What if Brigitte Macron were an ordinary-looking sixtysomething?
Hilary Fannin: I marvel at how any woman in her 40s could spend time with a kid who produces more sebum than cash
Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Trogneux: Irish women in their 40s increasingly seek out younger men to date. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
I had the pleasure recently of chairing a discussion of the way older women are imagined, portrayed and perceived by society and the media. The conversation was between a bunch of artists and educators, as part of the Bealtaine Festival, which annually celebrates the arts and creativity among older people.
Suffice it to say there was nothing dry about the discourse, which ranged over several topics and bugbears, including the way the over-60s are endlessly portrayed in advertisements, for everything from double-glazing to midweek hotel breaks, as asinine creatures in grim knitwear, eating soft-boiled eggs laced with a smattering of denture fixative and worrying their wrinkly heads off about home security. I happen to know loads of over-60s who don’t spend their days fretting about the shagging burglar alarm and bleating about the facia.
Anyway, as expected, and within the context of looking at older women’s visibility in the media, the relationship between Emmanuel Macron, the new French president, and his wife of 10 years, Brigitte Trogneux – whom he met when he was a 15-year-old schoolboy and she his 39-year-old teacher – soon arose.
Such has been the public interest in this particular alliance, with so many column inches detailing the pair’s relationship – the fury of Macron’s parents when they realised their teenage son was involved with a woman old enough to be his mother, the couple’s enforced separation, her messy divorce, his dogged loyalty – that if any of this comes as news to you, you might like to check yourself for a pulse.
Some commentators wondered what a woman of 39, an educator, was doing encouraging the attentions of her chouchou
Several commentators rightly noted that if a male teacher pursued a 15-year-old girl there would be outrage. Others wondered what a woman of 39, an educator, was doing encouraging the attentions of her chouchou. (Apparently, chouchou means teacher’s pet in France, as opposed to a choo-choo, which is one of the components of a Thomas the Tank Engine set.)
The consensus at the Bealtaine discussion seemed to suggest that the Macron romance had had a soft landing in the press. The narrative had been accepted that he was a superbright kid, she a skinny, sinewy blonde; time had passed; obstacles had been overcome; someone had an aperitif on the patio; and no animals got hurt in the process.
And anyway, they’re French, and French people are supposed to be more tolerant, aren’t they?
What, someone asked, would the press be saying if she was a frumpy and ordinary-looking sixtysomething? Then we’d see l’outrage.
I find it difficult to get my Marks’n’Sparks knickers in a knot about M and Mme Macron. I just marvel at how any woman in her 40s could choose to spend her downtime with a kid who produces more sebum than cash. (I said sebum, which is, by the way, the oily culprit responsible for acne.)
The Macron histoire points to a growing trend: 20% of men in their 20s and 30s are reportedly looking for relationships with accomplished, confident, older women
I’m joking, of course, but the Macron histoire points to a growing trend. Twenty per cent of men in their 20s and 30s are looking for relationships with accomplished, confident, older women, according to data on various Irish dating sites. (But don’t quote me. For all I know these statistics may have been compiled by two broken Sindy dolls in the bottom of a toy box.) And, apparently, Irish women in their 40s increasingly seek out younger man to date, bucking a long-standing pattern that saw Irish women of a certain vintage seek mature gentlemen with whom to share a chicken curry and a Babycham of a drizzling Friday night.
“With the way women look after themselves now, you’d be hard pressed to tell the age difference between a man in his late 20s and a woman in her early 40s,” one bluntly unreconstructed posting reads on a dating site I perused, a website that, incidentally, also features a posting from a “bubbly lady who enjoys swimming” and describes herself as a cougar (although possibly a damp cougar).
It’s tempting to imagine that the lack of disparity between women in their 40s and men in their 20s might be down to the amount of time some women spend lashing around in Lycra, having their roots done and scaling stepladders to headbutt the fusebox, as opposed to that spent by their putative toy boys sitting in front of Soccer Saturday with a spice bag on their ample knees. But there you go. Maybe I’m being ageist and fattist, and misrepresenting the lives of women too.
After all, why shouldn’t young lovers be drawn to older women? What could be more desirable than wisdom, discernment and wit?