12/20/2011 11:21 am ET

Anne Sinclair Named France's "Woman Of The Year," Reveals Different Perception Of Political Wives

In the U.S., when a political wife stands by her disgraced husband, she becomes an object of pity and fascination. What pain teems behind her frozen expression? Or in the case of Larry Craig's wife, very dark sunglasses?

Here, she's a modern age tragic figure. In France, however, she is apparently a heroic one.

In a CSA poll conducted for the online women's magazine Terrafemina, the French public named Anne Sinclair, the wife of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, France's Woman of the Year.

Strauss-Kahn's scandal was as sordid as they get, although the charges were eventually dropped due to doubts about the accuser's credibility. Sinclair stood by her man more staunchly than most, as she had for years before allegations made by a Sofitel Hotel housekeeper cost him not just his post at the IMF, but also his expected nomination in the 2012 French presidential election. Before the two wed, Strauss-Kahn allegedly told Sinclair that he was "an incorrigible skirt chaser." Among Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn's social milieu, France's left-of-center elite, the IMF chief was well-known as "an aggressive and incessant groper of women."

In 2006, when a newspaper asked Sinclair if she was embarrassed about her husband's reputation, she replied: "No, I'm rather proud of it." And when the news first erupted that Strauss-Kahn had allegedly attempted to rape a hotel maid, Sinclair hopped a plane to New York, paid the $1 million bail, the $5 million bond, and bought a $50,000-a-month house in Tribeca, according to the Daily Beast. Fortunately, Sinclair's grandfather was the art dealer for Picasso, Braque and Matisse, and her inheritance is rumored at around $200 million.

Sinclair defended her husband's innocence while he sat behind bars on Rikers Island, and months later, she returned with him to Paris, the two of them wearing matching smiles. And she stood by his side in the months that followed, as he dealt with another sexual assault allegation from a young French writer, rumors that he had orgies with prostitutes, and a general consensus that he was a chronic sexual harasser.

If Sinclair were American, journalists might have tried to uncover the "simmering frustration" they saw hidden under Hillary Clinton's "choreographed tranquility," when news of Bill's philandering first emerged in 1994. Commentators might have tisked at her like they did at the poor, misguided wife of Eliot Spitzer, when she said in an interview: "The wife is supposed to take care of the sex. This is my failing; I wasn't adequate." Producers might make a hit TV drama about her.

But Sinclair isn't a woman who inspires pity -- or seems to pity herself. She doesn't appear to be the kind of woman who would ask in her memoir, "How had I failed as a wife?" as Elizabeth Edwards did in "Resilience."

Perhaps her unflappability has something to do with the fact that her popularity predates her marriage. One of France's most beloved on-screen journalists in the 1980s and 90s, Sinclair was more famous than Strauss-Kahn when she interviewed him on her show in 1989. With a natural gravitas, an easy charm, and a bright blue mohair sweater, she could coax secrets from the most high-powered men, and stole at least one of their hearts.

But Strauss-Kahn's public disgrace during the past year has skyrocketed Sinclair to far greater popularity. For the Woman of the Year honor, she beat out Christine Lagarde, who replaced Sinclair's husband at the helm of the IMF, as well as the French first lady (and singer and Woody Allen cameo actress), Carla Bruni. For Sinclair, it's perhaps a bittersweet triumph, a reminder of how close Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn were to becoming France's first Jewish couple-in-chief. Polls showed that 52 percent of the French Republic wanted them in the Elysee Palace.

The French aren't more unfaithful than Americans. In her 2007 book "Lust in Translation," Pamela Druckerman conducted dozens of interviews on infidelity in 10 different countries and found that the French may even cheat less than people elsewhere. But they are more tolerant of the idea.

A May Gallup poll that asked participants which behaviors they consider the most morally reprehensible, Americans ranked an extramarital affair at the very top (91 percent), beating out polygamy, cloning humans, abortion, andrsuicide. Another Gallup poll conducted in 2008 found that less than a third of Americans would be willing to forgive a spouse for infidelity.

In France, affairs are more widely accepted as a fact of many marriages. "Anne Sinclair is both a heroine and a kind of anti-heroine for women in France," said Terrafemina spokeswoman Veronique Morali. "Women look at the problems they face in their own lives and seem to identify with her."

Perhaps the problem they identify with is one identified by France-based American journalist Michael Johnson, who has confessed his own infatuation with Sinclair. Johnson wrote earlier this year in The American Spectator that Strauss-Kahn proved the old adage: "Show me a man who is married to a beautiful woman, and I'll show you a man who's tired of sleeping with her."