Are we sexist for gawking at Macron's marriage?

Macron is leading a 'democratic revolution'
Macron is leading a 'democratic revolution'


    Macron is leading a 'democratic revolution'


Macron is leading a 'democratic revolution' 07:06

Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: English tabloids have a field day with Emmanuel Macron's marriage to Brigitte Trogneux, 24 years his senior
  • But the interest may have more to do with the circumstance of their meeting when he was 15 and she was his married teacher

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)Barely 24 hours after Emmanuel Macron's advancement in the French presidential election, the European and American tabloids are awash in headlines directed at his 10-year marriage to Brigitte Trogneux, their wording undeniably suggesting certain scandal.

"How Brigitte met Emmanuel Macron -- when she was his (married) teacher -- and what the French will make of it," goes the headline in the Independent. "Sealed with a kiss! French Presidential favorite Emmanuel Macron, then 15, kisses the teacher, 40, who would later become his wife," runs the headline for the Daily Mail. (Readers are also treated to a photo of Macron and Trogneux sharing a cheek kiss during a high school theater performance.)
Peggy Drexler
The New York Daily News is a bit more measured in calling Macron's marriage "unlikely," but their subtext is clear: There's something not quite right about this relationship.
    So what exactly is the problem? Sure, Trogneux, at 64 and a grandmother of seven, is 24 years and some months older than Macron, who is 39. But their age difference is roughly the same as that between Donald Trump, who is 70, and his wife Melania, who is 46. The mother of Mel Gibson's most recent child is 26 to his 60.
    A sexist double standard? Perhaps, and, well, what else is new? While few have bothered to point out how much older Trump is than Melania, at least not with such shock, Macron and Trogneux are no less the French political story of the day, at least as far as the non-French media are concerned. That's because a man dating a much younger woman is far more common than the other way around -- and perhaps especially so if it's that man's second or third marriage, as in the case of Donald Trump. We've come to expect men to take on younger wives, even as we have a hard time thinking women will take on younger husbands -- or thinking that younger men may even find older women attractive at all.
    At the same time, the interest in Macron's marriage may also have less to do with age difference and more to do with the circumstances of their meeting. Although they say their romantic relationship did not begin until he was 18, Macron met Trogneux when he was 15 and she was his married teacher. This puts a different spin on your average May/December romance.
    If she had been any other woman 24 years his senior, their coupling would likely be less scandalous. Certainly, if Donald Trump had been Melania's high school teacher, or even her boss, and she'd been 15 and the same age as his daughter when they first became close, some would have raised their eyebrows.
    Of course, it's too late to ask whether this would have made a difference in Trump's election and it shouldn't make a difference in the case of Macron, either; he's running, after all, and not his wife. But we'll still gawk: The private lives of our politicians have always held fascination and in many cases, can foreground relevant issues for the public. In this case, however, his marriage seems to offer little insight that would impact Macron's ability to lead, no clues into his moral code.
    And, well, it isn't exactly news, either. Trogneux's age was never a secret; it's not even the first time the circumstance of their meeting was reported, with stories going back as far as 2014. Last year, she told Paris Match, "At 17, Emmanuel told me 'Whatever you do, I will marry you'!"
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    Which makes its "newsworthiness" now most certainly political -- and to be taken, like any other private-lives political coverage, with a grain of salt. Of course, as the Independent points out, French politics -- or French politicians -- are certainly not immune to scandal. Compared to Francoise Hollande, who was caught having an affair with an actress 17 years his junior, or Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, who was rumored to have a mistress or two himself, Macron's relationship is rather upstanding. He and Trogneux have been committed to each other now for more than 20 years.
    That's more than we can say of our own President, though we won't. That's because it's quite possibly the least concerning thing about him. As it is about Macron, too.