The Disrespecting Women Effect in Presidential Elections

Everyone I have spoken to about the upcoming US presidential election, both in France and America, is shocked at the incredibly low level our presidential debates have sunken to.  The French news media broadcast both debates live but it’s really the second one that is the most embarrassing.  You see, when you’re an American living in Paris, your French friends and family feel it’s absolutely necessary to badger you with their opinions and questions about the elections.

The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.
The candidates in the second round of low-level debates.

They ask you how Donald Trump could have been nominated in the first place; why do Americans dislike Hillary Clinton so much; how does the electoral college work; why don’t the candidates talk about their policies during the debates; why is sex so important in the election and on and on.  Explaining the electoral college system to the French is boring and useless so I’ll just skip it.  Let’s talk about sex – and its part in both French and American recent and future elections.

The latest sexual development in the American campaign is, of course, the sound track of Donald Trump’s offensive comments regarding having a license to grab women’s private parts.  This caused Republicans like Paul Ryan and John McCain to withdraw their support of Trump, saying he had crossed the line.  This also gave hope to Hillary supporters who believe that the indecisive voters will now be on her side or not vote at all – which in the end is good for her.  I just want to remind everyone that Trump crossed the line with racist comments many months ago.  He also insulted families of soldiers who have died for their country.  But fellow Republicans didn’t raise an eyebrow until he was exposed as a sexual aggressor.  Just goes to show how women, or rather disrespecting women, could make or break this election.

Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.
Presidential candidate hopeful DSK being arrested in New York City.

Now the French have their sexually-related political problems too.  Remember Dominique Strass-Kahn?  He was the Director of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) who was supposed to have run as the Socialist candidate for president of France in 2012 but encountered a major obstacle in 2011. That was when he was taken off an Air France plane in New York and arrested in connection with the alleged rape of a hotel maid.  His subsequent trial and eventual settlement blew his chances for political success and cleared the way for Francois Hollande’s win in May of 2012. Another potential-president bit the dust due to a woman-related issue.

Again back in the USA, the Trump campaign is hitting Hillary hard with claims that Bill Clinton has sexually attacked and abused women for many years.  The fact that Bill Clinton is not running for president doesn’t seem to deter Mr. Trump.  For the second debate, he brought in three women, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey who have all alleged that Mr. Clinton sexually assaulted them

Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.
Trump and the women who claim Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them.

during different points of his career.  Their claims range from sexual harassment to rape.  Mr. Trump thought he would show that Hillary is not a defender of women’s rights.  He said and I quote, “Hillary was an enabler and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward.”  The second debate seemed like more of a reality-show-gone-horribly-bad or, even worse, a horribly bad TV show that suddenly becomes real.  I have never seen anything so hard to watch.

The French have now begun their debates in view of the presidential elections which will take place in May of 2017.  France is hosting primaries for the first time in its political history and the first meeting of seven candidates of the center-right party was held this week.  It was a tame, polite meeting compared to the Trump-Clinton debates, but it’s only the beginning.

The first French Presidential primary debate - a calm affair - for now.
The first French Presidential primary debate – a calm affair – for now.

The current president, Francois Hollande, has not yet announced his candidacy and will not do so until December.  That makes for only five months of French political campaigning, which seems like heaven at this point.  Women-wise, we’ll see what happens.  So far, so good, no major sexual scandals have emerged.  But, like I said, it’s just the beginning.

Just When Will French Male Politicians Grow Up?

Macho Macho Men

Male chauvinism roared its ugly head here in Paris this week and this time it showed up in the National Assembly, the political home of France’s elected officials.  Here, in the gold and red sumptuously decorated meeting room, these guys (and a few women) are supposed to handle serious debates about the present and future of the French citizens who respected them enough to choose them as representatives.  Well, this week, they really blew it. With just one whistle (literally) they blew all that respect out the National Assembly window.

The scene that inspired this macho manifestation was a simple one; it was really business-as-usual.  The Minister of Housing Equality, Mme Cecile Duflot, rose to address the Assembly.  As she approached the microphone and tried to speak, she was greeted with whistles and jeers from masculine members of the Assembly, from the right and left alike (but mostly from the right).  It seems Mme Duflot was wearing a dress – yes, that’s correct.

Adolescent Angst

Here is the outfit that rocked the National Assembly in Paris

The Minister was fully clothed in a modest dress that covered everything that needed to be covered.  So why all the fuss?   Well, my own personal opinion is that, in their childhood, when French politicians hit puberty, their growth was stunted.  By growth I mean the part of their brain that governs dignity, respect and honor.  That part stayed in the seventh grade.  They manage to hide it most of the time, but once in a while, when you least expect it, the 13-year-old stupid adolescent they thought they used to be, shows up and embarrasses the entire country (not them remember, they’re 13 – they don’t care).

And the Point Is…?

What’s the use of France putting more women in office (half of the country’s ministers are female) if the rest of the Assembly members are going to treat them like children?   Does it fill some kind of entertainment quota?  Are the men listening or laughing when the female ministers speak?  How can they possibly get down to matters at hand and rule the country if something as commonplace as a flowered dress tickles their funny bones?

There was even a deputy who defended the hisses by saying that there were “admirative” ones.  He added that if the Mme Duflot was that sensitive and couldn’t handle it, then she should stay out of politics.  Wow!  Let’s just add a bit of macho arrogance to their adolescent behavior – the true colors of French male politicians are not pretty.

By the way, these men, these same men, are the ones who are deliberating and voting on the sexual harassment legislation that will soon become effective in France.  This is a pretty scary thought, scary because it’s true.  If they can treat a Minister so lightly and laugh right in her face, then I’m guessing they are not highly motivated to come up with a fair and just sexual harassment law.  What 13-year-old thinks everyone is created equal?

Order in the House

The President of the Assembly had to use his gavel to call the legislative body to order.  He hammered it on the table saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, actually gentlemen, silence please.”  Mme Duflot was astonished, but kept her cool.  She spoke but I’m sure no one was listening.  (They were probably already tweeting their mistresses about the incident.)  One critic said that a high percentage of male French politicians are still living in the 19th century.  I disagree.  Like I said, they didn’t stay in the 19th century, they stayed in 7th grade.