What do the following couples have in common? The PM and his wife Carrie. The French president and his wife Brigitte. Donald Trump and his wife Melania. The men are heads of government or state, present or past; the women are blonde. But the similarity that matters is that there is a common gap of 24 years between the ages of the spouses.
The difference is that for the couples where the man is older, there is little censure. In fact, in the case of Boris and Donald T, the reaction would be one of mild surprise were their present spouses be the ages of their first wives. In the case of the Macrons, the reaction to the disparity has been altogether more visceral, more hostile.
In an interview with Le Monde, Mrs Macron has been open about the animosity she encounters. “The French would undoubtedly have preferred a younger first lady,” she said. “I know we are not a typical couple. We have a difference of 24 years. I understand that can surprise people, that people might not understand us. But what I cannot understand is the aggressiveness.”
Admittedly, it is not just the age difference that gets people’s backs up when they see Brigitte; critics such as the gilets jaunes protesters (the yellow vests) regarded her as a kind of Marie Antoinette, because, she says, they see her outside the Elysee in a “pretty dress and pretty shoes”. Then there’s the sense that she runs her husband… a book about the Macrons by journalist Gael Tchakaloff this year revealed that the President phones his wife every hour and a half. Married couples everywhere shuddered at the thought.
The age difference was, of course, intrinsic to their relationship: they met when she taught drama at a school in Amiens where Macron was a pupil. What’s more, she was married with three children; she left her husband for her former pupil. That’s not good.
But there’s no denying that the Macrons attract hostility because they upended the convention that men in general, and successful men in particular, marry younger women. The Macrons have not just flouted the rule; they look terrifically happy with it. And for dismantling that hoary old stereotype, many women are in their debt.
Do you think the Macrons have attracted unfair criticism? Let us know in the comments below.