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Analysis: France

Sexism in French politics - the comedian, the minister, the chicken and the floral dress

Nadine Morano leaves a cabinet meeting in 2012
Nadine Morano leaves a cabinet meeting in 2012 Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French former junior minister Nadine Morano has threatened to sue a comedian for calling her a "bitch" during a live show. Earlier this week an MP was disciplined for clucking like a hen while a female colleague was speaking in parliament, reviving a long-running debate on sexism in French politics.

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Morano, a member of the right-wing UMP who lost her parliamentary seat in the 2012 election, was outraged to hear that 79-year-old Guy Bedos had insulted her on stage in the eastern town of Toul on Friday evening.

She has instructed her lawyer to file a legal complaint for "public insults", she announced on Saturday.

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Bedos, who makes no secret of his left-wing sympathies, was performing at the opening night of a new theatre in Toul, a Socialist-run town where Morano failed to become mayor in 2008.

"You had a lucky escape," Bedos told his audience to both cheers and whistles. "I was promised she'd be here ... Quelle conne [what a stupid bitch]!"

He reportedly also referred to the former minister as a "salope", also translatable as bitch, prompting his victim to claim that the insults were an "attack on women's rights" and showed a "lack of respect for women that is intolerable".

Bedos on Sunday refused to apologise for his "Rabelaisian" language, adding that "it was a show, not a political rally".

UMP leader Jean-François Copé seized on the incident to declare his "total support" for Morano, following "Guy Bedos's insulting and sexist remarks" and challenged the Socialists, whom he accused of lecturing the rest of the world on women's rights, to condemn them.

Copé was not so quick to tweet on Tuesday when right-wing MP Philippe Le Ray earned himself a fine for clucking like a hen while Green MP Véronique Massonneau was addressing a night sitting of the National Assembly, prompting laughter from some of his UMP colleagues.

Even though Le Ray apologised the day after, the Socialist president of the assembly, Claude Bartolone, handed him a written reproach, which means that he will not be paid a quarter of his MP's salary - 1,378 euros - for three months.

Female left-wing MPs delayed their entry into the next session of the assembly on Wednesday in protest at Le Ray's behaviour, to be greeted by applause from their male colleagues when they finally filed in.

The right was less supportive. Although UMP group leader, Christian Jacob, described the incident as "regrettable", members of the UMP and far-right MP Gilbert Collard booed and walked out as the women walked in.

The clucking scandal was far from the first outbreak of sexism in the French parliament.

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When sexual assault charges were brought against Socialist presidential hopeful and IMF boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a number of women politicians revealed that they had been propositioned, had their buttocks touched and suffered sexist remarks by men of all political colours while in the building that houses that august assembly.

Former sports minister Chantal Jouanno, at the time a member of the UMP, revealed that she was the target of smutty remarks whenever she wore a skirt in parliament.

"Dressed like that, she shouldn't be surprised if she's raped," she reported one colleague as saying.

The most notorious recent manifestation of parliamentary testosterone involved Housing Minister Cécile Duflot, like Massonneau a member of the Green party.

She was greeted with a cacophony of wolf-whistles and cat-calls from right-wing MPs when she addressed the assembly in a striking flower-patterned dress.

Several shrugged off the shock that the incident caused.

"You know in sport we're used to seeing beautiful bodies," commented another former sports minister, the judo star David Douillet.

"Perhaps she wore the dress so that we didn't listen to what she had to say," said UMP MP Patrick Balkany.

There's a bit of context to add to the flowery dress incident.

It followed public criticism of her choice of dress at the first cabinet meeting after the 2012 election that brought the left to power.

She wore flared jeans, an item of clothing judged inappropriate for such a solemn occasion.

Her most vocal critics? ... Nadine Morano and Jean-François Copé.

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