Eszter-Petronella SOÓS PhD

Brigitte Macron

Meet Brigitte Macron, the new French First Lady

Brigitte Macron, France’s new First Lady is popular in the eyes of many. Others are attacking her because of her age. However, her husband, the new President of the Republic suggests that the whole country should get used to her presence. It seems that the President’s wife will not only carry out informal duties, but she will also receive some kind of a formal, unpaid status à l’américaine.

Rumors and jokes target Brigitte Macron

The new First Lady has been at the center of attention during the campaign because of the 24 years of age difference between her and her husband (Brigitte Macron was the French teacher of Macron at high school). It has given place to all kinds of malicious gossip. For example, it has been suggested that the marriage between the Macrons was a sham to cover the candidate’s gay relationship. Emmanuel Macron, who addressed the issue publicly, said that if he were gay, he would have lived as such.

The couple, of course, is the target of continuous attacks and jokes. It seems that they are trying to handle it humorously. Brigitte Macron is quoted several times saying that her husband should prepare for 2017 and win in 2017, for her age would show in 2022…

Most recently, Charlie Hebdo stirred a controversy with its caricature showing president-elect Emmanuel Macron next to his pregnant wife. The caption says: “He will do miracles”.

Charlie Hebdo mocks Brigitte Macron

There were other, less malicious articles published. For instance, it has been written that Brigitte Macron likes beautiful things – usually borrowing clothes from Louis Vuitton for her public appearances. This, of course, is a great advertising opportunity for a luxury brand. (During the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the President has been criticized for his love of glamor and money. It will be interesting to see whether the very same thing will bring popularity or unpopularity to Brigitte Macron.)

Brigitte Macron: a start of an important debate?

The 24-year age difference raises questions for many. Like “is there a problem with Macron”? After all, “what a 39-year-old man can do with a 64-year-old woman?” On the other hand, the couple has been together for more than 20 years. It means that Emmanuel Macron fell in love with her teacher during his high school years, while he was still a minor (this fact is very rarely addressed in debates). He courted patiently and persistently a married woman with three children, who eventually married him in 2007. A benevolent interpretation could be this: Emmanuel Macron is not a womanizer. He’s not the kind of man who breaks up with his lover, the de facto first lady, in an official announcement (other interpretations are harsher and more cruel, of course).

The debates surrounding Brigitte Macron’s age and personality have launched a philosophical-political thinking about whether there is a sexist double standard for women. Why is it odd when the man is younger? Why do we accept the reverse situation easily, like the case of the Trumps? Or: is it misogynist to suppose that a younger man cannot love an older woman? And if he loves an older woman, is it reasonable to assume that there is something wrong with him? (Emmanuel Macron himself said: “If I were 20 years older than my wife, nobody would have thought for a single second that I couldn’t be an intimate partner.” He also mentioned that this attitude tells a lot about what the French society thinks about women.)

These debates have just started. Because of the visibility of the couple, they will certainly continue to shake things up in the next five years. In other words, the Macron mandate can be also an exciting era for issues like femininity, feminine images and women’s public visibility. Of course, I will pay attention and follow these debates. Now I just note that there is such a conversation.

Brigitte Macron: part of the President’s professional life

The French, of course, are not really interested in the private life of their Presidents. The Élysée is not surrounded by the kind of prudish atmosphere like the White House is. François Mitterrand’s double life, Nicolas Sarkozy’s public divorce and even more public new marriage, the lover-to-lover private life of François Hollande have not affected their political life.

Brigitte Macron, on the other hand, is not only part of the newly elected president private life, she is also part of his professional life. According to the press, she was and she is actively present in her husband’s professional life, she reads materials, gives her opinion on political matters, as a former French teacher writes speeches. It will certainly not be different in the Élysée. Emmanuel Macron, who have built his wife’s public personality, the narrative of “romantic love story” almost as consciously as his own image, publicly admits that he needs happiness to do good a job and that the presence of his wife makes him happy.

So it seems that the presidential ambition is common for the Macron couple. And although the French voters have elected one president, in practice, they can get two Macrons in one… Therefore: to be continued.

(Featured image: Twitter profile of Brigitte Macron)