French sexual politics sizzle for Hollande

Sexual politics in France will never be the same now that the not-so-secret love affair between French president Francois Hollande and French actress Julie Gayet has been exposed by the magazine Closer.

In the past French presidents have been shielded from scandal by a discreet media and a French people who were not interested in the sexual goings-on of their head of state anyway.

However, the closet door has been thrown open dramatically and it is unlikely that Hollande, nor any other French president to come will be allowed “la vie privee’’.   And in French society, as in the ages of the Louis Kings of France, that means keeping mistresses under wraps.   French president Francois Mitterand had his long-term mistress Anne Pingeot and he kept her and their 21-year-old daughter Mazarine as a secret family.  It only made news around the world when Mitterand’s widow Daniele Mitterand invited Pingeot and Mazarine to the funeral, many years after he left the presidency.

Mme Mitterandwrote about her husband “Francois the Seducer’’ in a book All in Freedom:

“I see how my husband excelled in the art of seduction towards the young girls who passed by here. He was Francois the seducer.’’

Her renowned attitude to his philandering was “That is part of life’’.

All this went on during his 14 years as president without a whiff of scandal of infidelity hitting the presses until a year before his death.

Now the French media has lifted its own taboo about prying into politicians’ private lives and has gone for the jugular of Hollande in an unprecedented frenzy of attention.

Anyone surprised by the fact that Francois Hollande has snuck out at night on a motor cycle to have intimate “liaisons’’ with Gayet, have not read the opening paragraph of a new book entitled How The French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom. Sub-titled 900 Years of Passion and Romance, she begins:

“How the French love love! It occupies a privileged place in their national identity, on a par with fashion, food and human rights. A French man or woman without desire is considered defective, like someone missing the sense of taste or smell.’’

And its interesting that the French also accept just as readily as passion the fact that love includes the darker elements that other nationalities are reluctant to admit as normal “jealous, suffering, extramarital  sex, multiple lovers, crimes of passion, disillusion, even violence.’’

To the French people, Hollande’s sexual behaviour is not necessarily unusual.  This is the attitude from a society which constructed its attitudes towards love, passion and infidelity on notions that sexual passion has its own justification. For hundreds of years a different moral overlay has evolved, founded in French courts, and is accepted by the vast number of French people today.

The problem for Francois Hollande is that his illicit night life has happened when the French economy is in crisis and there he is indulging in l’amour a la francaise for quite a few months. And it has happened under the nose of the “First Lady’ his companion and live-in partner in Elysees Palace, the unpopular Valerie Trierweiler, former journalist of Paris Match.

Valerie can hardly be surprised, despite her collapse and hospitalisation on Friday afternoon when she discovered the truth.  It was she who stole Hollande from his common law wife of 24 years, Socialist politician Segolene Royale, when she was campaigning to be the first female president of France.  Hollande and Royale have four children together.

Did not anyone tell Valerie of the adage “What goes around, comes around?’’ .

Ms Trierweiler, 48,  had been having an affair with Hollande since the mid 2000s, but only moved into the Elysees Palace as France’s First Lady in 2012 following his election as French president. He reputedly was having an affair with Trierweiler while living with Segolene Royale, and when she confronted him about  the affair while campaigning for President, he refused to give up the mistress.  So Segolene  ended the relationship.  (All this happened under the radar of political campaigning.)

Royale lost to Sarkozy, but in a trick of fate, her cheating man, Hollande was the one to be elected president five years  later.

Monsieur President Hollande, an ordinary-looking French fellow,  is the first president not to be married in office; the first president to take his live-in girlfriend into the Palace as First Lady living in a de facto relationship.  And now as the worm turns, it seems Ms Gayet, at 41 years of age, has won his heart and Hollande is the first president not to deny the affair, but to plead for his right to “la vie privee’’.

In her epilogue  Marilyn Yalom provides insight into tolerance of infidelity where she explains that  French myths and literature are filled with iconic sexually vibrant women – mistresses such as Diane de Poitiers, lovers such as George Sand, distressed wives such as Madame Vovary, and experimental women such as Simone de Beauvoir, Colette and Madame de Stael.

As for men, there is hardly one hero who has not indulged in illicit sex or extramarital affairs, beginning with Abilard, the kings, francois 1, Henri II, Henri IV, Louis XIV and Louis VXI.  Every French schoolkid will know the famous mistresses of the Louis kings.  And into contemporary times, French presidents have certainly become “virile models”, none more so than Francois Mitterand. Perhaps it has something to do with the same Christian names.

It is unlikely the  deeply unpopular president will suffer any long term consequences.  One newspaper snap poll reveals that 77 per cent of the French people have not changed their view of Hollande because of the scandal.  Another French newspaper is even suggesting that people will now hold Hollande in higher esteem because he has been proven to be the “vrai’’ (real) president by taking a mistress in such a bold manner.  And it is engaging its public by holding a survey to find out.

As for the First Lady?  The French  people would be delighted if he gave Valerie Trierweiler her marching orders out of the Elysees Palace.  If a defining feature of love A La francaise is its forthright insistence on  “carnal satisfaction’’ then Hollande will cling to his new-found love, refusing once more to give up his next mistress, the actress/comedien, Julie Gayet.

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1 Comment to “French sexual politics sizzle for Hollande”

  1. By Marie Jonsson-Harrison, 08/02/2014 @ 7:57 pm

    Dear Nadine,
    This truly is a wonderful article just FABULOUS and no wonder it was in the Herald and also in the Advertiser’s Boomer magazine. Extremely interesting with all the background
    information about Mitterands and Hollandes pasts and then with all
    the historic references without getting bogged down and boring at all. It had such a fresh feel with the “What goes around comes around” and the sprinkling of French phrases as well. You have such a knowledge of all things french which really shows through. I have read many of your articles and loved
    a lot of them, and this one is certainly up there on my favorites list. Oliver would be so proud 🙂
    Big Hug and Love, Marie xxx

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