Cartoons and other forms of visual satire tell a small part of a nation’s political story, especially from the point of view of those who may not entirely agree with what is being done in their name. And from time to time, the satire will feature lady politicians being spanked – and, it seems, nowhere more so than in France, where the fessée satirique is a tradition of long standing.
Three decades and four Presidents ago, the November 1983 edition of the satirical magazine Hara Kiri featured François Mitterand on its cover:
Inside was a photomontage spread based on the idea that, in a government with a lot of teachers among its membership, there was bound to be some corporal punishment going on. Various ministers were shown enduring scholastic penalties like wearing a dunce’s cap, receiving a rap on the knuckles or a clip around the ear. One particular method of discipline was reserved for the only woman in the spread, the Minister of Foreign Trade Edith Cresson:
President Mitterand tells her that foreign trade is in decline, and if it doesn’t right itself, she’ll get something worse than a spanking – the whip!
In due time, Mitterand was succeeded by Jacques Chirac, seen here with his wife Bernadette:
(Well, it’s their heads, anyway.)
But things really get started with the 2007 presidential election. Later on we’ll be meeting the winner, Nicolas Sarkozy. But first, here’s the loser, the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, who will be perhaps an even more important figure in our story.
For losing the election, she’s going to be spanked – with a rose, the emblem of the French Socialist Party – by her long-time partner and fellow politician, François Hollande. But since he became her ex-partner within weeks, we may also speculate that she’s being spanked as much for domestic reasons as political ones:
And, yes, that’s another rip-off from the American humor magazine National Lampoon, and it’s not going to be the last. See if you can spot the others as we go!
Left-wing parties in opposition usually go through bitter schisms and power struggles, and the Parti Socialiste had its share. In July 2008, the veteran left-winger Jack Lang supported the Sarkozy government in a constitutional reform that passed by a single vote – in effect, his vote. He was duly denounced by the Socialists, but his response translated into satirical terms like this:
And there’s another rip-off to spot, this time from Hara Kiri. Lang had served in Mitterand’s government (as a distinguished Minister of Culture), and now he seems to be occupying Mitterand’s suit too!
The Sarkozy government had its own internal squalls. Here’s the Environment Secretary, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet:
In July, the same month as Jack Lang was spanking the Socialists, Nathalie said that two of her governmental colleagues, Jean-François Copé and Jean-Louis Borloo, were cowards. She was required by the Prime Minister, François Fillon, to make a public apology. Cartoonist Paul Baringou, who signs his work Lucuix, had an idea about how Fillon might have persuaded her to do it:
Fillon’s words – ‘I haven’t abolished spanking yet’ – give us a clue about why imagery of la fessée has cropped up so frequently in recent French satire. The European Union’s government in Brussels was making moves to ban the spanking of children in all member countries. Satirists suggested the European political elite might also want to abolish certain more metaphorical kinds of spanking:
It looked as if the French were just going to have to accept that spanking would soon be a thing of the past. Even the right-wing anti-European Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who appears in this cartoon by Jean Miaux:
The caption at the bottom, by the way, suggests that Dupont-Aignan dedicated the incident to ‘Clémentine’ – which is a far-right slap at the far left, specifically to the leading feminist Clémentine Autain, though she obviously isn’t the girl who’s being spanked in the toon:
For years to come, the French were divided on the issue: some were for spanking, others against. This tribute to the veteran cartoonist Georges Wolinski, murdered in a terrorist atrocity in 2015, suggests that the majority were ‘for’, including both Wolinski and the lady across his knee:
There was bound to be some division of opinion, such as here between the spanker and the lady in the burka:
Obviously there was great potential for comical misunderstanding:
Here President Sarkozy wonders how he’s going to govern without the ultimate sanction:
And there were the inevitable jokes about role reversal, seen in this edition of the satirical magazine Kamikaze – obviously a successor to Hara Kiri – with their regular cover girl Adelaide Roberto as the teacher:
Public figures were regularly asked where they stood on the issue, from politicians to sporting heroes. Which might have been embarrassing for the footballer Franck Ribéry, who in 2011 got caught up in a sex scandal involving an Algerian prostitute said to have been Zahlia Dehar, later a fashion designer…
… who was, at the time of the alleged liaison and unbeknown to Ribéry, 16 years old, under the age of consent. So when a cartoonist popped the question, ‘La fessée – oui ou non?’, his answer was rather cruelly presented as:
The issue also played into the ongoing strife within the Socialist Party. In 2009, the novelist and up-and-coming Socialist politician Aurelie Filippetti…
… made a speech saying that it was ironic that spanking was going to be banned, because a spanking was exactly what the Socialists needed to bring them back to political reality. The satirists did their best to make party high-up Vincent Peillon oblige her…
… though they evidently had some difficulty finding a recognizable head-shot of her! Whereas there was no such trouble pairing Peillon with his long-standing political rival Ségolène Royal:
‘I’m going to cut you down to size,’ he says, and, politically minded as ever, she asks only to be spanked on her left cheek.
At that time it looked as if Royal was already on the way out. In 2008, she lost the Socialist Party’s leadership election to Martine Aubry:
And that meant that Aubry carried the can for the party’s difficulties in the ensuing years. Just before she became leader, they had expelled Georges Frêche, the Mayor of Montpellier, for racism, and he proceeded to organize an independent left-wing party to contest the 2010 regional elections. Frêche wiped the floor with not just the right-wing parties but also his former colleagues the Socialists. Cue a spanking for Martine Aubry:
Now, it is a fact that lady politicians are not always elected to high office for their good looks; they are chosen for their worldly experience, and that is entirely as it should be. But when there’s a chance that a cartoonist’s pen might put them across somebody’s knee, youth and good looks are a welcome bonus. So give a warm welcome to Rama Yade, who became François Fillon’s Minister of Sport in 2009 at the age of 32:
Her youth counted against her in cabinet: a few months after assuming office, she criticized President Sarkozy and his policies, and her colleagues dismissed her as merely a ‘spoilt child’. And Sarkozy’s cartoon alter-ego knew exactly how to deal with her: firmly!
The 2012 presidential election brought the Socialists to power under François Hollande, whose private life gave another twist to Le Saga Ségo. Since leaving Ségolène Royal, he had taken up with the journalist and broadcaster Valérie Trierweiler, known as Valoche.
But in January 2014, they split up acrimoniously. Cue for a spanking, perhaps? And who better to give it her than the lady she supplanted, now about to return to government as Hollande’s Ecology Minister:
But maybe that’s not entirely fair. Because there was another woman in the case, and we may give thanks that she’s a pretty one. The film actress Julie Gayet was a long-time Hollande supporter who had appeared in one of his campaign videos.
And now it was rumored that she and Hollande had become an item. Which meant, for some satirists, that what she deserved was…
Meanwhile the business of government went on. The new Minister of Women’s Rights was the glamorous Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
She advocated a radical agenda of laws designed to restrict various kinds of antisocial behavior: ‘lois à la con’. But trying to enforce decent liberal values by statute was not going to be well received by the right, and the heavy guns were brought to bear on her:
She’s being spanked by no less a person than Charles de Gaulle, founder and first President of the Fifth Republic!
And the business of politics went on too. Here’s Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the Minister for the Disabled.
In 2013, she got into electoral difficulties in the party primaries in her political home town of Marseilles, and was summoned back to Paris by the Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, though it’s uncertain that this was what he had in store for her:
Things were also tough in opposition. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet was in trouble again in December 2014, when she had a public row with Nicolas Sarkozy about proposals to build the Triangle Tower, a new skyscraper, in Paris. He was for, she was against, and he was the boss:
And even further to the right, the National Front leader Marine Le Pen…
… had a disagreement with her predecessor, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who also happens to be her father. And what’s a father to do with a rebellious daughter?
The choppy political waters of the mid-2010s included domestic, international and European difficulties for France. The ongoing sex scandals surrounding the Socialist economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, turned bathetic early in 2015 when, despite having been acquitted of all charges, he was forced to make a public admission that, yes, he was into various kinds of kinky sex. Juxtaposed with the impending illegality of spanking, it was a gift to cartoonists:
In 2014, it emerged that the French bank BNP Paribas had systematically evaded US sanctions against rogue states. The US government fined the bank billions. Patriotic French opinion was outraged:
And European austerity measures are never going to be popular, either. When the European financial commissioner Pierre Moscovici told the French in effect to tighten their belts, the Communist Party span it instead as him turning Lady Liberty into a sans-culotte:
It’s the workers who are spanked with austerity, says one of the captions, while the rich stay rich and continue to close factories, ransack rights, foment war and destroy the planet. You’ll have guessed that the Communists want to leave the European Union. But I’d guess they agree with Brussels on one thing: they are probably inclined to say non to la fessée.
So, how did you fare with the National Lampoon borrowings? In all, no fewer than 7 of the 27 spanking pictures here are based on the iconic Birney Lettick painting. As well as the Hollande/Royal spanking, those featuring Julie Gayet and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem are obvious adaptations, and it isn’t very hard to spot where the first Dominique Strauss-Kahn cartoonist got his pose from either. The real giveaways are the girl’s legs and her crooked right arm, and position of the spanker’s feet. And with that in mind, take a closer look at the toons featuring Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Martine Aubry and Marie-Arlette Carlotti.
Which means that, thanks to some of the satirists, America has been spanking the French long before Mademoiselle BNP found herself over Uncle Sam’s knee!