The return of the sexist French politician

He comes from every part of the political spectrum (though mainly the Right). Sometimes apologetic, sometimes defiant, it was hoped he’d become an extinct species, but this week the Sexist French Politician made a spectacular comeback.

The return of the sexist French politician
Clockwise from top left: Pellerin, Dati, Le Fur, Balkany, Debré, Foucault, Le Ray, Massoneau, Vallaud-Belkacem, Duflot. Photos: Briand/UMP/BFM/CComsi. (Others credited below).

Who is the Sexist French Politician?

He’s a clucking, whistling, hooting, grinning man, usually dressed in a suit. With gender quotas in place for election candidates, and several women holding senior cabinet positions, it was hoped the Sexist French Politician (SFP) was a thing of the past.

Why is he in the news this week?

On Tuesday, the SFP made a spectacular comeback, in the National Assembly chamber. Speaking during a debate on pensions reform, Green party MP Véronique Massoneau was interrupted by SFP Philippe Le Ray, exuberantly making chicken noises from the other side of the chamber.

What’s sexist about chicken noises?

In French, the word ‘poule’ (chicken) is often used as a derogatory term for a woman. As well as being immature and disrespectful, then, Le Ray’s outbursts had a clear connotation, and caused outrage.

“There are things I will never accept in this chamber,” said Assembly president Claude Bartolone. “One of them is deputies pretending to be birds when a Member of Parliament is speaking,” he added, in what must go down as one of the least likely statements ever to be heard in French politics.

SFP Philippe Le Ray. Photo: CComsi/Youtube

Female Socialist MPs staged a walk-out on Wednesday, in protest. Some UMP deputies saw this as “theatrics”, an unnecessary escalation of things, and attempted to restore calm and perspective to the whole affair by…staging their own walkout in response.

Le Ray, whose behaviour was blamed on a “boozy dinner” culture by Women’s Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, was called to order by the Assembly, and fined €1,378 – a quarter of his parliamentary expenses for one month – for his antics.

How is this a deeper problem? Don’t tell me there have been previous clucking politicians…

No. But the SFP has been known to cast other non-verbal noises in the direction of female French politicians.

Last year, another Green party politician, Housing Minister Cécile Duflot committed the offence of speaking while wearing a floral dress.

In response, SFPs – again from the UMP benches – greeted her appearance with hoots, as seen in this video.

Cécile Duflot huée par les députés UMP par LeHuffPost

“We were just admiring her,” SFP Patrick Balkany told French daily Le Figaro at the time. “If she didn’t want us to take an interest in her, then she shouldn’t have changed her look. Maybe she wore that dress so that we wouldn’t listen to what she had to say,” he suggested.

Balkany has form, though. Check out this absolutely priceless video of the mayor of Levallois-Perret getting on famously with a female, American sports journalist.

So the SFP learned to keep his thoughts to himself, then, after the 'dress' incident?

Not a chance. Just a few days after Duflot’s outrageous attempt to speak-while-female, centre-right MP and SFP Marc le Fur stood up in the Assembly.

He commended French Digital Economy minister Fleur Pellerin for “not just being here for her appearance,” before comparing her to “a pot of flowers”.

So it’s just left-wing women who are the targets of the SFP, then?

That’s a negative. During the race for the leadership of the UMP, after Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat in the presidential election in May last year, former Justice Minister Rachida Dati, often referred to as “glamorous” in France, touted the idea of helping a woman become party leader.

UMP colleague Bernard Debré approved…sort of. “Now Rachida Dati says she wants to run ‘a campaign for women’. Why  not!” he told France’s Parliamentary TV channel LCP.

“I’ve never been particularly favourable towards Rachida Dati [herself] though, because she’s had her excesses. I’m not sure Vuitton or Dior have their place at this particular level,” he added, reducing an entire gender to two fashion houses named after, you've guessed it, French men.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Bernard Debré (L) and Rachida Dati (R). Photo: B.Debré/Steffylou/Wikimedia

Does the SFP generally just say stupid stuff, or does he ever get creepy?

The SFP has it within himself to get very creepy. Hugues Foucault, centre-right mayor of the town of Bretagne, in central France, famously did just that this summer.

While watching (yet another) Assembly debate, Foucault spotted Women’s Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem doing, well, this:

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Photo: France 3 TV

Of course, rather than keep this observation to himself, Foucault felt compelled, by forces probably best left unspecified, to share his musings on the minister.

“Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is sucking her pen very erotically,” he tweeted.

Inundated with responses suggesting that maybe that was an inappropriate and offensive way to talk about a government minister, defiant SFP Foucault observed: “Amusing to see the Leftosphere unleashed.”

He did later apologize (sort of), adding ‘sarcasm’ to ‘sexism’ on his list of outstanding characteristics. “I present my deepest apologies to Madame Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, as well as to everyone who was shocked by my completely slanderous and horrible tweet,” he said.

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post

Pope Francis has broken with Catholic tradition to appoint a woman as an undersecretary of the synod of bishops, the first to hold the post with voting rights in a body that studies major questions of doctrine.

Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post
Pope Francis has appointed Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the synod of bishops. She is the first woman to hold the post. Photo: AFP

Frenchwoman Nathalie Becquart is one of the two new undersecretaries named on Saturday to the synod, where she has been a consultant since 2019.

The appointment signals the pontiff's desire “for a greater participation of women in the process of discernment and decision-making in the church”, said Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the synod.

“During the previous synods, the number of women participating as experts and listeners has increased,” he said.

“With the nomination of Sister Nathalie Becquart and her possibility of participating in voting, a door has opened.”

The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote, with the next gathering scheduled for autumn 2022.

A special synod on the Amazon in 2019 saw 35 female “auditors” invited to the assembly, but none could vote.

The Argentinian-born pope has signalled his wish to reform the synod and have women and laypeople play a greater role in the church.

He named Spaniard Luis Marin de San Martin as the other under undersecretary in the synod of bishops.

Becquart, 52, a member of the France-based Xaviere Sisters, has a master's degree in management from the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and studied in Boston before joining the order.