have no great desire to do a feminist analysis of the marriage of Emmanuel Macron, the last non-fascist standing in the forthcoming French elections, but the fathomless nastiness of the Daily Mail has made it necessary. “How can I get the world to take me seriously,” writes Jan Moir, channelling Macron’s interior voice, “if they think I am a mummy’s boy with a wife who is 25 years older than him?”
This idea is dispatched relatively easily: men don’t need authority over their wives in order to be taken seriously, except in the Sopranos and the 12th century. One of these days, that entire newspaper will realise how close it is in outlook to Isis and cut those medieval terrorists some solidarity slack.
Yet the relationship is tricky from a gender relativist point of view; if Madame Macron were a male drama teacher, leaving his marriage for a student whom he met when she was 15, then, even if they waited until she (the hypothetical student) were 18, as the Macrons did in real life, the feminist would still have a thing or two to say.
The double whammy of her being so much older, and in a position of authority, sets the relationship off on an imbalance. The common sense, middle-of-the-road, Delia Smith-style feminist would say, well, after two decades together, we can probably be satisfied that their feelings are authentic, and not the result of some authority fetish on one side, and a controlling nature on the other.
But the more hardcore, absolutist, Nigella-style feminist would nope the whole thing, on the basis that a relationship conceived on an unequal footing can never find its balance.
In order to overlook all of that, because the gender roles are reversed, you would have to consider it impossible for a woman to exert power over a man, regardless of her age and position. The social architecture of heterosexual relations, combined with the endemic ageism in the way female sexuality and attractiveness are perceived, mean that being older, as a woman, isn’t an advantage; au contraire, it makes her the weaker party, since he is such a stud and she is so past it. I’m not wild about that reading, either, since it is observably true that women can hold all the cards.
The thing to recognise is that equality sometimes has competing demands: consistency is important, so it matters that if you would disapprove of an age disparity going one way, you at least consider why you don’t disapprove of it going the other. Yet ageism is important, too, so you have to rejoice in Macron kicking against the really pernicious and widespread view that a woman’s attractiveness is pegged directly to how close she is to 18. I’m going to go with: “The heart wants what it wants.” These are dizzy times and we all have fascists to fight.