French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has a 24-year age gap with his wife — a trait he shares with U.S. President Donald Trump, who happens to be 24 years older than first lady Melania Trump. Unlike Trump, however, the 39-year-old Macron is in fact younger than his wife, 64-year-old Brigitte Macron — a rare turnaround in the world of politics, and for many French women, a welcome one.
“Why can’t we marry younger men? I date them all the time,” Martine Bergossi, an older Parisian couture shop owner, told The Washington Post. “It’s normal to see men with younger women, so it’s rather great to see the opposite.”
Macron, a former investment banker and pro-European Union centrist, is competing for the presidency against National Front leader Marine Le Pen — a populist who, as of late, has tried to justify her long-held anti-immigrant views as a defense of women’s rights.
If elected, Le Pen would become France’s first female president — but polls have shown that many women are nonetheless unwilling to vote for her, citing, among other things, her anti-immigrant views and her conservative stance on reproductive rights.
In comparison to the U.S., political spouses play a significantly more private role in the political process. But, 64-year-old Brigitte has been front and center in her husband’s campaign, appearing onstage with Macron after his win in the first round of the election as well as in numerous photoshoots — including one that featured her in a bathing suit on the beach walking with her husband. Brigitte has even joked that this election may be her husband’s only shot at the presidency — by the time the next election came around, she said, she might look too old for him to get elected.
The romance between Macron and Brigitte is not without controversy either. When the couple met, Macron was just 15 — and Brigitte was his high school drama teacher, with a husband. His parents tried to send him to Paris to disrupt their relationship, but to no avail. Brigitte divorced her husband — 10 years ago, the couple confirmed their vows in marriage.
Political critics have alleged that Brigitte controls her “schoolboy” candidate, while others on social media have asserted that he must be gay — claims that Macron has denied. Others have noted that current president Francois Hollande separated with his partner to date an actress 18 years younger than himself, and that former President Francois Mitterrand had an affair with a mistress half his age. If that’s acceptable, they argue, then who’s to say it’s unacceptable for a man to marry someone older instead?
According to Cécile Alduy, a French professor at Stanford University currently residing in Paris to follow the election, Macron is likely to get a boost from women at the polls on Sunday — not because of his wife’s age, but, rather, due to his stance on women’s issues such as the gender pay gap.
Read the full story at The Washington Post.