When free-trade centrist Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen last night to become the next president of France, most of Europe (and many here) breathed a huge sigh of relief. Macron is young (39), handsome, undogmatic, a Trump critic, and an FOB (friend of Barack). The conventional wisdom seemed to be that it was unmitigated good news that the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world will not be controlled by an anti-immigrant, Putin-loving wing nut.
(Though it should be noted that Le Pen did spout some great lines, like this one from the final presidential debate: “France will be led by a woman, either me or Mrs. Merkel.” Sick burn.)
We don’t have a classic family, that’s an undeniable reality. There is no less love in our family. —Emmanuel Macron
Today the world is waking up to the welcome sight of Macron, with his bright smile and steel-blue eyes, hand in hand with his loving wife and close advisor, Brigitte Macron, a woman he met at school when he was only 15 and vowed to marry one day. It has all the makings of a perfect political fairy tale.
Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte
Except that Brigitte Macron is 64 years old, and when they met at that private Jesuit school in Amiens, she was his drama teacher and a married mother of three. (There is a well-circulated and slightly cringe-inducing picture of them embracing at the time.) Even in sexually laissez-faire French society, this was something of an eyebrow-raiser.
News outlets snidely pointed to her deep tan, thin frame, and honey blonde hair, calling her a “menopausal Barbie.” Some said he was “hot for teacher,” or had mommy issues, and rumors flew that he was gay and theirs was a marriage of convenience. (He cleverly dismissed those rumors with a joke, saying that he’d need a hologram of himself to lead such a double life.)
The couple faced the issue head on, doing an interview with Paris Match and opening up about their ten-year marriage. While it’s understandable that many might find the circumstances of their meeting unsettling, even offensive, it’s apparent to anyone with eyes that they are now a devoted couple with an adoring blended family. (Macron sought the blessing of his future wife's three children before proposing; Brigitte now has seven grandchildren as well.)
Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron in 2016
During a political event Macron summed it up: “We don’t have a classic family, that’s an undeniable reality. There is no less love in our family.” Game, set, and match Mr. President.
Of course if Emmanuel Macron were 64 and his wife 39, no one would even begin to question the legitimacy of their marriage, whether they met at school or not. The difference in age between Donald and Melania Trump is almost exactly the same. Successful older men with young trophy wives are as common as dirt. But when the May/December gender roles are reversed, there is a cultural disconnect.
Brigitte Macron and her daughters Laurence Auziere and Tiphaine Auzierea attend a campaign rally for Emmanuel macron last month
Even well-meaning, open-minded people may look at photos of the Macrons and wonder, What’s wrong with this picture? It could have something to do with the fact that they are in the political sphere. In the world of entertainment and the arts, the cougar is a well-established (if not terribly flattering) stereotype. Still, there’s a sense that those relationships are transactional, even if they’re no longer particularly scandalous.
Emmanuel Macron’s political slogan is “Onward.” Maybe it’s also time to move on from those ageist and sexist notions that compel some to judge the soon-to-be new residents of the Elysee Palace. What is it the French say? Vive la difference!
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.