourite toast of Jacques Chirac (former Président de la République and renowned woman-chaser) at, admittedly, non-official dinners. Even though this coupling of horses and women in the same breath could raise a few male guffaws, it does nothing to enhance the image of the gallant French male.

 

 ‘Perhaps she wore that dress so we wouldn’t listen to what she had to say.’

Patrick Balkany, a right-wing député talking about Cécile Duflot, Socialist Ministre de l’Egalité des Territoires et du Logement in the National Assembly. Monsieur Balkany seems to be expressing the view that a woman’s seductive self-presentation is intentionally aimed at luring male attention away from the vacuity of her brain, and that it’s against the nature of things for seductiveness and intelligence to come wrapped up together in the same feminine package. After all, isn’t a woman’s energy better spent making herself a worthy decorative complement to men?

 

‘I pay my players more than my mistresses. At least my mistresses give my cock a good time!’

The President of Montpellier football club, Louis Nicollin, informing us in his own inimitable way that his team of lady friends give him far more value for money than his football squad.

 

She’s become f…able again’.

Yes, he actually said this, believe it or not … and in public at that! Jean-Marie Bigard, a French humorist, actor and film director getting straight to the point about Christine Bravo, writer and T.V. personality, whose physical seductiveness seems to have considerably increased in his eyes as a result of a strict diet. He does, however, have the merit of stating out loud what a lot of French males probably thought, and he did add later that it was just his way of being nice. All right, even if he’s no diplomat, he’s got a good heart. But we can’t help thinking that, once again, this sort of unabashed rawness tarnishes that legendary image of the refined, respectfully attentive French lover.

 

‘Nobody got killed.’

Jack Lang, former Socialist Minister of Culture, informing us he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about on learning that his Socialist mate, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Head of the International Monetary Fund, and probable future presidential candidate had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a New York hotel room. After all, she was only a chambermaid, not even American, and black into the bargain. Who said that the droit de cuissage (the lord’s first night sexual rights) was dead?

 

‘What colour panties are you wearing this morning?’

The question an elderly French député asked his young lady assistant when she arrived at work. We’re not informed what her reaction was.

 

‘If I’d been twenty years younger I’d soon have had you pregnant.’

One of the more printable declarations from another (ageing) député. We don’t know whether he got the slap he deserved.