Sexism in politics: French MP called ‘fish lady’ and ‘crazy’ during debate

According to a 2019 survey, one in two parliamentary assistants has been a victim of sexist jokes and one in five has already been sexually assaulted. [olrat/Shutterstock]

Far-left National Assembly deputy Mathilde Panot (France Insoumise) was called “fish lady” and “crazy” by her male colleagues on Tuesday (2 February), in the latest episode of a long series of sexist attacks against women politicians in France. EURACTIV France reports.

The insults came as the Val-de-Marne MP was about to speak in the debate about an extension of the state of the health emergency. In a video of the Tuesday evening debates broadcast on Twitter, MP Pierre Henriet (LREM) can be heard addressing Panot as “the fish lady” (poissonière in French). Another male voice is heard shouting “she’s the crazy one”.

Panot sent a letter to the National Assembly’s president on Wednesday evening (3 February) requesting sanctions against Henriet. An hour later, Henriet apologised on Twitter for his comments, which he said were “in no way an insult, even less sexist”.

In a video message broadcast by Brut, Panot went on to explain that as early as the French Revolution, those who “fought for women to be able to participate in political life were already, more than 200 years ago, treated as fish ladies”.

Panot called it “ordinary sexism, which is the daily life of all women in this country”.

“If we accept this in the National Assembly, then we will finally give society as a whole a blank check,” she added.

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A “culture of denigrating women” in the political arena

The case of Panot is not an isolated incident, however.

“To be a woman politician is to experience sexist insults every day,” French MEP Manon Aubry (GUE/NGL) tweeted n response to the incident in parliament.

Julia Mouzon, a member of the High Council for equality between women and men (HCE) and president of Élueslocales (locally elected), a network of elected women who defend parity in politics, also condemned the real “culture of denigration of women and femininity” in politics.

This is “obviously not the first episode of sexist insults in the National Assembly”, she pointed out.

The HCEs 2020 report on the annual “state of play of sexism in France” indeed described politics as a “bastion of sexism” and “men’s domain”.

Women politicians are still often “considered as intruders, subject to disqualification and incivility, particularly in the form of interruptions to their speeches, objects of paternalistic behaviour, and are confronted with sexist and sexual violence,” the report stated.

In 2013, Green MP Véronique Massoneau was targeted by chicken noises coming from an elected representative during her speech. In 2017, it was MP Alice Thourot’s (LREM) turn to be interrupted by an MP bleating like a goat.

In 2019, in an interview with Elle, LREM MP and president of the law commission, Yaël Braun-Pivet, denounced the regular sexist attacks targeted against her within the hemicycle.

A survey carried out in 2019 by the collective Chair collaboratrice – an initiative launched by women working in the French parliament, ministries, and local authorities, who collect testimonies of sexist discrimination in their field – also highlighted the sexist behaviour of National Assembly MPs.

According to the survey, one in two parliamentary assistants has been a victim of sexist jokes and one in five has already been sexually assaulted.

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‘We won’t let anything pass us by’

Despite the “remarkable progress on parity thanks to legal constraints” hailed by the HCE in its document, there is still a lot of work to be done.

For this reason, the HCE recommended “extending the missions of the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life to the issue of respect for ethics in politics to fight against gender-based and sexual violence in the political world”.

National Assembly president Richard Ferrand (LREM) issued a press release published on Thursday (4 February), in which he “strongly condemns the remarks made in a public session against deputy Mathilde Panot.”

“Sexism has no place in our society, even less in the expression of an elected representative of the Republic, even within the Hemicycle,” the president added and vowed he was determined “not to let anything go by”.

Ferrand, therefore, intends to raise the issue at the next conference of presidents on 9 February.

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The German government presented on Wednesday (6 January) a bill that plans to introduce at least one woman into the governing bodies of German companies with more than three directors. EURACTIV France reports.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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