You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Cheating on Your Wife Does Not Mean You Aren't A Feminist


In the midst of the Anthony Weiner scandal last year, there was a predictable discussion about Wiener's treatment of his wife, Huma Abedin. I wrote at the time that cheating on your spouse may prove that you are an ass, but it does not mean you are necessarily a bad Congressman or president or leader. (MLK Jr. and Mandela cheated on their respective wives; Gandhi barely took his wife's opinion into account when he decided to be celibate.)

The scandal in France involving the French president, François Hollande, has also elicited commentary about what Hollande's cheating means for his presidency. Unfortunately, people seem to keep forgetting that being obnoxious to your spouse is not proof that you are a poor leader or a hater of women. And yet here is Elaine Sciolino, in The New York Times:

Some critics are branding him with centuries-old, prefeminist aspersions: “mufle” and “goujat.” Both mean essentially the same thing: “lout.” “He’s a mufle, which means he behaves in a way that is both disrespectful and vulgar,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leftist former senator and presidential candidate, said in an interview. “It’s the opposite of seduction. Seduction involves elegance and has the goal of pleasing others. This is grossly macho behavior.”

Fair enough, but what does this have to do with his presidency? Sciolino continues: 

This is a long way from the image Mr. Hollande projected in his 2012 campaign when he called himself a “feminist” determined to fight “the battle for equality.” This week, he followed his announcement about his personal life with another kind of repudiation of women: He caved in under pressure from the right and shelved a plan to reform family law.

There is a remarkable amount wrong with this paragraph. First, there is the idea that a politician who cheats on his longtime partner is by definition ill equipped to fight for female equality. And second is the misguided comment about a repudiation of women. Excuse me, but cheating is not a repudiation of an entire gender. (It should also be noted that Sciolino seems to be saying that this plan to reform family law is a good thing, which seems like a big step for a reporter.)

Meanwhile, in The Telegraph, Hollande's advisors are fretting that he should remain a bachelor, lest he be perceived as too, well, something or another. I particularly liked this bit: 

While the deeply unpopular Mr Hollande has seen no further drop in his approval ratings after news of the affair, pollsters and political allies say he must make a quick, clear decision or the French will lose patience.

“In this affair, there must be no twists or turns because it would be dangerous for his image,” said Frédéric Dabi, of the Ifop polling institute. “It would start looking like vaudeville. The French would moreover get the feeling their president is not focusing on them.”

Right. If the media obsesses about Hollande's love life, and takes up all the press space, people will start complaining that Hollande isn't focused on important issues. And then the media can report about that!