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Women and power

by Jacques de Guillebon

" (...) contemporary women have not yet decided between their thirst for power and their childhood dreams of becoming princesses subject to unmitigated adulation "

At a time when the Republic of Central Africa, the world’s poorest country, has just voted for a female president, the women of France still seem destined to fight amongst themselves over the crumbs of political power. As well as demonstrating the value of marriage – because a wife, even if her husband has been unfaithful, remains officially a wife who, in the context of Francois Hollande’s recent sentimental troubles, would be able to continue to accompany the Head of State on his many trips abroad, including his Vatican visit –, the set-to involving the two – known – mistresses of the French President poses, once again, the eternal question of women and power.

Formally, there is nothing, in today’s Western democracies, in even in many countries in the rest of the world, to stop women from filling the highest political positions. Indeed, there are many candidates, even in France: Marine Le Pen, Christine Boutin, Martine Aubry, Ségolène Royal and Arlette Laguillier have all campaigned, with varying degrees of success, for the votes of their compatriots. So, were they unlucky? The sometimes worrying figures achieved by Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher are there to remind us that, in Europe, nothing is impossible for women, as long as their hearts are in it and the conditions are right.

However, the facts speak for themselves and the idea that a good number of contemporary women are still attached to their ancient prerogatives, to their own ways of ruling – in other words, in the shadows of the male leader – cannot be gainsaid. From the medieval Queen Consort of France, Blanche of Castille to Madame de Maintenon to Catherine de’ Medici, the virile history of the Kings of France has always been coloured by the power of women, which, although not entirely legitimate, has often proved more constant than the muscle-flexing demonstrations of their husbands and sons.

It can’t be denied that, in the popular imagination, being the mistress of the sovereign is more prestigious than being the lover of the female chief. Closer will always print more stories about Valérie Trierweiler or Julie Gayet than about Mr Laguiller – if there is one – or Louis Aliot, the partner of Marine Le Pen. People want to know about the President’s affairs. The extra-marital activities of female leaders exert less fascination. Are the reasons to be found in the excessive secrecy of women who rule, or in the shame of those men who are forced to admit to being no more than companions? It’s hard to say. But it is nevertheless true that no one cares about the life of the Prince Consort, while Lady Di and Kate Middleton are the focus of endless and passionate interest.

Perhaps it is also true that contemporary women have not yet decided – and, indeed, nothing obliges them to – between their thirst for power and their childhood dreams of becoming princesses subject to unmitigated adulation. Perhaps, for some women, it’s more pleasurable to be the object that is shown, exhibited, admired and desired than to become a leader open to criticism from all sides. Lacan said the women want a master that they can rule over. Is this idea entirely false today?

Jacques de Guillebon

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