Christine Lagarde – profile of a powerful (as opposed to sexy) woman
Comment on and summary of story from The Guardian, July 17, 2011
Christine Lagarde is two weeks into her job as the first woman to head up the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She was also the first female chair of an international law firm and the first female finance minister of a G8 country.
A pretty powerful woman, in other words.
So why, oh why, is this profile headed up with what is probably the most offensive and least appropriate headline in the world: “Is this the world’s sexiest woman”?
Am I alone in finding the tone a bit, well, more Daily Mail than Guardian?
In case we didn’t get the point, the (female) journalist refers in her opening comments to how tall, slim and well dressed Lagarde is.
This isn’t sinful – we notice how other people look and dress – but it’s unusual when more focus is on Lagarde’s appearance and sexuality rather than how well she can do her job and the obstacles she overcame in getting to where she is today.
Born in 1956, Lagarde grew up in Le Havre, France. Not long after her father died of motor neurone disease when she was 17, she went to study in America, before returning to France to study law.
After twice failing the exams to get into the French civil service and being told she would never make partner in a French law firm as a woman, she joined the international firm Baker & McKenzie, where she rose to chairman of the board.
She used the same title she’s taking at the IMF: Madame Chairman. Syntax, she explained at the time, is not the battleground on which the feminist cause will be gained or lost:
“I didn’t want to find a feminine equivalent to chairman. Insisting on marking femininity by the gender of words is ridiculous.”
In 2005, she was asked by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to join the French government as finance minister. She was initially nicknamed Madame La Gaffe after she called for changes in France’s labour laws.
By the end of her time in the finance ministry she had persuaded the French to take a more flexible approach to their 35-hour working week.
Law, French politics and international finance are still some of the professions most weighted against women: fewer than 20% of French MPs are female.
“For a woman at this level it’s probably more difficult than for a man,” says Bruno Silvestre, Lagarde’s former spokesman at the finance ministry. “Christine has to be as good as a man, which probably means better than a man.”
Yes, that is undoubtedly true, which makes it all the more annoying that this profile makes so many references to Lagarde’s physical appearance, as opposed to her (very obvious) intellectual abilities.
So I think it’s unlikely that she “seems to have achieved the feminist ideal: the men in the boardroom admire her looks chastely”.
In any event, everyone’s feminist ideal is probably different but mine might be something along more the lines of “the men in the boardroom admire her work.”