Oh mon Dieu! Troubles in French tradition paradise. Besides the fact that there is a 24-year age gap between Brigitte Macron and her husband, Emmanuel Macron, l’épouse du président de la République française is the talk of the town on social media like Facebook and she has her own Instagram fan page. The websites of fashion magazines Vogue and Elle both mention how the first lady is redefining the stereotype stigma of her position. Skinny jeans and above-the-knee skirts without tights?! Pourquoi pas? Brigitte is breaking the rules of French political heritage.
A political institution
‘Brigitte sets the record straight (Vogue)’, ‘France’s first lady Brigitte wears jeans to kick it with Rihanna’ (ELLE) and ‘How French First Lady Brigitte Macron is becoming a style icon for a new generation’ (Independent). Brigitte is booming. But why? I think it’s because in a world of etiquettes, folk traditions and being in the position of a public role model, changes are welcomed in a jubilant manner or are not quickly appreciated. One could see the first lady as a political institution of the office of the president. The article “The First Lady Reconsidered: Presidential Partner and Political Institution”, written by Robert P. Watson, mentions that scholars over the past decade reveal that many White House wives had a particularly big influence on their husband’s decisions, policies and thus careers in general. Several pre-twentieth centuries first ladies were already political activists and social influencers. Can we see first ladies as the first generation of today’s rebelling IT-girls?
Left: Brigitte Macron on 6 July 2017. Credit: Wikipedia. Right: Brigitte Macron with Juliana Awada in Hamburg, 8 July 2017. Credit: Wikipedia.
In case of Brigitte Macron, it is so much more than being the next IT-girl. Watson states that the first first ladies had no blueprint to follow in searching for the position and identity of being a first lady. In this matter, Brigitte Macron is finding herself in a disadvantageous position, because she is constantly being compared with her predecessors, both nationally and internationally. If we compare Brigitte Macron to her national predecessors Valérie Trierweiler (wife of former president Francois Hollande) and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (wife of former president Nicolas Sarkozy), Macron is a pioneer on the field of fashion. In addition to this, Brigitte and her husband were striving for an official ‘first lady’ status for Brigitte, which would include a salary, a staff, security and other advantages paid by the French Republic. However, this idea was dismissed by the French public after a petition that attracted more than 284,000 signatures. Thereby, she was also being accused of pretending to be like the ‘Queen of France’, when she refused to follow protocol by standing behind her husband. What we see here is that there is a common opinion in France that the wife of the president must comply with a certain image which is tacitly accepted.
The power of tradition
This presumed position of the first lady of France could be seen as a tradition, which leads us to the famous book The Invention of Tradition, written by Hobsbawn and Ranger. They describe a tradition as the following: “tradition is invented and institutionalized and a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to calculate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” The so-called ‘normal’ role of first ladies in the past and the lack of a different interpretation of it, seems to be a free pass for its continuity for most of the French people.
So, we can conclude that time plays a great role in the making of traditions. With an eye on Brigitte Macron, I think that this came concept, time is the answer to the critics. Because since there is much time needed for something to be a tradition, to be generally accepted and to be regarded as ‘normal’, it also applies to the opposite situation. In order to change traditions, to make people aware of the fact that a certain way of thinking is old-fashioned, one must be patient and trust in the power of time. Meanwhile, let us celebrate the agelessness of fashion and humor. Brigitte: ““Of course, we have breakfast together, me and my wrinkles, him with his youth, but it’s like that.” Bon appétit.