…when [Ségolène] Royal, 52, said last week that she was considering running for president in 2007, she unleashed an onslaught of attacks and ridicule from her own campwrites Katrin Bennhold as the International Herald Tribune considers a French equivalent of a 2008 Hillary Clinton-Condi Rice race.
"Who will look after the children?" scoffed Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister with presidential ambitions himself. "The presidential race is not a beauty contest," sniffed Jack Lang, a former education and culture minister, who also wants to run in 2007.
In her sunswept office on the third floor of the Parliament building this week, Royal struck a defiant tone.
"With comments like that they only disqualify themselves and hurt their own credibility," she said, flashing a combative smile. "If, in 2007, I am the best placed to win for my camp, I should run."
Then her face turned somber. If she had been black and a man, she said, "They would never have dared to say these things. Am I not allowed to talk about this possibility just because I am a woman?"
… The squabbling over Royal's potential candidacy highlights the internal rivalries in a party still reeling from its humiliating defeat in the last presidential election, in 2002 [check out this up-to-date web page here], and the divisive referendum on the European constitution in May. But it also speaks loudly about attitudes toward women among leading members of the French political class.
It was telling that the only politician publicly defending Royal's presidential bid was Roselyne Bachelot, a lawmaker from the governing center-right party.
More than two centuries after the French revolution, women are conspicuously absent from the top echelons of political life in the country.
… Oddly, given the description by the sociologist Janine Mossuz-Lavau of French politics as "one big male club," Royal may face an adversary from a different party but the same sex. Michèle Alliot-Marie, the ambitious defense minister, published a book with her vision of France's future this week — and said she planned to play "a frontline role in the presidential election in 2007."