Yesterday, the Huffington Post asked whether Valérie Trierweiler was “France’s least popular First Lady ever”. The question stemmed from the latest unauthorised biography of François Hollande’s partner, La Frondeuse (The Troublemaker), which attributes her a string of concomitant lovers, while her marriage to journalist Denis Trierweiler was still ongoing.
Right-wing politician Patrick Devedjian and left-wing politician Hollande are named as the lovers (Spoiler: both Devedjian and Trierweiler are suing for slander, sorry Hollywood). A man in each camp! Clearly she wasn’t taking any chance! She obviously wanted power! She used her feminine wiles to get ahead!
Trierweiler is a classic case of the double standard society holds female sexuality to. No one has ever claimed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who in between his three wives married into wealth and networks above his own, slept his way to the top, possibly because by now we know he’s fucked his way to the bottom (or what many people would consider a decent in-between), something it took France years to face. Little has been made of the fact the Trierweiler-Hollande affair allegedly started when he was still with Segolène Royale, while Royale was running for President, and that the Parti Socialiste he was leading likely didn’t support her as much as it should have as a consequence of their unraveling marriage, hindering her presidential hopes and propelling him towards his.
France’s position towards public figure mistresses, like so many things, is inherited from its monarchy days. Kings had (multiple) mistresses and popular psyche started considering infidelity as a proof of power, integrating it into culture. Le Roi a fait battre tambour, a 1750 song still on the French literary curriculum, tells the story of a king who gathers “all the ladies of his kingdom” and chooses a marquis’ wife for her beauty. As a reward, the sovereign names him “a handsome Marshall of France”. At the end of the song, the queen “has a bouquet made/Of beautiful lilies/And the scent of this bouquet/Causes the Marquise to die”.
A few regime changes on, we’re still judging women according to a homemaker or temptress dichotomy and Trierweiler has been cast as the latter. Yet nothing she’s done means she deserves to be called a skank or a harlot over dinner by people who have never met her and whose opinion is based on a few newspaper articles and the fact she isn’t married to Hollande. Poor morality by lack of marriage certificate seems to be her crime. In years of yore, the public opinion trial she’s been undergoing since May would have ended up at the stake.
I’ve written in the past about how stupid I thought Trierweiler supporting left-wing candidate Olivier Falorni over Royale during an election was. She’d chosen to express her opinion over a national issue on the most public of forums, Twitter, and I had no problem writing up my thoughts on the matter. I am however in no way entitled to judge her private life and what goes on in her bedroom. Magazines and dailies have been publishing articles on the subject under the self-fulfilling pretense that it is in the public interest and might affect the presidency (a similar argument was used to justify the publication of half-naked pictures of the duchess of Cambridge). If it does, it’s not Trierweiler’s sexuality that should be judged, but Hollande’s inability to separate the personal from the professional and the presidential.
France is facing its bigot demons at the moment, between an unmarried President and the possibility of a law allowing same-sex marriage. This is the 21st century in a country whose culture has been feasting over libertinage for centuries, yet for a still-too-significant and vocal part of the French population, when it comes to sex, we’ll stone the adulterous woman and take nothing less than a blessed union between a man and a woman, thank you very much.