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Will She Be France’s Next President?

Posted November. 18, 2006 04:17,   


In France, debates are raging over on the issue of “le président” vs. “la présidente.”

“Le président” is a male noun that means “president.” There is a female form of this word, “la présidente,” but it is not used to mean “president.” The main issue of the dispute is whether or not to give the meaning “president” to “la présidente.”

The cause of such dispute is Ségolène Royal, member of the French National Assembly who was elected on November 16 as the Socialist Party candidate for the presidential election. People are arguing about what Royal should be called in the case that she is elected president. It is popular opinion that in order to emphasize the fact that she is a woman, “la présidente” should be used, and to emphasize the office of president, “le président” should be used. The fact that such a dispute is going on shows that the possibility of her election is indeed quite high.

Born as the fourth of eight children to a colonel in Dakar, Senegal in 1953, Royal’s life has been a never-ending battle against male chauvinism. Her father was a severely patriarchal man to the degree of thinking, “The only thing for a woman to do is to bear children.” Since she was a child, Royal fought for liberation from her father’s authority.

A graduate of École nationale d`administration (ENA)-

After achieving independence from her father, Ms. Royal chose the path of a politician. After graduating from college, she attended the ENA, an institution that trains senior officials. French Socialist Party leader François Hollande, who is currently her partner, and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin were her classmates.

She entered the political world as special adviser to former president François Mitterrand. Holding the offices of Minister of Environment and Vice-Minister of Family and Childhood since 1992 during Mitterand’s term, she is said to have protected the value of the traditional family and contributed to the protection of children and expansion of women’s rights. Her most important achievements include the adoption of maternity leave for men and the banning of child pornography.

Royal became more widely known when she was elected as the regional premier of Poitou-Charentes.

Contending for the victory with the sensitivity and affinity of a woman –

The strengths of a woman boosted Royal’s popularity. She has four children with her partner, party leader François Hollande, with whom she lives with as civil partners without being traditionally married. The fact that Royal succeeded politically while being faithful to her role as a mother appealed to the public.

However, few thought of her as a presidential candidate until she announced her decision a year ago. The reason she was able to achieve such popularity in one year was because she filled the public’s need for a new change.

Although a left-wing politician, she has not hesitated to show rightist opinions. She criticized the “35 hours of labor per week” system, thought to be the most important achievement of the Socialist Party, saying, “It isn’t efficient,” and even proposed sending juvenile delinquents to military institutions, a very right-wing opinion.

Traditional socialists have criticized such actions, saying, “It makes the value of the Socialist Party fade.” Competitors mocked her, saying “She lured the public with her looks.” As her popularity increased, news magazines, the popular press, and ladies’ magazines competitively used her as their cover model. Last summer, a picture of her in a bikini during her vacation was on the cover of a magazine.

However, all public surveys showed Ms. Royal at the top of the left-wing list. Because of the fact that she is the only contender for the ruling party, some are saying that Socialist Party supporters have no choice. Public attention is increasing regarding whether the “revolution” of calling the new president “la présidente” will actually happen.