Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF’s errant and erstwhile chief, has been trumped by his wife. Last month, DSK’s spouse, the journalist Anne Sinclair, was polled the most popular woman in France. Well ahead of Christine Lagarde and Carla Bruni.
Today, the news was leaked that Sinclair has been made the French editor of Le Huffington Post – a new Gallic version of the online newspaper – which is launching in the country in conjunction with Le Monde.
Clearly, the stoic Sinclair’s loyalty has endeared her to French audiences. Images of her ashen face outside a New York courthouse after her husband was arrested for allegedly raping a hotel chambermaid evoked sympathy from almost everyone.
Since then the litany of scandals that emerged revealed she had been putting up with a husband with a woefully wandering eye. But strangely, these steely displays of female loyalty inspire the latent respect of the public.
Unlike the cuckold, who is a stock comic character, a motley fool, weak or humiliated – women emerge as tenacious matriarchs. Of course, the view of infidelity differs hugely among cultures.
But, in Europe, the US and evidently France, the popular sentiment reveals one thing: humans are of a forgiving ilk. However misguided they may be, societies reward strong women with their praise.
Like Anne Sinclair, women who ride out the humiliation of a public affair can go on to win over public favour. In 1998 as scandal engulfed her marriage, Hillary Clinton insisted, “I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by her man,” and she went on to be the US Secretary of State. In the UK the betrayed but indignant MP’s wife at the garden gate is a common sight. They are withering reminders of human foibles. But there is a tenacity there. A brave acknowledgment of failure.
The word: cuckold, is thought to date back to the Old French word for cuckoo – an animal that famously steals from other birds’ nests. But what’s the feminine equivalent? It’s rarely used, but it is in fact: cuckquean, a word first recorded by John Heywood in 1562. It derives from the male meaning, but employs the image of a queen.
In some curious inversion of feminist principle, sometimes the cuckquean seems to emerge like DSK’s wife, triumphant, having weathered out disappointment and betrayal on the world stage.
Maybe these queens are now credited with the respect they deserve? Either way, Sinclair has a top job and the French nations’ ear.