Updated: Jan 28, 2022
As the French presidential elections of 2022 are approaching, candidates redouble their efforts to win their electorate’s heart, and vote. While the previous elections brought about some novelty within the French political system - with Macron being the youngest elected president since Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1848 (Ouest France 2021) - the upcoming election is expected to prompt a hitherto unseen evolution. Indeed, the future French President could potentially be a woman (Bouzou 2018). In the context of growing awareness around gender violence spurred on by the Me Too movement, along with increasing attention paid to women’s rights, the feminist argument is becoming central to this year’s political debate.
And while three of the candidates already have the “advantage” of being women and thus naturally embodying the cause, the rest of the opponents undeniably have to step up their game if they wish to not neglect half of the French electorate.
Valerie Pecresse, currently considered the most threatening opponent to Macron’s reelection, acknowledges the important role played by feminism in the very first elections following the Me Too movement. At the primary elections of the Republicains’ party, in which the candidate who would represent the French political right-wing in the Presidential elections is determined, Pecresse won against her four opponents, who were all men (Ouest France 2021). Yet, while she often emphasizes how she, by being a woman, perfectly embodies the feminist cause, she has several times drifted off course; statements such as “there is nothing like a woman to do the cleaning” might cost her some votes by revealing a potentially underlying hypocrisy to her image (while characteristic of many politicians…) (France Info 2016). These blunders, in the light of an aging and outmoded Right struggling to renew itself, might ruin Pecresse’s attempt to modernize her political party’s image.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Anne Hidalgo - while also benefiting from the “facteur femme“ (the advantage of being a woman in elections where feminism plays a growing role) - still remains very low in the opinion polls. (Beaufils 2021). Marine Le Pen, however, is both a woman, and a redoubtable opponent. In 2017, she managed to reach the second round of the elections against Macron, leading to the concerning observation that political extremes do appeal to many French citizens. Up until a few weeks ago, she was still considered Macron’s main opponent should he run for reelection, which is yet to be officially confirmed.
However, the unexpected entry into politics of Eric Zemmour, a French essayist and polemicist known for his radical and controversial ideas, reshuffled the cards. Now judged as too moderate compared to this newly arising opponent, Marine Le Pen - who had for a long time been embodying the French far-right - is left with no choice but to use feminism as a way to differentiate herself.
Indeed, while Zemmour’s stance on topics such as migration are quite similar, if not even more radical to hers,- the polemicist’s controversial ideas are both his strongest and weakest point. On the one hand, he attracts an electorate seeking drastic changes and seduced by his provocative thoughts in an era where political correctness prevails. For instance, he advocates the suppression of the jus solis (the right to citizenship of a country based on being born in that country) granted to foreigners (D'Ornellas et al. 2020). On the other hand, his misogynist comments do not receive as much enthusiasm. To name a few: he writes that reporting sexual abuse constitutes a trap set by women to trick innocent men (Johannes 2021), claims that women’s values are incompatible with the embodiment of power, and praises a conception of masculinity where “the man is a sexual predator, a conqueror” (Daussy, 2021).
Facing the gap of 7 points between his feminine and masculine electorate caused by his verbal excesses, Zemmour could not possibly give the feminist cause a miss (Johannes 2021). He thus came up with the argument that he is the candidate in the best position to defend women because he aims to reduce immigration, thereby protecting them from the threat supposedly posed by immigration and the allegedly growing influence of Islam on French society (Barreiro 2021).
As for the rest of the candidates, while they do not necessarily have to rectify past or recent controversial statements, the feminist argument is undoubtedly a tool they cannot neglect in these unprecedented elections.
In 2017, Melanchon, the far-left candidate, was considered by the feminist association Politiqu’elles as having the most extensive campaign program in terms of feminist reforms (Martin 2017). All we can hope for 2022 is that his ambitions remain intact.
Yannick Jadot, a member of the Green Party, assures that he is a fervent supporter of the feminist cause and strongly opposed to discrimination, while deploring the need for a woman to be elected in order to reflect women’s rights and needs (Paris Match 2021).
Finally, Macron, if he officially declares that he is once more running for office, will have to prove that his promise to place women’s cause at the very center of his five-year term will not once again prove empty, with the number of femicides at the end of his term remaining alarmingly high (Goupil 2021).
While each candidate proudly claims either to be the best defender of women, the most driven by the cause, or even the natural embodiment of feminism, all of these assertions remain to be proven. For now, we should hold in mind that each candidate’s campaign teams are still primarily constituted of men.
Written by Victoire Tissinié, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons
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