These past weeks, French and international press has placed the private life of the President, Francois Hollande, his now former companion, Valerie Trierweiler and a French actress, Julie Gayet, on the front page non-stop. Yes, this is gossip, titillating and voyeuristic. And yes, it sells.
I watched and listened to a few interviews with Ms. Trierweiler but do not know her or anyone who knows her, but my impression is that, whatever her faults, (and she has some like we all do), she actually is a pretty straightforward outspoken woman.
Couples go through breakups, including cheating all the time. That is the simply soap opera part of it. But what happened to this woman, like what has been recently happening in the press concerning Texas Senator Wendy Davis and soon to be candidate for President, Hillary Clinton, is extremely disturbing.
These women have all been attacked in the press in ways which are very specific to the fact that they are women. They have attacked in ways that men would not be attacked. Wendy Davis was set upon recently (and well-defended by her daughters in two great letters) for having attended Harvard Law School while her husband helped finance her degree and takes care of the children. How many women have done that for their husbands? More than men that's for sure! And Hillary was attacked for standing by her man during tough times that many a couple goes through. All this while suffering the pain and embarrassment of having been cheated on by her spouse.
This recent attack on Valerie Treirweiler, who worked as a journalist and who did not seek power herself, but who happened to fall in love with a man who did have those ambitions, was frankly unacceptable. It felt as if the decision was already made form the moment Pres. Hollande was elected, to get rid of her. Her popularity was low with the French in general, but the way the media treated her was frankly unbecoming of those who are her colleagues. The way that the affair was exposed and the way that she was treated, both by her former partner, and by many close to power, was not only not elegant, it was like a beheading.
I don't really care about the affair with the French actress, and she may be more popular, but this is not high school. A professional woman was literally hounded and attacked and I would say chased out of the country to find some peace. We saw something similar with Cecilia Sarkozy, as it is not easy to remain in a place where your ex is literally running the country.
When Hillary was facing the Monica Lewinski horrors, she and her daughter escaped to Morocco. They spent a week or so travelling and protected from the media onslaught. It is humiliating to have your painful dirty laundry aired in public, but most would say, that is part of the package of being a public figure.
Yet we look at well-known men, I think of male politicians who are thrice married, have cheated on wives, and male journalists who would never be expected to give up their careers simply because their partner was a politician, CEO or otherwise. They may make the front page as do their lovers (John Edwards) but there is a special way that the press attacks strong women.
They attack them simply because they are strong. This is really threatening to some men, and even some women. They are attacked because they do not follow the rules and keep their mouths shut. As Wendy Davis said the other day, they chose the wrong Texas gal to pick a fight with... and I agree. She will fight back.
Hillary Clinton fought back.
Valerie Trierweiler is and will be fighting back; we may indeed learn a few things about how power operates if she writes a book.
I hope she does.
But most of all, I hope to see more and more strong outspoken women not putting up with this kind of treatment. I expect to see the media taking women seriously. I demand that women have not only a place at the table and in board rooms all around the world, but that they receive equal pay (thank you President Obama for that in your SOTU the other night) and that this harassment by weak men and women who are envious, and trite, stop immediately.
As I already mentioned, we are not in high school. This is bullying and it needs to stop now. It sends a message that women can be abused and that to be a strong woman can mean placing oneself in harm's way. We need to all make sure men and women work together to create a world, which allows all voices to be heard with respect and dignity.