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French weekly magazines review 7 December 2014

Text by: Clare Sharkey
7 min

France’s mainstream right is locked in internecine battle. Christmas nativity scenes fall foul of France’s secular laws. Are French parents getting hyper? And can Sarkozy’s UMP learn from native Americans?


Rivalry in the right-wing UMP party features heavily in the weeklies. This is after former president Nicholas Sarkozy came up trumps in last weekend's election of the leader of France's main opposition party. The front page of Le Point headlines "ça va chauffer" (this is going to heat up) despite the chorus of unity party coming out of the headquarters this week. Its main article is about the "secret wars of the right" and the "battle for ideas".

Like secrets? Find out about the Hidden Paris

Marianne also looks at schisms in the UMP but focuses on Alain Juppé. He was foreign minister in Sarkozy's government, as well as being prime minister in 1995-97, and has the potential to cause problems for Sarkozy if, as virtually everybody expects, he enters the running to become the party’s presidential candidate in 2017.

Marianne points to the fact that Juppé currently enjoys a high popularity rating but doesn't necessarily have a strong network of allies. The left-wing magazine wonders whether he has the nous to counterbalance the often heavyweight political style of Sarko.

All of this week's political sparring within the right wing has left journalist Estelle Gross of the Nouvel Observateur wondering "Where are all the women?" Of the new names announced to posts within the party only three are women. L’Obs remarks that the UMP has never been particularly strong in this area, despite Sarkozy's assertions that the UMP is the party of the 21st century.

Due to the lack of gender parity in the party, the UMP has been fined four million euros a year by the state every year since 2007.

Not only does the party suffer financially but the lack of equal gender representation could be one reason why twice as many men as women vote for the UMP. On the plus side for the party, L’Obs also reports that the UMP is finally balancing its books after nearly having to declare bankruptcy over the summer.

A story that has been rumbling away in the press this week is also examined in L’Obs, the story of the public buildings being ordered to remove Christmas nativity scenes.

The mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard, in the south of France has refused to remove the crib from the town hall on the basis that it constitutes part of the judeo-Christian tradition of France. France has a strong secular tradition. And in an interview historian Jean Baubérot explains that the ban on nativity scenes is legally justifiable and that this current furore is being exploited by the right. He laments that under Sarkozy’s presidency there was a consolidation of Islamophobia and a crackdown on religious symbols, sparked by a controversy over Muslim headscarves, is having a knock-on effect on other religions.

From one French trend to another: hyper-parentalité (overparenting).

Marianne takes a look at how French parents are becoming increasingly overbearing, seeing risks in everything, from trampolines, video games, germs... you name it!

According to the magazine, this trend has been heavily influenced by the parenting patterns in the US but also shock news stories about kidnappings and paedophilia. Technology has exacerbated overparenting: bracelets for newborns can now send text messages if the child gets too hot, GPS systems in the schoolbag mean that parents can track their kids on their journey to school, cameras can even be hidden in teddy bears to make sure the little tike is not up to mischief.

But psychologists are worried about this phenomenon: kids pick up on the anxiety of their parents and become anxious also, to the point that they feel they can do nothing on their own. This leads Marianne to question whether we are raising a generation of sissys. Psychologist France Frascarolo-Moutinot thinks the trend may have the opposite effect, with adolescents rebelling and taking even greater risks than their predecessors.

Finally, to the culture pages of l'Express and a new book called Squaws, a forgotten history.

Women's rights in France - given or taken?

"Squaw" is the word for an indigenous woman of north America in many of the native American languages. The book review reprints some of the photos in the book that show some of the most important and influential women of native American societies, who - barring perhaps Pocahontas - very few people have ever heard of.

There is the story Weetamoo who burnt down 12 English settler villages before her death in 1822; Sacagawea who at age 15 became a guide and interpreter to the Lewis and Clark expedition, opening the western frontier in the American continent to white settlers after she was trapped by hunters when she was 11, and Dahteste, an Apache warrior who played a key role as an interpreter when Apache leader Geronimo surrendered to the Yankees and lived until 1955.

The article explains that in native north American tribes, women played a key role as chiefs, shamans, healers, warriors and negotiators. These societies were ahead of their time on women’s rights by comparison to the French and English societies vying for power in the north American continent at the time, it says.

Maybe the UMP party would do well to take a leaf out of the history books about these remarkable women!

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