‘EUR5, 000 would be a deterrent’: the French pastor who are interested sexual harassment penalties

Meet Marlne Schiappa, the 34 -year old blogger and novelist at the core of Emmanuel Macrons revolution

The walk from the Gare du Nord across the Seine to Frances centre of power, a string of houses off the Quai dOrsay, takes a pleasant, circuitous hour: the route is a tourists dreaming. But for Marlne Schiappa, Frances freshly appointed gender equality minister, the street of Paris are the frontline in a war between the sexes. Where I consider boutiques and fruit and vegetable stalls, cafe and splendid architecture, Schiappas eye is drawn instead to the idling humen ogling young lady; to the handsome displays in every pharmacy window ad weight-loss answers Minceur Th Vert( Slimming Green Tea ), Ventre Plat( Flat Stomach and illustrated by pictures of delighted young lady using a tape measure as a skipping rope. France is paradoxical, Schiappa tells me. We are the country of Simone de Beauvoir, of feminist theory and doctrine. But we are also a Latin country with entrenched stereotypes.

She greets me warmly in what must have once been a grand dining room; the parliamentary district in the 7th arrondissement has not changed much since its vast mansions were built for nobility in the 18 th century. It is the day before Theresa May will fulfill Emmanuel Macron, Frances youngest ever chairperson, who assumed office on 14 May. At 39, with no campaigning experience, Macron has surrounded himself with young cabinet members who are new to politics, as a style of making a clean break with his socialist predecessor Francois Hollande. This week he made businesswoman Florence Parly minister for the armed forces( defence for four of the EUs five largest economies is now overseen by girls ); he has appointed TV presenter Nicolas Hulot as environmental and social transition pastor( the equivalent of Theresa May devoting David Attenborough a cabinet post ).

But Macrons most contentious appointment is Schiappa, at 34 the youngest is part of his cabinet, whom he has put in charge of equality between men and women, with a brief to tackle the gender pay gap and be enhanced women rights in the workplace. A former ad executive-turned-author, shes best known as a campaigner and blogger, and has outraged Frances right wing with her unapologetic feminism.

She demonstrates me into her airy, high-ceilinged office where we sit on new modern chairs, her replacing for the stuffy furniture that used to be here. This is the room where Schiappa has begun hauling in public figures to call them out on sexist behaviour( and then tweet about whether the meeting aimed satisfactorily ). She wears gold hoop earrings, her long, thick hair pulled back in a loose knot, and is friendly and straightforward in such a way that still rare in top-level politics.

Schiappa says that Macron did particularly well with female voters in the presidential elections. Why does she think that is? He was the first to say, Im a feminist. Second, because he believes in parity in parliament. Exactly half his cabinet is female. Plus, she says, unlike other politicians, he went out and listened to people. Genuinely listened.

Schiappas first objective is to tackle sexual harassment on the street. Its a huge phenomenon in France. Its that moment when a man is walking behind a woman, talking to her, and the woman can do nothing, because shes alone. She doesnt scream for help, because she guesses, Its not that bad, Ill walk, Ill escape. Men feel its acceptable: theyre being the French fan. Women are molested on modes of public transport so frequently, Schiappa says, that many will dress in ways to avoid it before they use the Mtro or bus. Its enough of a problem that the previous government launched an anti-harassment campaign called Stop: Thats Enough to encourage people to report any incidents. In France, if a woman is sexually assaulted, her first believe is, Now Im dirty and no one will ever want to marry me the social responsibility of the victim.

Her solution is on-the-spot penalties. Macron has pledged to expand the police force by 10,000 over the next five years: why not give them powers to police sexism in the same route they do smokers who fell their cigarettes? Twenty euros would be a bit humiliating, 5,000 would be more of a discouraging. At the moment, many humen are saying, Its not a big deal, were only having fun. And we say, No. She says shell be nailing down a precise strategy with the justice secretary soon.

Schiappa intends to take a similarly radical approach to closing the pay gap. In France, females earn between 12% and 27% less than humen, depending on sector. Her proposal is that major companies will be invited to consult privately with the governmental forces on solutions. Those who reject is likely to be named and shamed.

She is also keen to discuss what she describes as Frances culture of rape. Minimising rape or finding excuses, she clarifies, before offering two examples. The former vice president of the National Assembly, Denis Baupin, has been accused by eight women of sexual assault and he wasnt fired. Baupin denies the allegations, some of which date back 15 years, and has quit his role after pressure from politicians and the press. No charges were brought because the statute of limitations had expired( in France, it is just three years for sexual harassment lawsuits ).

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Marlne Schiappa and Emmanuel Macron on public transport in Le Mans, October 2016. Photograph: Chamussy/ Sipa/ Rex/ Shutterstock

The French media does not assistance, Schiappa says: You never say the word rapist in an article in France. You say, A woman has been raped or A woman who claims to have been raped. They never say, A human raped a woman. Its to hide the rapist. Its victim-blaming.

Another part of Schiappas brief is to tackle homophobia a huge task, as illustrated by a meeting she had last week at the town hall in Le Mans. I was talking about a proposal around LGBT rights, and one man, an elected official from the far right, said, You forgot the Z. I asked him what he entailed. LGBTZ, he said. Z stands for zoophile. The officer objective up making a donation to a LGBT association. As minister for equality, its business as usual for me. Theyre everywhere. Theres no need to insult them in return. We have to fight them and defend our ideas, but more loudly.

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Schiappa first entered politics in 2014, when she stood as a candidate in the municipal elections in Le Mans, her home suburb. She was elected and became deputy mayor, in charge of gender equality and a technology project. The following year, she gratified Macron, then minister of the economy under Hollande, at a French technology event. She says she gratified him on only 13 more occasions before the governmental forces chore was hers. In the intervening period, she worked in what was then “ve called the” Ministry of Family, Children and Womens Rights, where she drew up a new measure to introduce greater transparency in nursery applications( the French system is riddled with corruption; waiting lists are long and there are widespread accusations of bribery and favouritism ). When Macron launched his presidential campaign last August, Schiappa was quick to subsistence him.

Schiappa is Corsican, and grew up in a multiracial council estate north of Paris. She has said she became a feminist at 13 when she realised how, unlike her parent( a leftwing historian ), she was unable to walk the street unharassed; she and other women in the neighbourhood would plan self-defence strategies. Her father proved her how to make a knuckle-duster out of her house keys.

She currently has two daughters aged 10 and five; her husband( whom she keeps out of the public eye) co-wrote some of her volumes. When she had her first daughter, she was working in ad. The women around me, they had one, two, three children; they were in sessions really late in the working day. I was asking, How do you do this? How do you look after your children when you are working that hard? I believe running moms has been a big subject in the United Kingdom for a long time, but in France it was not. There was no ministry of womens rights at the time, and it was not in the public debates. I began the blog[ Maman Travaille] and then set up a supporting network of running mothers, to talk and to put together proposals for politics and companies.

The blog was a hit, in part because the head of Yahoo in France had children, loved it and promoted it online. Word spread; Schiappa was interviewed in French Elle, in Madame Figaro. She left advertising to spend more time with her daughter, then began writing novels. She joined another ad agency, but got pregnant again, so I left. She wrote more, expanding her repertoire to non-fiction books on motherhood and feminism; titles include Letters To My Uterus and Who Are The Rapists? A fiction she published in 2014, No More Than Four Hours Sleep A Night, is being turned into a film.

Schiappa debated Marine Le Pen in 2012, at a symposium arranged by French Elle. She was talking about what the extreme right called consolation abortion she fabricated the expres saying there were women having abortions 10 or 12 times a year and that the nation poor white people was paying for it. The French far right is known for its racism and xenophobia, but less is said about its misogyny. Marine Le Pen wanted to stop state-funding for abortions, Schiappa says. Two members of parliament wrote a proposal to ban women from running. When you are a woman who is from the suburbium, and you are young, and you are to the left of politics, youre unacceptable. But the radical right has insulted every single woman before me.

How does she guess a woman rose to the top of such a misogynistic party? Two reasons, Schiappa says: Because she adopts a masculine style. She speaks aloud shes screaming, shes screaming; she wants to humiliate the people she is talking to. And because its a family business. If you are a woman and your name is not Le Pen, you cannot have a career in the Front National. Its family before womens rights.

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Schiappa in her office. Photograph: Emmanuel Fradin for the Guardian

Of all Macrons new cabinet members, Schiappa has depicted the nastiest criticism. The right wing is especially annoyed by her opinions on Frances sexually predatory and chauvinistic male culture. Critics dislike her plans to introduce state maternity cover for self-employed women, and to make artificial insemination available for lesbian, older and single girls( its currently available only for heterosexual couples ). They are squeamish about other campaigns: earlier this year, she was part of a group that said French mothers are being treated as felons for choosing to bottlefeed rather than breastfeed. Some have seized on one of her more light-hearted volumes about motherhood, in which she advised women how to prolong maternity leave( humorously, she says ): Make yourself ugly, come across as traumatised, exaggerate everything; she was encouraging women to defraud the state, her critics argued. She has not escaped censure from the left, either accused of being a masculiniste( anti-feminist) for a book she wrote more than a decade ago in praise of the sexual power of overweight women.

In the three articles Le Figaro publish about Schiappa in the week I satisfy her, they claim, variously, that she is the woman to save French politics; that she has an adolescents addiction to social media; and that she is a tl-feministe for posting an online video interviewing women in Paris about their experiences of sexual harassment. But the Fachosphre[ the fascist internet] and its appendages can continue their neverending flowing of abhor, Schiappa tweeted last week. It will never stop me from working!

She is frustrated that some of the cultural myths about French females persist: that they dont get fat; that French babies sleep through the night; that French toddlers dont throw food. All of that is not true, Schiappa says, riled. But we hear it everywhere. Of course French girls are all different weights, and weight is a factor of discrimination. What the bestsellers on French women and their supposed perfection totally miss, she says, is Frances sexist way of life. She says that married females are still expected to abide by their devoir conjugal, or conjugal duty to have sex. Sexism travels top down: Ccile Duflot[ a Green legislator] was catcalled in the National Assembly because she was wearing a dress with blooms on it. The attitude, even at the very top is, Cest la vie.

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Schiappa( back row, second from left) with members of Macrons new government. Photo: Philippe Wojazer/ AFP/ Getty Images

Schiappa supports the ban on religious garment in schools, but has also was contended that mothers should be permitted to enter school grounds in a veil, otherwise they would be ostracised from their childrens education( they are now allowed to by law ). But she warns against too much religion tolerance. Feminism can be stymie by the banner of anti-racism. For instance, how people denied what happened in Cologne[ when there were large-scale sexual assaults on New Years Eve 2015 ]. Feminism cant have ideological obstacles. Will her brief include Muslim communities? You know, in France, we dont think about communities. We are a revolutionary French Rpublique. There is just one community. This is a French statute, the separation between church and nation. Its a statement that I doubt is widely shared across France.

When she was a freelancer, scarce childcare meant Schiappa would often take her children to meetings. As deputy mayor, she made a point of leaving work punctually at 4pm to do the school operate. At first, I said to myself, Oh my God, Im rude. Then females came to say, Thank you for doing that, because now we are doing the same thing. So I think, if you have the power to induce these things visible, you must, because other people will benefit. When youre on a salary, its hard to tell your boss or colleagues, Hey, Im bringing my child to the session. But I use my power because I get to decide.

Schiappa is worried about domestic equality, too, she says. We started with public life, and now we have to change professional and private life. People dont want the nation to enter their families and tell men to rinse the dishes. But gender equality is good for men, she argues. Many fathers dont take their 11 days paternity leave, because they are afraid of losing their jobs.

Macron has acted promptly on his pledge to create equality in parliament: he fielded equal numbers of male and female candidates in this months election, and appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, with 11 of 22 posts taken by girls. Last weekends elections returned the highest ever number of female legislators( 38.5% of the seats ). We have a female minister of athletic who is a former champ[ fencer Laura Flessel holds the record for the most medals won by a French female Olympian ]. And Im glad we have a woman as defence pastor, because I can tell my daughter, You can oppose even if you are a woman you can make war, you can make peace, too. Now we have four women for every 10 people in parliament. Before Macron, it was two in ten. More females entails its going to be more unacceptable to catcall a woman if she wears a flowery dress to work.

Half of Macrons new politicians are complete unknowns, reflecting a wider transformation in politics in the west. This is a rejection of the establishment that Schiappa is proud to be part of. Yes, more people from civil society are coming into politics, she says. I think we realise that we need real people , not theories or abstractions. This is real life we tell it like it is. What does she say to those who say she absence the political experience to hold a government post? Well, she chuckles, I have life experience and I think its quite enough. And we know now that people with political experience dont have much success. The country is not in a good nation. So let us try.

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