It has been widely reported that France’s socialist president, François Hollande, has been having an affair with actor (and socialist), Julie Gayet. (She is some twenty years younger than he is.) Unsurprisingly, that has made headlines, yet for our purposes here it is the reaction outside of France that is perhaps most worth addressing. One example, Cristina Odone in Britain’s The Telegraph:
….[The] Gallic attitude to sex gets lost in translation. A fun pastime in France becomes inflated, by puritanical Britons, into a central preoccupation. Sex – and not just among the elite – is seen here as something secretive (and often smutty). An illicit liaison can ruin reputations: even when the spouse forgives, the public won’t….
Knowing the pitfalls, as regular readers may know by now I tried to avoid sweeping generalizations in the novel. But when it comes to a blog post sometimes making a few is unavoidable. That caveat duly shared, okay, here we go….
“Anglo-Saxons” – essentially, native English-speakers are to many French all “Anglo-Saxons” – mostly read too much into the French public’s apparent indifference to the sexual antics of its leaders. It is not that the French are uninterested, though. After all, the French gossip magazine, Closer, broke the Hollande story, and newsstands across the country sold out of the issue within hours. The Irish Times provides some details:
Closer installed paparazzi in an apartment across the street from the love nest where the couple have allegedly met since last June. A series of six photos show, in chronological order, Gayet’s arrival at 10.48pm on December 30th, a security sweep by Hollande’s bodyguard at 11.24pm and Hollande’s arrival one minute later. The bodyguard delivers croissants at 8.03 the following morning. Hollande departs at 11.18am; Gayet an hour later. Because Hollande always wears the motorcycle helmet outside, he cannot be identified with certainty.
Clearly, like millions of others across the globe, many French enjoy gossip. Yet the national consensus seems to be that sexual behavior – be it inside of marriage or out – is primarily a private matter involving the two people concerned and is not relevant to public policy. If we think about it, since the Clinton presidency Americans’ opinions have moved more in that general direction as well.
However, apparently what is less understood in English-speaking countries, where most get their information about France primarily through a media lens, is that the ideal of “the family” remains central in French life. Perhaps that ideal is clung to even more tightly now by many in France than in English-speaking lands. A curious “Anglo-Saxon” media inconsistency in reporting on France is a tendency to rush to portray the country as much more “sexually relaxed” than either the U.S. or Britain, while paying scant attention to the obsession of many in France with “the family.”
For example, in the often huge La Manif Pour Tous protests opposing the introduction of “marriage for all” by the Hollande government, while some protesters doubtless disliked homosexuality it was not disapproval of same-sex marriage per se that most fired the protests. Same-sex marriage between consenting adults, and even the State “blessing” such a union, was, again, seen by many to most as a private issue. The biggest complaint with same-sex marriage voiced by many of the protesters was its introduction required the State also create a legal framework which would see children placed, through adoption or IVF, into households that did not include both a mother and a father.
And if one looks closely at the protesters, interestingly many were young women. It appears the notion of the “Gallic attitude to sex” being “lost in translation” is true to this extent at least: “Anglo-Saxon” media appears to believe that, as a rule, the “average” young Frenchwoman “sleeps around.” In that, it seems too many in that media have watched way too many films. On the contrary, overall she is much more likely to be family-focused, view sex seriously, and to reserve her sexual interest for the man she loves.
While “elites” like a president and a film actor may behave in their silly ways, the “average” Frenchwoman is apt to see herself as the foundation upon which the Republic truly stands. While certainly she loves her husband/ partner (the father of her children), she is just as likely to think of her man…. as being a man…. and therefore by definition he requires looking after alongside the children. She knows full well if he isn’t, eventually he may evolve into an aging fool, who ends up trying to hide his identity with a motorcycle helmet in the middle of the night while ridiculously rendezvousing with a woman young enough to be his daughter.