Belfast Telegraph

I wouldn't vote for her, but Le Pen is still progress for female voices in politics

By Mary Kenny

Feminists all over the world clamour that "more women's voices must be heard". More women's voices in science, on business boards, in academia, in the media, and, above all, in politics. However, no feminists I can trace have praised the French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen as representing an advance for women's voices in politics.

As Marion Anne Perrine Le Pen has led the National Front party, and thus "the extreme far right", she is never seen as a role-model for women and she is not supported by feminist groups.

There's an element of sectarianism here: when feminists say there should be "more women's voices" - what they seem to mean is that there should be "more women's voices of the kind that we agree with". Like, say, Hillary Clinton, or possibly, Angela Merkel - although Mrs Merkel herself, when asked if she was a feminist recently, seemed reluctant to commit.

Listen, sisters, in this life, you have to take the rough with the smooth.

If you want "more women's voices" in the public arena, you are going to get all varieties of women coming forward.

Women in politics are not always going to be your standard soft liberal-leftie with the predictable views of that ilk. Sometimes you'll get a tough matriarch with some tough attitudes.

So live with diversity. And, if we want "more women's voices to be heard" we should, surely, recognise Marine Le Pen's achievement in leading a political party which has made - and sustained - its mark.

And if you want the evidence, you only have to look at the voting map of France in the first round of the Presidential last month: Marine took swathes of the north, the east, and the south of the country. In some of the deserted villages of France, without a doctor, a restaurant, a priest, or the young - in one such village, Auge, in central France, a baby born in April was the first birth in 50 years - she is often strongly applauded.

Le Pen won't win the second round tomorrow, but in the immortal words of one of our own political figures, she's not going away, you know. Neither is her movement.

Some commentators predict a greater advance for MLP in 2022, and, after that, for her successor in the party, another woman, her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen. More women's voices in politics? Yes, if not the kind sought.

I wouldn't vote for Marine Le Pen, but I still think her political achievements should be acknowledged.

She has stewarded her party towards greater electability. She has expelled those she judges racist and extremist - including her own father. Her life partner Louis Aliot - whom she is expected to wed, in a third marriage - is French-Algerian-Jewish.

She has accepted same-sex marriage (still somewhat contested in France) and she also accepts abortion law, though her niece Marion Marechal is anti-abortion. Yes, she thinks there should be much stronger controls on immigration and she is fiercely critical of the EU. She thinks France should be, primarily, for the French. She thinks the State should crack down on Islamic terrorism. And she's no fan of globalisation.

Like other politicians, she offers a menu of policies, and on the whole, she has affirmed her position bravely. So why shouldn't she be seen as amplifying the cause of "hearing women's voices"? A French woman commentator to whom I put the question answered: "We don't see her as a woman."

She meant that partly as a compliment. "Segolene Royale (the first woman who ran for President) would answer a question 'as a women', or protest that 'you're only asking me that because I'm a woman'. Le Pen does not."

Marine is perceived as gender-neutral.

We are probably more accustomed to seeing Frenchwomen of power and influence as mistresses (and sometimes even wives) than as individuals separated from the boudoir. Historically, mistresses often wielded considerable power - Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, was virtually "the first minister of France", and perhaps not coincidentally, the Elysee Palace was actually built for her.

President Hollande became as well known - oh, la, la! - for his love-life as for his wobbly policies failing to tackle youth unemployment; scooting around at night on his Vespa to visit his girlfriend, Julie Gayet, while partner Valerie Trierweiler fumed. Even during the current election, Emmanuel Macron's wife, Brigitte, (64 to his 39, once his drama teacher, now grandmother of seven) has drawn far more interest from the celeb media than Marine Le Pen.

The only woman to have been Prime Minister of France, Edith Cresson, had been a girlfriend of President Mitterrand, and is noted for claiming that "one in four" Englishmen were homosexual, which clearly did not please her (she thought they ignored her because she was a woman).

Marine Le Pen has indeed never played the feminist card, and she would be rebuffed by international feminism if she did.

But on the substantive point, she has surely made a woman's voice heard. It takes all sorts, sisters.

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