After banning the burqa, French lawmakers target floral dresses
An embarassing spectacle took hold of the French parliament on Tuesday when a Socialist government minister turned up to work in a floral dress. Rightwing lawmakers raised their eyebrows and hooted as minister of territories and housing, Cécile Duflot, took to the podium to speak about an architecture project.
Centrist MP Jean-Christophe Fromantin called on the hecklers to pipe down and listen up, allowing Duflot to address the house. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she began, but before adding “obviously more gentlemen than ladies…”.
The reaction could have gone two ways in France, where the nasty 2011 Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair was initially received with more amusement than ire, and ogling or getting ogled at work comes as part of the job. Reassuringly, the majority of French twitterers took pity on Duflot, denouncing the MPs as a “bunch of sexist imbeciles” who “can’t see beyond their testosterone levels”.
Not surprisingly, the “sexist imbeciles” in question denied any wrongdoing. “We were just admiring her,” conservative MP Patrick Balkany (pictured right) told French daily Le Figaro. “If she didn’t want us to take an interest in her, then she shouldn’t have changed her look.” Adding insult to injury, he suggested that she had only worn the dress “to get us to listen to what she had to say.” MP Jaqcues Myard (picture bottom right) went one sorry step further, telling Le Point magazine that the catcalls were a way of “paying homage to the beauty of this woman”.
Clearly, 64-year-old Myard and 63-year-old Balkany have never been told that whistling and catcalling is far from what most women consider “paying homage to their beauty”, or that “paying homage to a woman’s beauty” is something best left to more romantic circumstances.
Deciding what to ban women from wearing has long proved a nuisance for France’s political elite. Long before the contentious “burqa ban”, middle-aged, upper-class Frenchmen struggled to enforce their dress-code convictions on the female masses.
In 1799, French lawmakers banned women in Paris from “dressing like a man”. The ban targeted trousers in particular, ruling that women wishing to cover her legs with trousers must obtain police permission beforehand and prove their medical reasons for doing so. The law is futile today – although it still exists – but even in the 1970s it could be found lurking in mainstream political circles.
In 1972; then cabinet advisor Michèle Alliot-Marie (pictured above left) turned up at the Assemblée Nationale in trousers, forcing the guard at the door to apprehend her. “If my trousers offend you, I’ll take them off at once,” she quipped. No more questions were asked. But four years later, in 1976, then universities minister Alice Saunier-Seïté found herself in trouble with the prime minister, Jacques Chirac, for breaching the same decree. By wearing trousers, he declared, she was “defaming both her position [as minister] and the image of France.”
As for Cécile Duflot and her ground-breaking attire, it’s not the first time her wardrobe has ruffled conservative feathers. When she turned up to the new Socialist government’s first council meeting in May, she was bashed for wearing jeans (see right). Asked to comment on the issue by Le Figaro daily, Duflot said she was too busy working. Perhaps her male colleagues should take note…