Macron wife mocked for behaving like 'Queen of France'
Brigitte Macron has been accused of acting like Marie Antoinette for insisting on standing beside, not behind, her husband at state functions and visits.
But France's first lady is adamant that the time has come to break with protocol that reflects a bygone, sexist era.
According to RTL radio, Ms Macron told aides she will no longer take a back seat as she ramps up her role eight months after her husband Emmanuel Macron was elected.
"A woman today does not have to be behind," she was cited as telling them.
Tristan Bromet, her chief of staff, said that the change sprang "from the conception of the couple she forms with Mr Macron: a modern union in which the woman is placed at the same level as the man".
The news triggered a flood of online jokes, with some pointing out that male spouses were also expected to step back at official ceremonies, including Britain's Prince Philip.
One Twitter commentator compared Ms Macron to Queen Marie Antoinette, saying: "We elected your husband, not you, so stay where you were please darling."
Another wrote: "It's confirmed: Brigitte Macron, unelected, takes herself for the Queen of France."
Political reaction followed. In a reference to the couple's 24-year age gap, Gilbert Collard, a far-right MP close to Front National leader Marine Le Pen, quipped: "I can well imagine [Emmanuel] Macron two steps behind, sucking his presidential thumb."
That jibe prompted online fire, with one commentator remarking: "That's not very elegant of you. You lack respect for the presidential function, for the man, but above all for the woman."
Ms Macron (64) is expected to apply her new rule when the couple travel to China for a three-day visit next week.
The first sign she was unhappy with current protocol emerged at the UN in September, when she eschewed a second-row seat assigned to spouses and sat instead with the French delegation.
Speaking recently to the 'Telegraph', her top Élysée aide said she had no intention of being a wallflower. "What is this medieval notion of a woman in a couple who says nothing? Everyone knows from Napoleon to today around the world, head of states' partners play a role."
This week, 'Le Monde' reported that the presidential entourage was delighted with her "flawless" performance since her 40-year-old's husband's election in May.
"Everyone is now convinced that she is an asset for Emmanuel," a friend of the couple said. "She is part of his balance and his success. Above all, the French have adopted her."