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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Fashion and French politics: Ségolène Royal's cleavage ban

There are two undeniable certainties in (French) politics.

Firstly, any woman attempting to climb the proverbial greasy pole will be judged as much on how she looks and what she wears as she will be on what she says and does.

And secondly, when Ségolène Royal is around, the world of French politics is going to be a damn sight more interesting.

So put the two together and, regardless of the veracity of the story, it's going to make the headlines.

Such was the case recently when the weekly news magazine Le Point, reported that since taking over at the environment ministry at the beginning of April, Royal had put into effect a series of...let's call them "behavioural measures"... for want of a better term.

Others have called them "draconian".

First up is a so-called "co-working" scheme whereby each office at the ministry has to be occupied by at least two people. Revolutionary huh?

Then there's the ban on smoking in the garden of the ministry building - at least when Royal is around and, when she's tucking into her midday meal, her advisors have been requested to use another corridor so that they don't "disturb" her.

Fair makes the mind boggle doesn't it?

Determined also to show who's boss, Royal also apparently wants staff to stand up (to attention?) whenever she passes (or does her rounds perhaps).

But the measure which has had the French media chattering most is the reported ban on women wearing low cut tops at work.

In other words presumably, they're being asked not to show too much cleavage.

The story (or rumour, if you like) quickly made the headlines.

Le Figaro,  BFM TV and of course Closer (all right, so that's a little like quoting the Daily Mail on steroids, but every angle should be convered, don't you think?) were just a few of the many media outlets that had something to say.

And even after Royal took to Twitter, initially to call the accusations "ridiculous" and later to insist more firmly that the only rules that had been laid down were those "to ensure that public funds were used correctly and in a manner the French would expect", the story had become one of those typical media phenomena, created out of rumour and sustained by its own existence

Producers at Le Grand Journal on Canal + showed that they had indeed missed the class on ethics at journalism school by sending a reporter to the ministry armed with a hidden camera and microphone to ask women working there whether there was any truth to the story.

There was apparently.

And Le Point, not to be outdone and insistent on giving its own "exclusive" report more legs, filed a follow-up, asking other female ministers what they felt about the subject.

A good idea, thought the rest of the media and so the story continued to "evolve".

Too bad that when interviewed on BFM TV, the person who you would probably expect to have most to say on the issue, the minister for women's rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, could only come up with the feeble response that she "wasn't really sure what was meant by the term 'cleavage'."

Now, in case you think this is just a Segger's "one off", think again.

As L'Express, another weekly news magazine reported before the story in Le Point broke, "the Iron lady" as she's now being called (no need to ask where the French media picked up that expression) has also banned all that kissy-kissy "bise" nonsense preferring "staff to greet her with a more formal handshake".

Ah, welcome back Seggers. You've been missed.

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