‘5,000 would be a deterrent’: the French minister who wants sexual harassment fines


Meet Marlne Schiappa, the 34 -year old blogger and novelist at the very heart of Emmanuel Macrons revolution

The walk from the Gare du Nord across the Seine to Frances centre of power, a string of buildings off the Quai dOrsay, takes a pleasant, circuitous hour: the itinerary is a sightseers dream. But for Marlne Schiappa, Frances freshly appointed gender equality pastor, the streets of Paris are the frontline in a campaign between the sexes. Where I recognize boutiques and fresh fruits and vegetable stallings, coffeehouse and splendid architecture, Schiappas eye is drawn instead to the idling boys ogling young women; to the handsome displays in every pharmacy window advertise weight-loss solutions Minceur Th Vert( Slimming Green Tea ), Ventre Plat( Flat Stomach and illustrated by photographs of delighted young women use a tape measure as a hop-skip rope. France is paradoxical, Schiappa tells me. We are the country of Simone de Beauvoir, of feminist hypothesi and ideology. But we are also a Latin country with entrenched stereotypes.

She greets me warmly in what must have once been a grand dining room; the parliamentary district in the 7th arrondissement has not changed much because it vast mansions were to construct nobility in the 18 th century. It is the day before Theresa May will satisfy Emmanuel Macron, Frances youngest ever president, who assumed office on 14 May. At 39, with no campaigning experience, Macron has surrounded himself with young cabinet members who are new to politics, as a style of making a clean break with his socialist predecessor Francois Hollande. This week he made businesswoman Florence Parly minister for the armed forces( defence for four of the EUs five largest economies is now overseen by wives ); he has appointed Tv presenter Nicolas Hulot as environmental and social transition rector( the equivalent of Theresa May dedicating David Attenborough a cabinet post ).

But Macrons most controversial appointment is Schiappa, at 34 the youngest is part of his cabinet, whom he has put in charge of equality between men and women, with a brief to tackle the gender pay gap and be enhanced womens rights in the workplace. A former advertising executive-turned-author, shes best known as a campaigner and blogger, and has outraged Frances right wing with her unapologetic feminism.

She depicts me into her airy, high-ceilinged office which is something we sit on new modern chairs, her substitution for the stuffy furniture that used to be here. This is the room where Schiappa has begun hauling in public figures to call them out on sexist behaviour( and then tweet of determining whether the meet purposed satisfactorily ). She wears gold hoop earrings, her long, thick whisker pulled back in a loose knot, and is friendly and straightforward in a way thats still rare in top-level politics.

Schiappa says that Macron did particularly well with female voters in the presidential elections. Why does she think that is? He was the first to tell, Im a feminist. Second, because he believes in parity in parliament. Exactly half cabinet ministers is female. Plus, she mentions, unlike other politicians, he went out and listened to people. Really listened.

Schiappas first objective is to tackle sexual harassment on the street. Its a huge phenomenon in France. Its that minute when a man is strolling behind a woman, talking to her, and the woman can do nothing, because shes alone. She doesnt scream for help, because she reckons, Its not that bad, Ill stroll, Ill escape. Men feel its acceptable: theyre being the French admirer. Women are molested on modes of public transport so frequently, Schiappa tells, that many will dress in ways to avoid it before they use the Mtro or bus. Its enough of a number of problems that the previous government launched an anti-harassment campaign called Stop: Thats Enough to encourage people to report any incidents. In France, if a woman is sexually assaulted, her first think is, Now Im dirty and no one will ever want to marry me the social responsibility of the victim.

Her solution is on-the-spot penalties. Macron has pledged to expand the police force by 10,000 in the course of the coming five years: why not give them powers to police sexism in the same way they do smokers who drop their cigarettes? Twenty euros would be a bit humiliating, 5,000 would be more of a discouraging. At the moment, many boys are mentioning, Its not a big deal, is no more than having fun. And we say, No. She mentions shell be nailing down a precise strategy with the justice secretary soon.

Schiappa intends to take a similarly revolutionary approach to closing the pay gap. In France, women earn between 12% and 27% less than humankinds, is dependent on sector. Her proposal is that major companies will be invited to consult privately with the government on solutions. Those who refuse is likely to be named and shamed.

She is also keen to discuss what she describes as Frances culture of rape. Minimising rape or finding condones, she elucidates, before offering an example. The former vice president of the National Assembly, Denis Baupin, has been accused by eight women of sexual assault and he wasnt burnt. Baupin denies the allegations, some of which date back 15 times, and has cease his role after pressure from political leaders and the press. No accusations were brought because the statute of limitations had expired( in France, it is just three years for sexual harassment cases ).

Marlne Schiappa and Emmanuel Macron on modes of public transport in Le Mans, October 2016. Photograph: Chamussy/ Sipa/ Rex/ Shutterstock

The French media does not assistance, Schiappa tells: You never say the word rapist in an article in France. You say, A wife has been raped or A girl who claims to have been raped. They never tell, A human raped a woman. Its to hide the rapist. Its victim-blaming.

Another part of Schiappas brief is to tackle homophobia a huge task, as illustrated by a fulfill she had last week at the town hall in Le Mans. I was talking about a proposal around LGBT rights, and one humankind, an elected official from the far right, told, You forgot the Z. I asked him what he intended. LGBTZ, he said. Z expressed support for zoophile. The official objective up making a donation to a LGBT association. As minister for equality, its business as usual for me. Theyre everywhere. Theres no need to insult them in return. We have to fight them and defend our ideas, but more loudly.


Schiappa first entered politics in 2014, when she stood as successful candidates in the municipal elections in Le Mans, her home suburb. She was elected and became deputy mayor, in charge of gender equality and a engineering project. The following year, she met Macron, then minister of the economy under Hollande, at a French technology event. She tells she satisfied him on simply 13 more occasions before the governmental forces task was hers. In the intervening years, she worked in what was then “ve called the” Ministry of Family, Children and Womens Rights, where she drew up a new measure to introduce increased transparency in nursery applications( the French system is riddled with dishonesty; waiting lists are long and there are widespread accusations of bribery and favouritism ). When Macron launched his presidential campaign last August, Schiappa was quick to subsistence him.

Schiappa is Corsican, and grown up in a multiracial council property north of Paris. She has said she became a feminist at 13 when she realised how, unlike her father-god( a leftwing historian ), she was unable to walk the street unharassed; she and other women in the community would plan self-defence strategies. Her father proved her how to make a knuckle-duster out of her house keys.

She now has two daughters aged 10 and five; her husband( whom she retains out of the public eye) co-wrote some of her volumes. When she had her first daughter, she was working in advertising. The women in me, they had one, two, three children; they were in fulfills really late in the day. I was asking, How do you do this? How do you look after your children when you are working that hard? I belief operating moms has been a big topic in the United Kingdom for a long time, but in France it was not. There was no ministry of womens rights at the time, and it was not in the public debates. I began the blog[ Maman Travaille] and then set up a subsistence network of operating mothers, to talk and to put together proposals for politics and companies.

The blog was a hit, in part because the head of Yahoo in France had infants, loved it and promoted it online. Word spread; Schiappa was interviewed in French Elle, in Madame Figaro. She left advertising to spend more time with her daughter, then began writing novels. She joined another ad agency, but got pregnant again, so I left. She wrote more, expanding her repertoire to non-fiction books on motherhood and feminism; names include Letters To My Uterus and Who Are The Rapists? A novel she published in 2014, No More Than Four Hours Sleep A Night, is being turned into a film.

Schiappa debated Marine Le Pen in 2012, at a symposium arranged by French Elle. She was talking about what the extreme right called solace abortion she fabricated the expression mentioning there were women having abortions 10 or 12 times per year and that the country poor white people was paying for it. The French far right is known for its combating racism and xenophobia, but less is said about its misogyny. Marine Le Pen wanted to stop state-funding for abortions, Schiappa mentions. Two members of this house wrote a proposal to ban wives from working. When you are a woman who is from the suburbium, and you are young, and you are to the left of politics, youre unacceptable. But the radical right has insulted every single woman before me.

How does she imagine a woman rose to the top of such a misogynistic party? Two reasons, Schiappa tells: Because she adopts a masculine style. She speaks aloud shes yelling, shes hollering; she wants to humiliate the person or persons she is talking to. And because its a family business. If you are a woman and your name is not Le Pen, you cannot have a career in the Front National. Its household before womens rights.

Schiappa in her agency. Photograph: Emmanuel Fradin for the Guardian

Of all Macrons new cabinet members, Schiappa has outlined the nastiest criticism. The right wing is specially vexed by her positions on Frances sexually predatory and chauvinistic male culture. Critics dislike her plans to introduce country maternity cover for self-employed ladies, and to make artificial insemination available for lesbian, older and single women( its currently available only for heterosexual pairs ). They are squeamish about other campaigns: earlier this year, she was part of a group that said French mothers are being treated as offenders for choosing to bottlefeed rather than breastfeed. Some have grabbed on one of her more light-hearted volumes about motherhood, in which she advised ladies how to prolong maternity leave( humorously, she tells ): Make yourself ugly, come across as traumatised, exaggerate everything; she was encouraging women to victimize the nation, her critics argued. She has not escaped censure from the left, either accused of being a masculiniste( anti-feminist) for a book she wrote more than a decade ago in praise of the sex power of overweight women.

In the three articles Le Figaro write about Schiappa in the week I fulfill her, they claim, variously, that she is the woman to save French politics; that she has an adolescents addiction to social media; and that she is a tl-feministe for posting an online video interviewing women in Paris about their experiences of sexual harassment. But the Fachosphre[ the fascist internet] and its appendages can continue their neverending flow of detest, Schiappa tweeted last week. It will never stop me from working!

She is frustrated that some of the cultural myths about French ladies persevere: that they dont get fat; that French newborns sleep through the night; that French toddlers dont throw meat. All of that is not true, Schiappa tells, riled. But we hear it everywhere. Of course French girls are all different weights, and weight is a factor of discrimination. What the bestsellers on French women and their supposed perfection totally miss, she tells, is Frances sexist way of life. She says that married women are still expected to abide by their devoir conjugal, or conjugal duty to have sex. Sexism travels top down: Ccile Duflot[ a Green legislator] was catcalled in the National Assembly because she was wearing a dress with buds on it. The stance, even at the very top is, Cest la vie.

Schiappa( back row, second from left) with members of Macrons new government. Photo: Philippe Wojazer/ AFP/ Getty Images

Schiappa supports the ban on religious garment in schools, but has also was contended that moms should be permitted to enter school grounds in a veil, otherwise they would be ostracised from their childrens education( they are now allowed to by law ). But she warns against too much religious tolerance. Feminism can be obstructed by the banner of anti-racism. For instance, how people denied what happened in Cologne[ when there were large-scale sexual assaults on New Years Eve 2015 ]. Feminism cant have ideological barricades. Will her brief include Muslim communities? You know, in France, we dont think about communities. We are a revolutionary French Rpublique. There is just one community. This is a French law, the separation between church and nation. Its a statement that I doubt is widely shared across France.

When she was a freelancer, scarce childcare meant Schiappa is most often take their own children to meetings. As deputy mayor, she made a point of leaving study punctually at 4pm to do the school operate. At first, I said to myself, Oh my God, Im rude. Then ladies came to say, Thank you for doing that, because now we are doing the same thing. So I belief, if you have the power to build these things visible, it is necessary, because other people will benefit. When youre on a salary, its hard to tell your boss or colleagues, Hey, Im bringing their own children to the session. But I use my power because I get to decide.

Schiappa are worried about domestic equality, too, she mentions. We started with public life, and now we have to change professional and private life. People dont want the nation to enter their families and tell men to rinse the dishes. But equal opportunities is good for men, she argues. Many father-gods dont take their 11 periods paternity leave, because they are afraid of losing their jobs.

Macron has acted promptly on his pledge to create equality in parliament: he fielded equal number of male and female candidates in this months election, and appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, with 11 of 22 posts taken by females. Last weekends elections returned the most important one ever number of female legislators( 38.5% of the seats ). We have a female ministers responsible for sport who is a former champion[ fencer Laura Flessel comprises the record for the most medals won by a French female Olympian ]. And Im glad we have a woman as defense minister, because I can tell two daughters, You can fight even if you are a woman you can make war, you are able to make peace, too. Now we have four women for every 10 people in parliament. Before Macron, it was two in 10. More ladies intends its going to be more unacceptable to catcall a woman if she wears a flowery dress to work.

Half of Macrons new legislators are complete unknowns, reflecting a wider shifting in politics in the west. This is a rejection of the establishment that Schiappa is proud to be part of. Yes, more people from civil society are coming into politics, she says. I think we realise that we need real people , not concepts or abstractions. This is real life we tell it like it is. What does she say to those who say she lacks the political experience to hold a government post? Well, she giggles, I have life experience and I think its quite enough. And we know now that people with political experience dont have much success. The country is not in a good nation. So let us try.

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