All eyes have been on French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron recently, and for far more than his politics.
You see, the politician and civil servant, who has become the unexpected front runner in the presidency race, is married to a woman who is 24 years his senior.
Google this man’s name and rather than stories about his dramatic rise to fame – he founded his own independent movement last year with 200,000 people joining its website in a year and has been backed by Barack Obama – what you’ll find is scrutiny about his love life.
Many believe there’s reason for concern. After all, the 39-year-old former investment banker met his wife, Brigitte Trogneux, 64, when she was his teacher and he was just a teen.
His parents were allegedly outraged at the ‘forbidden’ romance with the married mother-of-three whose daughter was in the same class in school as the young intellectual.
Packing him off to Paris and allegedly warning his former drama teacher to stay away from him, the couple stayed in touch and later married.
Someone who has cast aspersions on their relationship is columnist Jan Moir from the UK’s right wing Daily Mail newspaper.
Advising Macron to avoid taking his wife with him on official business or else risk being seen as “a mummy’s boy with a wife who is 25 years-older than him”, she pointed to two female leaders – Theresa May and Angela Merkel – who obviously don’t take their husbands with them because doing so would signify a threat to their authority.
She said: "Brigitte may be an amazing woman, but don't drag her everywhere with you. It looks as if she is waiting for an opportunity to wipe your mouth clean after lunch, or give you a smack for not standing up when Mrs Merkel walks into the room."
Conveniently Moir didn’t mention the male leaders who are regularly accompanied by their wives on official business. From former French president Nicolas Sarkozy whose wife Carla Bruni is 13 years his junior and Donald Trump, whose age difference with Melania is exactly the same as the one between Macron and Trogneux.
The UK’s Sunday Express newspaper labelled them ‘the odd couple’ and the Washington Post described their relationship as ‘unusual’ while critics online have described Trogneux as a ‘cougar’. Macron has also had to respond to claims that he is in fact homosexual and using his older wife as a cover.
Nevertheless, the former Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs seems to take scrutiny in his stride admitting he’s never had anything to hide.
But should he have to deal with such dissection of his private life?
Not according to leading sex therapist Bettina Arndt who accused those questioning the couple of “total hypocrisy” highlighting the abuse of children in institutions and how people “don’t give a stuff” about those cases.
Speaking on Sky News Australia, she defended the French politician and his wife saying there were so many other things we need to worry about and so many things society doesn’t discuss because they’re not ‘politically correct’ such as child abuse within the Catholic church.
Explaining that relationships are complex and Macron and his wife have been married for ten years, Arndt said: “They obviously have something of lasting rewarding union there – and bully for them I say.”
Another who refused to be offended by the Macron’s relationship was The Guardian columnist Zoe Williams who ponders that if “you would disapprove of an age disparity going one way, you at least consider why you don’t appear of it going the other.”
Why haven’t we seen countless columns exploring why Donald Trump is married to a woman 25 years his junior if it’s so surprising for an older woman to marry a man with the same age difference?
As Williams applauds Macron for turning his back on the widespread view that a woman’s attractiveness is pegged directly to how close she is to 18, it seems one thing this whole Macron debate has done is to highlight that sexism is very much alive and kicking in the 21st Century.
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