Brigitte Macron has been accused of acting like Marie Antoinette for insisting on standing beside, not behind, her husband at state functions and visits.
But France's First Lady is adamant that the time has come to break with protocol that reflects a bygone, sexist era.
According to RTL radio, Mrs Macron told aides she will no longer take a back seat as she ramps up her role eight months since her husband Emmanuel Macron was elected. “A woman today does not have to be behind,” she was cited as telling them.
Tristan Bromet, her chief of staff, said that the change sprang “from the conception of the couple she forms with Mr Macron: a modern union in which the woman is placed at the same level as the man”.
The news triggered a flood of online jokes, with some pointing out that male spouses were also expected to step back at official ceremonies, including the Duke of Edinburgh. One Twitter commentator compared Mrs Macron to Queen Marie Antoinette, saying: “We elected your husband, not you, so stay where you were please darling."
Another wrote: “It’s confirmed: Brigitte Macron, unelected, takes herself for the Queen of France."
Political reaction followed. In a reference to the couple's 24-year age gap, Gilbert Collard, a far-Right MP close to Front National leader Marine Le Pen, quipped: "I can well imagine (Emmanuel) Macron two steps behind, sucking his presidential thumb."
That jibe prompted online fire, with one commentator remarking: "That's not very elegant of you. You lack respect for the presidential function, for the man, but above all for the woman. You are still living in a bygone age, sadly you're out of date."
Brigitte Macron confie qu'elle ne souhaite plus être placée derrière son mari lors des cérémonies officielles: "Une femme aujourd'hui n'a pas à être derrière" : j'imagine bien Macron, deux pas derrière, suçant son pouce présidentiel ! pic.twitter.com/MH9xewSyrq— Gilbert Collard (@GilbertCollard) January 2, 2018
Mrs Macron, 64, is expected to apply her new rule when the couple travel to China for a three-day visit next week. The first sign she was unhappy with current protocol emerged at the UN in September, when she eschewed a second-row seat assigned to spouses and sat instead with the French delegation.
Speaking recently to the Telegraph, her top Elysée aide said she had no intention of being a wallflower. "What is this medieval notion of a woman in a couple who says nothing? Everyone knows from Napoleon to today around the world, head of states' partners play a role."
This week, Le Monde reported that the presidential entourage was delighted with her “flawless” performance since her husband's election in May.
“Everyone is now convinced that she is an asset for Emmanuel,” a friend of the couple said. “She provides him with an unfiltered view, a total liberty of expression. She is part of his balance and his success. Above all, the French have quickly adopted her.”
Last month, Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, told her: “You are one of the rare women in the whole world who can deliver a message. We need you.”
Her role has reportedly helped bolster public support for Mr Macron, 40, whose popularity ratings have risen dramatically in recent weeks. A Harris poll on Sunday suggested that the French have hit an eight-year high in terms of optimism about the future.