Magazine article The New Yorker

Cherchez la Femme

Magazine article The New Yorker

Cherchez la Femme

Article excerpt

Cherchez La Femme

Last month, just before “Saturday Night Live” parodied Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot as wine-swilling reactionaries, Marlène Schiappa, a Frenchwoman with significantly greater authority on gender issues, made a quick visit to New York. Schiappa is the gender-equality minister in President Emmanuel Macron’s government. A former blogger (her Web site, Maman Travaille, was among the country’s first online resources for working mothers) and author (she edited an anthology called “Letters to My Uterus”), she is, according to a recent poll, the fourth most popular member of the Macron cabinet, and among the most outspoken. Since her appointment, last May, she has campaigned against les violences obstétricales—painful or traumatizing procedures that women undergo during childbirth, including unnecessary episiotomies. The day after the publication of the Deneuve letter, which Schiappa deemed “dangerous,” she exchanged friendly tweets with Asia Argento, one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers.

“The French feminist movement has never been a single bloc, it’s never been monolithic,” Schiappa said upon her return to Paris, receiving a visitor in her office. Among other jabs the Deneuve letter made at American-style feminism, it denounced the “puritanism” of the #MeToo movement. Schiappa went on, “In France, when one wants to say that we mustn’t go too far, the expression is ‘We must not Americanize society.’ As if people in the United States don’t seduce each other, don’t have relationships. I was in New York for two days. I took elevators with men. They didn’t make me sign a contract beforehand saying that I wasn’t going to sue them. It’s even possible that some of them might have flirted.”

Schiappa, who is thirty-five, had gone to New York to attend a conference on women in corporate leadership. Her itinerary left no time for extracurriculars. “I ate a club sandwich,” she said. Her impressions owed as much to Tocqueville as they did to Lena Dunham and to Jezebel, both of whom she cited as influences. “I always notice the energy and the volunteerism that exist in America,” she said. “Regarding the place of women, the reflex in France is to say, ‘What’s the state going to do for me?’ ” In New York, Schiappa had announced that the French government was creating, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, a task force, in order, she said, “to take the best of public engagement from France, and the best of private engagement from the States.”

Macron has designated gender equality the grande cause of his five-year term. In the legislative elections last June, half of his party’s slate of candidates were women. …

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