Hidalgo, Paris’ First Female Mayor, Sworn into Office

Anne Hidalgo in February 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Inès Dieleman

Anne Hidalgo in February 2014.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Inès Dieleman

On Saturday April 5, Anne Hidalgo was sworn into office as the first female mayor of Paris, after her popular election was confirmed by council members in a system similar to that of the Electoral College. Hidalgo, a member of France’s Parti Socialiste (PS), won the city’s municipal elections on March 30, making her socialist victory one of few among a tide of conservative gains that swept the country.

Hidalgo’s election, however, was far from unpredictable.  The 54-year-old native of Spain had been serving as deputy mayor of Paris under Bertrand Delanoë since 2001. Delanoë now leaves office after thirteen influential years in power, notable for his many cultural and green initiatives. While some of his initiatives roused some controversy among Parisians, such as the annual “Paris Plage” a transported urban beach created along the Seine, and the urban renewal of the central shopping center Les Halles, Delanoë leaves office with a favorable record.  Long criticized as an agent in the shadows of Delanoë’s plans for the city, Hidalgo now has the opportunity to make her own name in French politics.

But if Parisians were not surprised to see a socialist elected to the mayoral seat, were they surprised to see a woman?

Despite the overwhelmingly low numbers of women in prominent political positions in France, the general answer is “no.” Why? In addition to Hidalgo’s natural line of succession into Delanoë’s vacancy, the new mayor’s right-wing opponent, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, was also a woman.

While the candidacy of two qualified women for Paris’ mayoral seat may not have come as a surprise to the general public, the media certainly made note of it. Mathilde Delavier, a student at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, made note that for both candidates, “the media focused on their femininity at the expense of their policy proposals.”

“Some newspapers were using phrases like ‘duel of women’ to characterize the campaign,” she continued, “preferring to insist on that rather than on the outline of their platforms.”

While France does have a number of prominent female politicians, most well known among them Marine Le Pen, the current leader of the conservative Front National (FN), the political field remains dominated by men. Le Pen herself is often seen as the inheritor of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political legacy.

“The biggest cities of France have not—except perhaps Lille with Martine Aubry—adopted the habit of electing women to represent them,” Mathilde noted. “As the capital, Paris is no exception to the rule.” She hopes that Hidalgo’s election signals a change in such voting habits.

The place of women in French politics is by no means secure. Though seeing women in politics is not rare, there is not doubt that public and media sentiment have an influence in the ability of women to access the field. The treatment of Hidalgo during her campaign is an example of this.

Even “if the fact that she is a woman was not directly used against her, the commonplace sexism of the media did not do her justice, to her or to her [former] opponent” Mathilde concluded.

Anne Hidalgo, as the first female mayor of Paris, now has the opportunity to prove her gender and her name against the media’s prejudice and the critics who claim that she is only the inheritor of her predecessor’s popularity.

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