When Emmanuel Macron, the President-elect of France, won his election in a landslide on May 7th 2017, much of the focus was not on the politics which threw up such a massive victory for him and his party.
It was about the twenty-four year age difference between the handsome 39 year old President-Elect and his much older wife, Brigitte Trogneux, who will be the next First Lady of France. The tongues and tweets have wagged ceaselessly since then, with commentaries and memes ranging from the humourous to the bizarre and outright nasty.
Women marrying much younger men is nothing new, but it seems as if there is some kind of mathematics that the world is comfortable with. A ten-twelve year difference might raise eyebrows but could still be forgiven. But twenty four years! The world will be talking about this for many years to come.
This so-called controversy over the age-difference of the Macrons is a fall-out of the global nature of patriarchal norms. No one is unduly bothered about the age difference between President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump which is exactly the same as the Macrons’.
It is expected that powerful older men would keep upgrading their possessions, be they cars, houses, jets or wives. Now the shoe is on the other foot and a much older woman has claimed (and has kept) a fine specimen of a guy and the world is on fire.
Let me state my biases clearly at this point. The main problem I have with the Macrons’ love story is the age Macron was when he met the woman who became his wife. He was fifteen years old. If a thirty-nine year old teacher had seduced my son when he was fifteen, I would have rained fire and brimstone on her head, and she would have done all kinds of jail term for molesting a minor, sexual harassment and whatever other charges would stick.
However, once a minor becomes a legal adult, there is nothing you can do other than beg, counsel, and pray. If my son shows up with a woman who is twenty-four years older than him, all my solid feminist credentials will be torn to shreds.
Knowing that I am dealing with an adult who is making an informed choice, I will make myself a permanent resident at Redeemed Christian Church of God Redemption camp, Mountain of Fire and Miracles, Celestial Church of Christ, Winners Chapel, you name it I would be there.
I will go to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, to India for whatever I could find there, and I will seek the help of my Muslim friends for prayers to cover all my bases. I will abandon my unbelief in the supernatural and consult all the family oracles I never knew we had, and perform all the requested sacrifices round the clock, clothed or unclothed, slaughtering any cows, rams, chickens or goats in my way. I will deploy all my older relatives to make enquiries to find out who I or my ancestors have offended to be visited with such a calamity.
However, the choices of consenting adults have to be respected, no matter how painful and bewildering they might be. Many people have asked the question, ‘what on earth does a young man see in a woman so much older’? This is where the revenge of the older woman comes in. Men never get too old to be seen as desirable, especially when they are rich and powerful.
The words used to describe these men are ‘distinguished’, ‘respectable’, ‘and accomplished’. Older women are well, just old. The mental image of an older woman is that of a hag with a body that has seen better days, with all the ‘vital statistics’ making a decision to travel south.
Many older women, especially in the West do not give up the struggle without a fight. There is a huge anti-ageing industry which makes it their business to remind you that you need to purchase new weapons to fight a war you will never win. Back here in most parts of Africa, older women are quite happy to give up their youth and settle for the joy of seeing their children grow and financial security.
These days, due to hard times, it seems we have an emerging cougar class who simply play the same games as the ‘Sugar Daddies’ and the ‘Aristos’, providing a life-line for handsome but jobless young men. Again, this makes people very uncomfortable.
Sugar daddies exist everywhere so they are a global phenomenon, just check out how many supermodels end up on the arms of rich older men. But Sugar Mummies a.k.a cougars? We can only talk about them in whispers.
Back to the issue of President-elect Macron and what he sees in his wife. How about old fashioned love? And for those who say love is not enough, is it unthinkable that a man might want a mother figure in a wife, the same reason why young women find the idea of an older man as a life-partner very assuring?
The union of the Macrons, is nobody’s business, but this issue has provided a unique moment for us to talk about the deep seated privileges of patriarchy and the double standards and hypocrisy that it brings as baggage.
I remember my mother saying that she is convinced that white women have witchcraft, when Prince Charles left Princess Diana for Camilla. What on earth does he see in her? my mother could not stop asking. She said in Yoruba, ‘Ki se oju lasan’, ‘there is more to this than meets the eye’ which is what we say when we believe that supernatural forces are at stake.
I told my mother that Prince Charles simply loves Camilla and he wanted to be with the love of his life. My mother scoffed at my response. Macron loves his much older wife. He just loves her for who she is, and has made a commitment to being with her and running his fingers over her wrinkled skin, caressing all her folds and rubbing her ageing hands.
For those of you going ‘yuck’, how come we do not make such sounds at the thought of a very young woman massaging the ancient back of her Methuselah?
Thanks to Emmanuel Macron perhaps older women will now get some more respect. People hardly ever think of older women as beautiful, sexy or desirable. Even the age at which you cease to be a young woman is unclear. The sexism and ageism that older women experience is dreadful.
You hear people saying, ‘She looks good for someone who is 38’! So what happens if you are fifty (you should be indoors!) or sixty (you should be dead!). Pick up fashion magazines. All of them are full of skinny young women with breasts as alert as marines, every item of clothing fits exactly where it is supposed to. Try and have one of their outfits sewn by your dressmaker and they will ask you if you want your measurements taken with ‘body magic’ on!
The young women are the ones feted left and right, even with their paper-thin CVs, and they often manage to snag the husbands of older women. They start from being ‘side chicks’ and when they manage to lay eggs, they get promoted to wife status and create yet another vacancy to be filled by the next chick. From Nollywood to Hollywood, the message is clear.
The ageing Lotharios get all the good parts in films, so an actor in his fifties is still a credible beau for a teenage actress or one in her early twenties. The older actresses of the same age as the men get to play ‘Grandma’, ‘Mummy’ or the evil old neighbor.
Older women are now fighting back, maybe with some help, but things are changing. With better diets, exercise, a good fashion sense, surgery when necessary, they are giving younger women run for their money.
My advice to men is to take another look at the wives they have taken for granted for so long. When last did you really look at your wife? When was the last time you were intimate with her? Have you paid her a compliment lately? Have you gone on vacation with her without the kids in tow? Did you notice her new hairstyle? That she started using a new fragrance? That she seems a bit more happy and cheerful?
The world will keep on obsessing about what Emmanuel Macron sees in Brigitte Macron. How about things that no money or time-defying surgery or treatments can buy? Things like wisdom, experience, patience, confidence, nurturing, guidance, security. If women look for the same things in men, why can’t a man, for once, look for the same things in a woman?
A cheer for all the abandoned, ignored, mistreated women, especially those who have been traded in for younger models - pun intended. Raise your glasses or a cup of tea to Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. The hot 39 year old President-elect has a 64 year old wife. Hopefully all the French wannabe ‘side chicks’ will wait in vain.
Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women.