New French president Francois Hollande has been making quite a splash and in his first few days in office hasn’t yet revealed himself to be a crushing disappointment. He has taken steps towards gender equality by making sure that half of his cabinet are women: something which should not be a surprise, given that half the population are women, yet under patriarchy this is not the norm. I’ll give props to Hollande for this: he’s meeting transitional demands admirably. Next up, abolishing hierarchical power structures, I hope.
Meanwhile in the UK, right wing bog roll The Daily Mail has reported on this story rather poorly. I will not link to the article, but here’s a taster from the beginning of an article entitled “HOLLANDE’S HONEYS: NEW FRENCH PRESIDENT UNVEILS HIS CABINET OF BEAUTIES”:
Carla Bruni has only been out of the Elysee presidential Palace for a matter of days.
But already a new line-up of glamorous political beauties is threatening to make the French former first lady a distant memory.
Newly sworn in French President, Francois Hollande, last night unveiled his cabinet, led by a bevy of young, stylish Mademoiselles.
Unsurprisingly, the rest of the article is largely photographs of women’s legs with commentary on how their looks. I would really, really recommend not reading it, as this summary I have given is completely accurate and every time you look at the Mail a baby penguin dies.
The title “Hollande’s Honeys” echoes the “Blair Babes” of the nineties, which makes it ghastly enough in and of itself. It also fails at alliteration: are we meant to voice the silent “h” in “Hollande”, or are we meant to drop the “h” from “honeys”? Most importantly, though, it is sexist as hell.
Words like “babe” and “honey” manage to simultaneously sexualise and infantilise the target. They attribute characteristics of saccharine femininity, yet are also almost always used to cast the target as a sex object. While regional variations of the words apply, the intention behind the the Mail’s label is clear: look at these sexy little things doing politics! Isn’t that cute? Let’s all have a furtive wank over what they’re doing.
The fact of the matter is that Hollande’s “honeys” are highly unlikely to have been appointed as a bit of popsy, and are actually capable grown women who have successfully managed to smash through the glass ceiling and into positions of political power. Rags like the Mail, dedicated to preserving patriarchy at all costs simply cannot handle this and feel obliged to throw these women back into their place. It reminds us that women can’t be successful: we are sweet little things who walk the tightrope between whore and Madonna, teetering in our heels as we wait to be told how pretty we are.
The appointment of a cabinet which is somewhat representative of the population (at least, in terms of gender; race, disability, etc seem to be as neglected as usual) is big news: a wedge has been driven into a crack and it might just be possible to wriggle it open and smash down the wall of patriarchy. The Mail can’t let this happen, so it pretends to celebrate the success of these women by turning them back into the delicacies that they believe them to be.