The Political Man 

a Wolf for the Woman

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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39en_mas ... Masculinity

The Political Man a Wolf for the Woman


Alain Liptiez
Director of Research at CNRS

One may hope for equality in spite of the difference between the sexes, in the name of equality itself, because male-female in equality in important posts and in politics cannot be justified and is the trace of a more general oppression which must be investigated.

Although as an economist I have contributed to an understanding of the fate reserved for females in the new economic model " liberal productivist " which has been in place for some twenty years(Liptiez, 1996a), I am aware that my invitation to this colloquium is not entirely due to my academic reputation. In reality, it is rather as a political man that I am here, as some kind of " witness " to your discussion. I have, in fact, taken an active part in the first political regroupings which were concerned with equality. First of all it was the Rainbow Movement ( the home, most notably of the feminists from the CINEL and the collective Ruptures), then The Greens, who after the European elections of 1989 systematically pursued a policy of equality and registered it in their statutes.

The reasons for wishing for equality as a result of all this are numerous. I have analysed them together with the arguments against in a number of articles (Liptiez, 1994). First of all, one may hope for equality in spite of the difference between the sexes, in the name of equality itself, because male-female in equality in important posts and in politics cannot be justified and is the trace of a more general oppression which must be investigated. One can also wish for equality because of this difference, because women, by dint of their culture which arises from their social situation, have a lot to say, directions which can be given value from a point of view which is different from that of men, richer and more complete.

This position includes the former and does not contradict it in any way. "The feminism of difference" is a sub-unit of "the feminism of equality". I am well aware, however, of the heated discussion to which this opposition between "universalism" and "diferentialism" can lead (Liptiez, 1996b). I should like to show here how these discussions are politically secondary in the face of the basic obstacle to equality: the male type of politician. A type of which I am one even if I am on my guard. This masculine resistance is much more important than the interiorisation, by women, of an "inaptitude for politics". But beware! Masculine discourse on the differential inaptitude of women, which was recently shown by Alain Juppe when he suggested that women should have 10 years to catch up in municipal councils, is not the only type of phallocratic discourse as we shall see.


I call the masculine type of politician the man who makes politics his career and his passion, not because of its content but simply because of the desire to conquer, to occupy, to conserve an elective function (both within the framework of the party or outside it i.e. in civil elections). This type is fairly common among the male sex since he caricatures the "male role". First, to have only one thing to do in life and to leave the administration to others (his female companions). Then, to privilege competition, in other words the instrumental rationality which is directed to a purely symbolic purpose, aimed only at ratifying excellence in the mastering of the instrument. So, in the case of competition to aim only at power for himself even if it is only symbolic.

Historical, social and cultural codeterminants can be observed: they are most obvious in the South of France and even more so in Corsica. But this type is so widespread globally that there is no doubt that it can be traced back to the most psychoanalytical roots of masculinity. If, as the socioanalyst Gerard Mendel thinks, the psychoanalysis of human beings in society is structured by an act-power impulse, that is, a desire to express one’s own autonomy by transforming the world and those around oneself (Mendel, 1993), it is probable that the tonality of the act-power is itself sexed. The intuitions of Luce Irigary can serve perhaps as inspiration (Irigary 1987): man tends to express his act-power impulse as a projection outwards, instrumentalised to a goal of phallic resonance. But this analytic interpretation is largely overdetermined by the social organisation and, in our culture, by the distinction between " the private" (the "domestic") and the "social" (outside of the home). The same politician in Gers will not be able to accept that a woman could challenge him for the post of County Councillor but at home will not hesitate to call his wife the "boss". Not that she is really the mistress, but simply because he has delegated so much to her that he would be unable to survive without her assistance. Now, this masculine type of politician knows admirably well how to play with both differentialism and universalism to justify his social monopoly.


Without laying any claims to being exhaustive we can attempt to briefly order the ideological attitudes which justify the exclusion of women from the political scene. We shall limit ourselves to France after the consolidation of the Republic in the nineteenth century. The variations in attitude are linked together historically in response to the progress of the democratic aspirations of women. Each survives to the present day almost in its original form but they give rise to one another by means of a sort of transcoding, an adaptive process which preserves a phallocratic kernel throughout the dissemination of ideas of equality.

Mystical differentialism

At the root of our phallocratic political history, there is , of course, the ideology of the Catholic Church, which has managed up to the present day to maintain ( dubious privilege) the formal, statutory exclusion of women from its hierarchical structure (from the priesthood to the papacy). The justification for this exclusion is theological and rests on the " order of creation ". The cleric looks after the affairs of God, he must be available for his Church (assembly, community). However, the woman is not only a " creature of flesh " in the negative sense ( a person of sex and therefore sin) but she is also a " creature of flesh " in the positive sense, in other words a mother. Lacking the effrontery to claim that the masculine gender is free of concupiscence, the catholic hierarchy assumes the monopoly of men of the positive side of femininity(in their eyes !) : the capacity of women to give themselves totally to individual beings, their children. The difference with women is a lack of universalism. Of course, priests, dealing above all with women, have had to concede - after many a byzantine dispute, closely linked moreover with the question of abstraction, as the attacks of the " iconoclasts show - that a woman was " the Mother of God ". But only in order to confine them to the sublime role : " be a mother and keep quiet ".

This position obviously only survives on the right of christian democracy and in a paganised form in the cult of the leader (and his girls) in the National Front (Lesselier and Venner 1997). But it has also provided the model of political phallocratism for its opponents : anticlerical republicans.

Secular Differentialism

This second position has, in fact, developed as a reaction against clerical monarchism and has directly given rise to the discourse of the masculine type of politician of the Third Republic, which can be found today in the "radicalism of the South-West". The mystical Mother, full of grace, has been replaced by the couple "wife-mistress of the house" (the boss already mentioned) and quite simply "the mistress". Along with "be a mother and keep quiet" there is added "be beautiful and keep quiet".

In this model of the Third Republic, women were excluded even from the right to vote, both a reaction to the Reaction (if they voted, they would vote the same as their priests) and also in the continuity of the Reaction (Fraisse, 1995; Viennot, 1996). The woman is once again seen as either a creature of frivolous flesh (the mistress) or as a domestic animal apprenticed to the role of mother and mistress of the house, but in both cases limited by her gifts to "the domestic", incapable of taking an interest in society (the interdomestic, in some respects) unless it is through literature. Deep down, woman is a " savage ", too naive a child or perverse a woman or, at best (after training) a female who is too attached to her little ones, her "interior" to be involved with "public affairs", the Republic (Mauge, 1987). There again, the difference of the woman is her lack of universality while the difference of man is his ability to take an interest in the Univeral and world affairs. The theological root of this representation is so obvious that it will be traced back almost naively to Freud.

Abstract Universalism

With the rise of women in public education which will bring them to the ministries of the Popular Front before even opening for them the doors of the Chamber of Deputies, then with their right to vote (1945) and their political eligibility, secular differentialism will become untenable. The bell has tolled for abstract universalism. " We are all equal, we all have the same rights. Women have the right to put themselves forward as candidates if they wish and they have the right to vote for the candidates of their choice. If they do not, then it is their business".

Nevertheless, there followed one after another until 1970 Assemblies sinisterly overrun with men and almost exclusively male governments.

If this is the case then it is due to the fact that social structures which reflect secular differentialism are essentially intact. The years 1950-1960 mark the height of women’s exclusion from society, the golden age of the "mistress of the house " in the countryside, in small towns and even in large ones. The " family helpers" of independent workers are still confined to domestic exploitation, those on wages, an ever increasing number are still in the minority and relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy. Things will not change until the end of the 1960s when women will start to control their pregnancies and will acquire more economic independence.

But the " masculine type of politician " is entirely responsible for structuring the mechanisms which determine the electoral supply: the political parties. In order to come out on top in a party in the race to become its candidate, you must have "nothing but that to do" (and women have a thousand things to do), you must "love that" (and women do not necessarily love this form of act-power) you must love power for itself and women would love to do something new.

It is precisely with the rise of feminism that, as private questions have become political, woman take part as women, that is to say with their sex and not as citizens who happen by chance to be of the female sex in the space of political representations, that is to say the space where the questions of social transformation become visible. They come either to express their own demands (reproductive rights, professional equality) or to lay claim to the concretisation of an abstractly recognised equality, they come in the name of differentialism or of universalism. But even when they come in the name of differentialism and universalism they come as women; in other words as an individual subset to whom universality and equality have been effectively denied.

They always have this difference of not being equal and the political solution to these problems is parity, at least as the outcome. The masculine type of politician is again forced into a " post-modern " mutation of some kind.

Pseudo- concrete universalism or "fun" paritarism

The post modern masculine response is particularly well illustrated in the parties which have formally accepted the objective of parity, first and foremost the Greens and more recently the MDC, the PS and the PCE. "Of course there must be women, and young people and musicians! Of course parity would be a very good thing in life. But not in my home, it’s not possible. Not in my constituency, Not in my district. Not in my neck of the woods. But next door, why not?

Karel Kosik, the philosopher defines the pseudo concrete as the taking into account of the diversity of reality without creating a hierarchy of the organic relations which give rise to this diversity (Kosik, 1968). Fun paritarism, a variant of postmodernism, "fixes" in a landscape the differences to be taken into account, orders them in its fashion, for example by not ordering them or by tactically giving a privileged position to another difference than that of the oppressed with which it is confronted.

Now, there are many other legitimate differences in politics than that of sex. There are obviously differences in political choices which inspire proportional voting. Is a woman standing? A political difference will be invented, whose leader will be a man. There are also, of course, regional differences . When there is only one elected member for each constituency, or even four, it is rare not to find four political views, each represented by a man. And then room must be made for an associate, a representative of an allied party, a farmer or a worker.

According to the famous allegory of JL Borges, the map which represents all the territory would be homologous with the territory itself. To choose a representation, one kind of ballot, is to choose differences to be preserved. Even the ballot paper of the departmental list (as in the regional elections) leaves hardly any room for women, if each list has one or three elected members and if each list includes a proportion of under-currents (most with a male leader).

Here again women’s " dislike " of political games places them in an unfavourable position compared with men. They will be the first to internalise the idea : " He can defend my interests better than I can myself. And the south must be represented and so and so is the only candidate worth voting for. I’ll stand next time ". Of course, there will always be women who put into practice the principle of parity until they themselves benefit. It is not more serious because they are women. Of course, there will always be women who will comment on an electoral role fronted by women " it’s so and so’s harem under his remote control".

This is not necessarily untrue, but so what ?

In the face of " fun paritarism " women should not be content with the pseudo concrete. If they really think that in the current situation of the sexes, the interests of women and the woman’s point of view of the world must be represented on an equal footing with those of men, then they cannot be content with parity as an outcome left to the chance conviction of men. They must fight for sexual equality to be written down in the law and on the ballot sheet, on the same level as fair territorial representation and the equitable representation of political currents. A ballot sheet alternating men and women is not necessarily a guarantee as we have seen. The election of a man and a woman by district, if it unbalances the representation of political diversity guarantees absolutely equality in the type of ballot itself. It is all a question of proportion.

As for men, it only remains to hope that they will enjoy the pleasure of mixed Assemblies - if they are elected and- if they are not - that they will find other fields where they can indulge their desire to change the world. I have no fears as far as they are concerned.


Stake and implementation
Editor Jacqueline Martin
Collection Feminin & Masculin
Presses Universitaires de Mirail

Parity : what for ? And, moreover, how ? Is equality necessary for the renewal of our legal and political system ? Will it enable, in the public domain, the inequalities between men and women to be eliminated ? Will it enable the progress of social equality ? Should it, indeed, be written into the constitution or made the target of " positive actions " and if so, which ones ?

Political observers, philosophers, lawyers and sociologists from the Congo, Quebec, Finland, Italy and France give their answers to these questions. These specialists give an account of the work dedicated to overcoming the obstacles to equality and of the practice of women who have been elected and question a number of received ideas on the relations of women in politics.

We are publishing below an article by Alain Lipietz taken from this book.


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