THOSE of us not intimately involved in the intricacies of French politics may best remember Rachida Dati as being 'The Woman Who Refused Maternity Leave'.
In 2009 she popped out a baby and returned to work within five days, dressed with impeccable elegance in a sharp black suit, busting balls before the stitches on her caesarean had time to dry. This, without doubt, was macho mothering at its most dramatic. As one of the totemic tough females in Sarko's cabinet, the former justice minister seemed determined to prove that the inconvenience of trifling matters like gestation and birth were not going to stop her keeping up with the boys.
After they'd stopped wincing, feminists all over the world kicked up a stink. Dati was accused of selling the sisterhood down the river, of setting the bar of post-natal recovery and productivity so high that it would undermine every woman's claim to adequate recovery and baby bonding time.
I'm inclined to agree that pretending that all it takes is a bit of lipstick and blow dry to get one battle ready for a day in cabinet post-partum does no one – not women, not men, not babies – any favours. But whatever your view on her actions, (or, indeed, her widely criticised performance in office) any observer had to admit that Dati had grit. Ultimately, if she wants to play iron woman, it's her decision. While Napoleon himself may be forgiven for crying off a day on the battlefield because of a dose of man flu, not even a caesarean was going to stop her getting to that meeting on justice reform. And there's something to admire in that.
Now, Dati is making international headlines for her personal life again. This time in a paternity case concerning her daughter Zohra – that very sprog she gave birth to so quickly back in 2009. Dati is no longer the minster of justice, but that hasn't dinted her profile. She's taking French casino tycoon Dominique Desseigne to court over maintenance. And that's where her position starts to look a bit compromised.
This is a woman who felt compelled to flick away her statutory maternity leave in the interests of not being outdone by the boys. It's a twisted kind of notion of parity, but it's a notion at least. So what's the woman who showcased such ambition and determination back then, now doing channelling all her energy into chasing a millionaire for maintenance?
It's as if Dati started out planning to take career notes from Joan of Arc, but as soon as her political career started to go pear-shaped, she beat a hasty retreat and decided to cash in the meal ticket she'd conveniently created out of her uterus instead.
Speculation in France is mounting as to what sort of a stake in Desseigne's vast fortune she might be entitled to. For his part, Desseigne is inflaming the scandal by refusing to take a DNA test.
But while it's nice to see that it's not just the thick-fingered, white-haired powerbrokers like Dominique Strauss Khan who get to enjoy the sexual benefits of power's famous aphrodisiac effect, but the young, female ones too, I can't help thinking that as the case rumbles on, Dati's at risk of forgetting what she stood for. Of course, it goes without saying that she shouldn't have to bear full financial (or parental) responsibility for a child that took two people to conceive. And Desseigne's response of reeling off a list of her bedfellows is far from gentlemanly (not to mention the fact that his own refusal to take a paternity test speaks volumes).
But if, as it now looks, Dati's plan is to make a belated court grab at her ex-lover's assets, one wonders what that dramatic show of égalité after her daughter's birth was actually all about.
Sure, an ex-supermodel like Linda Evangelista might feel it's necessary to stand up in court and, with a straight face, declare that she needs $46,000 a month from the man who fathered her child during a casual fling (though any baby that costs that much to maintain must be snacking on Cartier jewels between meals). But Dati's whole schtick was about self-sufficiency. Did she not learn anything from the laws according to Destiny's Child? Dati is no longer adhering to a principle, but instead just seems to be out for whatever she can get.