With Carla around? Yes, we really do need feminism
Published 29/11/2012 | 06:00
Ms Bruni-Sarkozy thinks a woman's place is at home. What would she know, asks Bryony GordonMrs Bruni-Sarkozy once professed that she found monogamy 'madly boring'
Oh Carla. Or Carlarggggh, as the former supermodel and current wife of Nicolas Sarkozy is rapidly becoming known by anyone who has the misfortune to hear her pronouncements. As in: "Carlarggggh has been spouting merde out of her perfectly formed mouth again," or "I wish Carlarggggh would just shut her Chanel-painted trap from time to time."
In an interview with French Vogue, the Italian heiress has said that women of her age simply don't need feminism, and that the best place for them is chez soi, avec les enfants.
"There are pioneers who opened the breach," Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy announces in the January issue of the magazine, "[but] I'm not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I'm a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day."
It seems that she has developed that particularly insufferable quality that seems to plague women who have been living in France for too long: telling everybody else how to live their lives. You've read French Women Don't Get Fat, rolled your eyes at French Children Don't Throw Food, and now Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy wants to take you through 'French Women Don't Need To Work, Especially If They Used To Be A Supermodel And Their Husband Once Ran The Country'.
Her transformation from sex kitten to stay-at-home mum is now complete – though sadly for her husband, she is about five months too late to help him win re-election to the Champs Elysées.
Instead, he will have to make do with her staying at one of their two homes, the first being a mansion in the posh 16th district of Paris, the second a vast fortress on the coast of the south of France. And never mind that the 44-year-old's husband is a political cadaver, Carla just can't help shoving her pampered little face into the limelight.
Indeed, this latest pronouncement has echoes of an episode from earlier in the year, when it was announced that the multi-millionaire strumpet was to be immortalised in bronze in the Paris suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne, with a statue depicting her as a factory worker in homage to the women who used to work in the town.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, residents thought the daughter of wealthy industrialists an inappropriate choice for the statue, and plans were quietly shelved. But that hasn't stopped Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy from continuing on her misguided quest to be seen as a woman of the people. Not one bit.
Earlier this year, she told French reporters that she and her husband were "modest people. We eat pasta, too". She announced that her favourite pastime is to sit with her baby daughter on her knee while they watch soap operas and the French version of the dating show, Farmer Wants a Wife.
Whereas she once swung from chandeliers with Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger (though not both at the same time), and professed that she found monogamy "madly boring . . . I prefer polygamy and polyandry", she now sees fit to lecture Valérie Trierweiler, the new first lady, for not being married to François Hollande.
This from the woman who once tried to persuade Donald Trump to leave his wife – and who left another of her lovers for his own son.
"It is simpler to be the legitimate wife of the head of state than his partner. I tried to show that I was prepared to do my duty," purred Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy, taking a pot shot at her successor when she heard of Ms Trierweiler's audacious desire to continue with her career after moving to the Elysée Palace.
Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy's assertion that women should forget about feminism and stay at home and watch television with their children is offensive to every single person ever born with two X chromosomes.
It insults women who work and women who opt not to – or who can't – have children, and it insults stay-at-home mothers, too. Does being a housewife preclude you from being a feminist? And is the term "housewife" even valid any more?
A new survey – carried out by IPC media – of 2,000 women aged between 40 and 60 found that 93pc were in control of the family finances, while 92pc chose large appliances for the home and 85pc made the decision about where the family goes on holiday.
Not surprisingly, these women find the phrase "housewife" old-fashioned and derogatory. They prefer instead to be known as the family CEO.
Of course, it is doubtful that Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy has ever had to go through anything even close to the day-to-day grind experienced by Joanna Bloggs. When did she last iron a uniform, make up a lunch box and help with homework all at the same time?
'It is slightly frustrating to hear a wonderful celebrity tell us about their lifestyle choices," agrees Siobhan Freegard, the founder and managing director of the parenting website, Netmums. Freegard is just about to embark on the manic school run when I call her.
"I'm always amused to hear what Gwyneth Paltrow has to say on the subject. Women like Carla Bruni have help and childcare, and for them, being a 'stay-at-home' mum is all very nice and about having lunch with the girls. But if you speak to the average woman who is looking after a one-year-old and a three-year-old, they will tell you that it is the hardest job in the world.
"You can't get anything done. You can't go upstairs or to the loo without your brood following you with all their toys. It isn't just about baking cupcakes, believe me. Carla is yummy mummy to everybody else's slummy mummy: most of us really need to juggle, juggle, juggle."
Of course, for many women staying at home simply isn't an option. "There is something basic and primeval about wanting to be at home with your very young children," says Freegard.
"But in the real world it isn't always possible. In fact, it rarely is. The truth is that the system has changed, and working women are now a huge part of the economy."
And then there are those women who see the staggering cost of childcare and realise they simply cannot afford to go to work.
"They would like a job but it doesn't make any financial sense. There is never a perfect answer," Freegard says.
The novelist Fay Weldon agrees. "Just because a woman stays at home to look after the children, it doesn't mean she is devoid of a brain – though I suspect that Carla is. Many housewives dream of going on to work when their children leave home, of training to be a doctor or whatever. These things are often a matter of income, not intellect."
In this modern, so-called "progressive" world, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.
So if feminism is about women having choices, then, ironically, all Carlarggggh has done is prove that we still need people to fight its cause – more than ever.