French Feminists Protest Le Pen Even as She Pulls in Women

(Bloomberg) -- Feminist groups in France protested on Sunday against the prospect of Marine Le Pen’s party governing the country even as the National Rally pulls in a greater proportion of women voters.

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The several thousand protesters marching in Paris were reckoning with a difficult reality: Le Pen has made progress in casting her party as a defender of women’s rights despite the distrust among many feminist groups.

“Marine Le Pen has succeeded with her effort to de-demonize her party, but we won’t be fooled,” said Chloe Rougeyres, 32, holding a sign opposing Le Pen’s deputy, Jordan Bardella, 28, who would be the party’s choice for prime minister should it win a majority of seats in parliament. “The problem is that he may fool some people who aren’t following politics closely.”

Le Pen has made a considerable attempt to overhaul her party’s image and move past comments by its co-founder — and her father — Jean-Marie Le Pen that were seen by many as misogynistic, antisemitic, racist, and homophobic. It’s an effort that has had an impact. The proportion of women prepared to vote for the National Rally jumped 10 points to 30% between European parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2024, according to polling company Ipsos.

Among her actions, Le Pen ousted her father from the party and rebranded herself as a “feminist who isn’t hostile toward men.” She also altered her position on abortion and backed French President Emmanuel Macron’s bill to enshrine the freedom to have an abortion in the constitution, which was approved this year.

Bardella has also made an effort to appeal to women.

“I’ll be the prime minister who unfailingly guarantees the rights and freedoms of every girl and woman in France,” he said in a video posted on several social media sites last week. “Equality between women and men, the freedom to dress as you please, the fundamental right to control your own body — these are non-negotiable principles.”

Protesting in Paris

Yet those protesting in Paris point to evidence that the changes don’t run deep in the National Rally.

While Le Pen backed the constitutional change on abortion, 12 of her fellow members of parliament in her party voted against it and another 14 abstained, out of a total of 88. National Rally lawmakers in the European parliament have either voted against or abstained from measures regarding abortion and anti-harassment training.

More than 200 associations, NGOs and unions called for protests on Sunday afternoon in some 30 French cities, according to Agence France-Presse. Some 13,000 people protested in Paris, according to the police. Organizers claimed a total of 75,000, AFP reported.

“The Rassemblement National is a threat to women’s rights,” labor union CFDT said in a statement. Its members of parliament “abstain from or vote against votes in favor of gender equality, the fight against violence against women, measures that could help women’s purchasing power or health care.”

Leading Polls

It’s an argument that doesn’t appear to be affecting her voters. In France’s legislative election, the National Rally is leading in opinion polls a week before the vote ahead of an alliance of leftist parties and with Macron’s bloc trailing in third place. Macron dissolved the National Assembly after getting trounced Le Pen in this month’s European Parliament elections. The legislative vote, which consists of two rounds, is scheduled for June 30 and July 7.

While predicting the number of seats each party will secure is difficult given France’s two-step electoral system, the polling companies that have released seat projections all predict the National Rally will pull in the biggest number. They generally show it falling short of an outright majority.

Bardella has repeatedly said he would only agree to become Prime Minister if his party secures the 289 seats needed for an absolute majority.

For 29-year-old Alix, who declined to provide her last name, the National Rally’s electoral lead isn’t a reason to give up. “The feminist milieu is among the last fringes of the population they still haven’t fully gotten into,” she said at the protest. “I don’t see how Marine Le Pen could be a feminist.”

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(Adds number of protesters in 10th paragraph.)

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