"She's a little like Marianne, the ideal of the French republic," said Réjane Sénac-Slawinski, a political scientist specializing in women and politics. "She gives the impression of being a wonder woman — a strong politician, a good mother, but also the woman every man wants to marry. Even when she makes mistakes, she's getting away with it because she says she's human, not an apparatchik."
The potency of her approach reflects the change in the political atmosphere in France. Not so long ago, male politicians would casually propose sexual encounters as they passed their female colleagues in the hallways and automatically assume that women received political appointments as rewards for sexual favors.
Every veteran woman in politics has a horror story to tell. Élisabeth Guigou, the deputy from the tough Seine-Saint-Denis area of Paris, has been called a Barbie doll behind her back and branded a whore in highway graffiti.
Françoise de Panafieu, a deputy mayor of Paris from the right-wing UMP party, who is her party's nominee for mayor of Paris in the 2008 election, was described as a "guinea hen on wheels" when she was photographed on Rollerblades in front of the National Assembly.
Roselyne Bachelot, a former minister of the environment, was portrayed on a satirical television show as simple-minded.
Still, Ms. Royal's candidacy — the first time a major French party has chosen a woman as its presidential nominee — remains an anomaly. French politics is still overwhelmingly male.
But it may be that the segment of the electorate most difficult for Ms. Royal to win over will be the country's women. Ordinary women may find it hard to relate to a middle-aged professional and mother of four who looked good enough in a bikini last summer that one popular magazine referred to her as a "siren."
"She has no hesitation saying how perfect she is," said Ms. de Panafieu, the deputy mayor, a lifelong politician who has six grandchildren and stopped dying her silver hair years ago. "She should be more modest."
I find this last comment about the difficulty in winning over woman, if true, to be quite universal. Something quite similar happened in 1960 when US Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy ran for president against Vice President Richard Nixon. Kennedy was tall, handsome, and incredibly smooth on camera, while Nixon was of average height, appearance, and exuded toughness instead of casualness. Logic would lead one to assume that Kennedy, being the younger and more attractive candidate, would win the female vote. Wrong. In one of the closest US elections in history, Kennedy won by only a small number of votes, and he actually lost the female vote overall, so he logically won the male vote. If this plays out similarly in the current French Election, it will be interesting to see if women vote end up voting for the new and attractive candidate or for the more experienced and tough Sarkozy. Perhaps it is the case that a majority of women prefer a father instead of a competing mother as president.
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