I happened to be online to read live the outpouring of reactions following Valérie Trierweiler, French President François Hollande current partner, tweeting her support to Olivier Falorni, the man opposing Hollande’s ex-partner Ségolène Royal in local député, or MP, elections. Ever since, French media, new and traditional, have been rife with reactions, mostly negative, to the First Lady taking on the public scene a very private affair. Did she really believe, along with what polls suggest is a majority of local voters, that Falorni is the best candidate? Was it just spite towards Royal? Questioned psychologists and couple counselors argued jealousy was the main motivation for the Tweet, humorists pointed out jealousy was more often a first wife attribute, and some Twitter users complained this was once again reducing women down to basic prejudices of emotion over reason.
Trierweiler’s tweet did a disservice to everyone: to women, because she’s given anyone who wants to argue women are little more than emotional beings with no place in the political sphere ammunition they didn’t need; to her husband’s government, whose ministers and spokespeople have been asked to comment on little else for the past 24 days and therefore seems focused on trivial matters rather than state affairs; to France, which didn’t need more added to its reputation for liberal love; and to herself, all that for a Tweet which actual political weight to voters has yet to be proven.
Most of all, Trierweiler comes out looking tactless, clumsy and selfish. True, she had the courage of owning up to her tweet, rather than claiming hacking and didn’t close her Twitter account. Throughout the campaign and since her partner’s election, she’s made it known she wanted to retain her freedom of speech and has kept her journalist job at Paris Match. Tweeting isn’t like misspeaking in the middle of a press conference, especially for someone using the medium as rarely as Trierweiler: you can assume it to be a thought-through act. As a seasoned political journalist, credited with the brilliant “monsieur normal” spin on Hollande’s campaign and communication events such as a staged kiss, it’s difficult to argue she was blind to the likely reactions to her tweet. Yet, she seemed so set on asserting her freedom of speech and behaviour she chose to go ahead, ignoring the most basic Internet rules every Twitter user knows and which make most of us think twice before tweeting something negative about the company we work for or someone we really dislike, for instance. Whether you want it or not, being the live-in partner of a President comes with strings and public opinion on your every move, which Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama learnt at their expense.
Many French people listening to the news at the moment don’t fully understand what Twitter is. What they do understand is that the President’s partner took his mind and energy off state affairs, that the Presidency, a month in, doesn’t look that far off the gossip circus Nicolas Sarkozy’s term was, and which the left heavily criticised during the campaign. I can already hear my grandmother reusing the argument she barred my defense of Cécilia Attias walking out on her President husband Sarkozy with: “Madame de Gaulle did it, her, and she never complained”. France and women have come a long way since Mrs de Gaulle, and the days of suffering in silence are thankfully gone. But there are times when the real freedom is to shut up after careful considerations of possibilities and outcomes and this week, Trierweiler forgot it. In the process, she likely diminished her political standing and lost some of that dear freedom of speech. I can’t imagine the Elysée or Parti Socialiste comms teams trusting her with public communication any time soon.