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Posts Tagged ‘Jean-Marc Ayrault’

Blair’s Babes and the Hollandettes: Spot the Difference

In Politics on May 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm

This article was first published by e-feminist.com on May 18th 2012

Images from Liberation.fr and Dailymail.com

Remember 1997? Tony Blair had become the UK’s youngest Prime Minister and the first Labour Prime Minister in 18 years. Labour’s majority in the House of Commons included double the number of female MPs than had been elected in the 1992 general election. These women even had their own momentous nickname, ‘Blair’s Babes’, and all the spin doctors were telling us that this photo represented a new era in gender equality in British politics. It made us feel hopeful, as if we had been listened to and, most of all, happy with our new government. Looking at the photo of Hollande and the ‘Hollandettes’ it feels as if we could be right back in 1997.

So what’s the difference between these photos? The short answer is not much. Of course, France’s situation is slightly different; Hollande and Ayrault actively chose to include equal numbers of men and women in their government and not all of ‘Blair’s Babes’ became cabinet ministers. However, both Hollande and Blair’s photos aim to present the same cliched political message to nation, “We’re progressive! We like women too! Look how well we’re doing!”.

Understandably, feminists in France have questioned why it was necessary to emphasize the achievement of gender parity in a way which treats women as tokens. In an article entitled “The irritating photo”, Isabelle Germain asks why these highly qualified women are being treated like Hollande’s trophies. Just like the ‘Blair Babes’, Hollande’s female ministers have their own twee media nickname; the ‘Hollandettes’.  Linguistically, the ‘Hollandettes’ are to Hollande what ‘Belibers’ are to the pop star Justin Beiber – relative to their male leader and their roles determined by his authority. Germain argues that this photo aims to set the right mood for the rest of Hollande’s term and keep the electorate sweet on Ayrault’s government. It’s as if Hollande is keeping a copy of this photo in his wallet to pull out in sticky political situations and say, “But look at this photo! This photo proves that I’m a good guy!”.

A sense that Hollande has done this out of necessity has crept in amongst feminist critics. In an article onEgalite Infos, the feminist academic Françoise Gaspard argues that Hollande set himself up during his campaign to commit to gender parity, when it wasn’t necessarily driven by his own personal beliefs. She also points out that gender parity in ministerial positions, no matter how symbolic, is still a long way from real power in strategic political positions. This is, of course, the thing that the political spin doctors don’t want the French electorate to hear. Any hint of insincerity could wreck the message of Hollande’s female-led publicity campaign and ultimately destroy any confidence he has earnt through this momentous gesture.

Considering that between 1962 and 1968 there were no female ministers at all in the French government, a lot of progress has been made in fifty years to finally achieve gender parity. However, it is clear that the place of women in French politics is still determined by their male leaders. In Hollande’s case it cannot be truly judged whether he is sincere in his feminist convictions. It can only hoped that his actions, no matter what their intentions, succeed in holding the door open for other women in French politics. Perhaps one day gender parity in government institutions will be so commonplace that it will not constitute a PR photo op.

Recommended Reads: 

17/05/2012: Influential French Women: Christiane Taubira

17/05/2012: Influential French Women: Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

16/05/2012: Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise

Influential French Women: Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

In Biography, Politics on May 17, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Image from http://www.wikipedia.org

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is another French female minister to be appointed in Hollande and Ayrault’s new government this week. Her appointment is the most significant of this election in terms of women’s rights in France, as she has taken up the post of Minister for the Rights of Women. This role has been brought back over a decade after it was abolished in 1998. The promise to bring back this ministerial position is one that Hollande made in  a speech during his electoral campaign on International Women’s Day.

In terms of politics, Belkacem is young at only 34 (born 1977). Her origins have also been divisive in a country whose far-right party won approximately 18% of the first round votes in the most recent presidential election. Although she was born in Morocco, Belkacem moved to France at an early age (1982) with her family, to join her father who was already working in Northern France. Despite having dual nationality, Belkacem was attacked by the far-right Front National candidate Nicole Hugon. Hugon said that Belkacem’s election and her dual nationality status was “against French nationality and national preference in France”* (contre la nationalité française et la préférence nationale chez nous). Belkacem came back at these comments saying that dual nationality was “a part of France’s beautiful values” (fait partie des plus belles valeurs [de la République]).

Belkacem’s most prominent work has been in the domain of LGBT rights and bioethics. In Le Monde in February 2011, Belkacem wrote an article arguing the case for bioethic laws in France be changed so that homosexual couples would be allowed to have assistance in creating children through surrogacy or other methods. In an article on her website, Belkacem said, “In the name of freedom, why not extend MAP [medically assisted procreation] to homosexual couples?” (Au nom de la liberté, pourquoi ne pas étendre la PMA (procréation médicalement assistée) aux couples homosexuels). In 2011 this law was updated, but was not changed to include the reproductive rights of homosexual couples.

For more information on Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, see her official website here and her official twitter account here

*National preference is a FN policy involving French national’s having priority for jobs over immigrants.

 

Recommended Reads:

18/05/2012: Blair’s Babes and the Hollandettes: Spot the Difference

17/05/2012: Influential French Women: Christiane Taubira

16/05/2012: Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise

Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise

In Politics, Society on May 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Image from Liberation.fr

During campaign season, Hollande was very forthcoming about his promises regarding women’s rights. From childcare to contraception, he set out several policies which aimed to help women in their everyday lives. There was a certain amount of scepticism as to whether all of these policies would be implemented after a potential election victory.

Today Hollande announced who would be the members of his cabinet, including the newly-created post of Minister for the Rights of Women (as promised in his International Women’s Day speech). The cabinet included, for the first time in French history, an equal number of male and female ministers. All the names that were announced have long been prominent names in French political activism and politics, such as; Cécile Duflot [Minister for Housing], Najat Vallaud-Belkacem [Minister for the Rights of Women] and Christiane Taubira [Minster for Justice]. Hollande has also been credited for reflecting France’s cultural and racial diversity in his appointments.

It seems that Hollande has begun to follow through with his promises to women. Although we are unable to see the long-term changes only several days into his presidency, it is clear that Hollande’s decisions today will be forever remembered as a momentous occasion for women in France.

For more information on this news, see the Guardian’s article here, Liberation’s coverage of the new cabinet here and Le Monde’s candidate-by-candidate break-down here. Also, why not read Triple F’s profiles of  some of these influential women? [See Archives]