Women Politicians and Television: the numbers game

By Sheila Perry (University of Northumbria at Newcastle)

Address for correspondence:
School of Modern Languages
University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST
Email: sheila.perry@unn.ac.uk

The parity debate in France has brought to the fore the low participation of women in French political institutions. Whatever the limitations of the parity legislation adopted on 3 May 2000 (discussed in the second half of this paper), its very existence, and that of the 1999 Constitutional reform which preceded it and made it possible, are proof that at least one aspect of the ideological battle has been won: there is a general consensus that women’s participation is unacceptably low and that positive action needs to be taken to remedy this.1

There is, however, no comparable consensus regarding the extent to which women figure either as actors or as subjects of the media. It is only recently that studies have begun to establish on a solid statistical basis that women are largely absent from the news media, and that where they do figure, there is disparity in treatment, representation and significance of their participation (Serdjénian 1997, Barré et al. 1999). Women journalists are beginning to examine their own practices and to call upon their male colleagues to reflect on theirs. This work is very much in its infancy and there is not yet widespread agreement on the precise nature of the problems, let alone on the solutions.

As far as politics and the media are concerned, no one has yet raised their voice in protest at the low participation of women politicians in television debates. There is a straightforward explanation for this: since there are not many women in politics, it is assumed that television simply reflects this and cannot be expected to do otherwise. This, in itself, is a naïve perception of the role of the media in democratic societies, as we shall show. But if, for the sake of argument, we momentarily accept this premise, then the solution should be equally simple: increase the number of women in political institutions, through the parity legislation, and there will automatically be an increase in their participation in televised debates. The purpose of this article is to test the validity of this assertion.

We shall first of all examine the evidence to date regarding the participation of women politicians in televised debate programmes, and address the following questions:

  1. How does their participation compare with the reality of their representation in political institutions?
  2. Is there evidence from this that their numbers will grow ‘naturally’, as a direct consequence of their increased numbers in political institutions?
  3. If so, will the problem of their low participation in the media be solved with parity?

Television vs political institutions

From a statistical survey of the participation of women politicians in French televised debate programmes from the beginning of the Fifth Republic until July 1999, it is possible to state that male politicians account for 87.8% and women for 12.2% of the appearances. Before commenting on these figures, it is appropriate to define the methodology by which they were obtained.

The study is based on a corpus of programmes selected from those stored or documented in the archives of the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA) in Paris and at Bry-sur-Marne, and the archives of the television channel France 2, to whom I am indebted for granting me access. From the vast range of debate shows and magazines broadcast since the 1960s, only those with a regular pattern of political participants were selected, and the numbers of male and female politicians participating in each programme calculated. The statistics relating to participation which this produced (87.8% men and 12.2% women) do not distinguish between types of broadcast (channel, time of day, audience rating etc.): each programme represents one appearance. Nor do they take into account the length of the programme concerned or the airtime granted to any of the participants, both of which would be perfectly legitimate methods of quantifying male and female presence. This type of meticulous calculation would have necessitated a much smaller corpus, and the interest of this study is that it makes it possible to survey developments in time over a thirty-five year period and to match them against changes in political institutions. We can, nevertheless, draw some conclusions of a qualitative nature from our statistical survey, as will be shown. For the purposes of the study, a politician was defined as a person holding (or having once held) office in a political institution (National Assembly, Senate, European Parliament, Regional Assembly, Local Council, etc.) or, during election campaigns, standing for election to the same. This constitutes a refinement of a previous study (Perry 1995), which covered the same period up until 1994. The updating of the corpus is significant in that it incorporates the period since 1997, when more women entered the National Assembly, and covers 46 series titles (as opposed to 27 previously) and 2 500 appearances (cf. just over 1 000). While it is still not possible to assert that the survey of programmes is exhaustive (due largely to the lack of information in some areas), it is the largest of its kind and as a corpus is statistically reliable.

With a ratio of 87.8% men to 12.2% women in the corpus, there is a clear imbalance between male and female participation in this type of televised debate. It is much more difficult, however, to establish the significance of the figures in relation to women’s participation in political institutions. 12.2% is low in absolute terms, as it leaves male politicians with the lion’s share of 87.8%, but it compares favourably with the 6% (maximum) of women in the National Assembly until 1997, and even quite well with the record participation of 10% since then. It is higher than the participation rates of women in the Senate (3-5%), General Councils (4-6%) or the proportion of women Mayors (4-6%), and sits at the top end of their participation in Regional Councils (8-12%). However, it compares rather poorly with women’s participation in Municipal Councils (14-17%), the European Parliament (21-30%) or some governments (Mauroy 1981-84: 14%, Cresson 1991-92: 15%, Juppé I, 1995: 28% and Jospin, 1997-2000: 30-40%). Governments are particularly useful for illustrating the difficulties encountered in these estimates. During the period under scrutiny, women’s participation has ranged from zero (the Pompidou governments from 1962 until May 1968) to 41% in 1999 under Jospin, so which figure is to be taken? Is it possible, in these circumstances, to ascertain whether at 12.2% women politicians are being under- or over-represented on television, in comparison with their participation in political office?

In order to compare like with like, a case can be made for combining three elements: two institutions (government and the National Assembly), plotted against chronological development. The choice of institutions can be justified by the fact that 82% of women appearing on television are or have been government ministers or MPs. Isolating specific periods avoids the ‘bunching’ effect of simply adding all the figures together, and allows the identification of lean periods or those when women were relatively numerous. In the previous study this approach showed that the proportion of women politicians on television compared generally favourably with their share of political office: for example, from 1983-1994, 6.7% of government ministers and députés were women, whereas women constituted 9.4% of politicians interviewed on television in the same period. A similar disparity is obtained when we make the corresponding calculation for the period 1997-99, which was not included in the earlier study. For this period, 15.4% of political interviewees were women, compared with only 11.3% in government and the National Assembly combined.

It is tempting to argue from this that television programme-makers exercise a small degree of positive discrimination in favour of women, but such an assertion would be unfounded. Of the 82% of female television participants who are either government ministers (past or present) or MPs, the majority (64.4% of the total) are the former while only 17.8% of all participants are MPs. Combining the two figures in one percentage produces an average much closer to the numerically greater MPs, however, and may go some way towards explaining the discrepancy (the average percentage for government ministers alone would be 35.5%, against which television compares much less favourably). In addition, if programme-makers were seeking to raise women’s profile, it would be difficult to explain some curiously missed opportunities. For example, 14 out of a total of 51 women who have held governmental office since 1968 (that is, 27.5%) do not figure in the corpus of television programmes. In some cases, where a woman has held one portfolio in one government for two years or less, for instance, it may be perfectly understandable that she has not made a sufficiently strong impression to be called upon to participate in a television programme, especially where, as is often the case, she has no previous track record in politics; but how does one explain the absence of Edwige Avice, who held five portfolios in seven governments from 1981-1986 and 1988-1992, (a total of eight years), or that of Catherine Lalumière, who for five years, from 1981-1986, was in four governments and held three different portfolios?

Given television’s preference for repeatedly inviting the same big names, it is also enlightening to compare the ‘high scorers’ among the women with their male counterparts. For this purpose, it was thought to be most useful to consider the longer-running programmes: L'Heure de vérité (1982-95), and Sept sur sept (1981-97), both of which were the main political rendez-vous for the channel in question (France 2 and TF1 respectively) in their time. In both cases, it is Simone Veil who has appeared the most frequently: five times for L'Heure de vérité and nine times on Sept sur sept. In the first case, she comes fourteenth equal with François Bayrou, Jean-Pierre Chevènement and Philippe de Villiers, and in the second, thirteenth equal with Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. In other words, in addition to these four men whose appearances in these programmes are equal in number to those of the highest scoring woman, there are no fewer than thirteen men who have appeared more frequently on L'Heure de vérité and twelve on Sept sur sept (making a total of seventeen different men altogether, given that some of them figure on both programmes). In the case of L'Heure de vérité, Raymond Barre appeared most frequently (twelve times) and Alain Juppé and Edouard Balladur share top place on Sept sur sept, with fifteen appearances each. Among the high scorers on L'Heure de vérité we find the controversial Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right National Front – in fact, in the corpus as a whole, since his first controversial appearance on L'Heure de vérité on 13 February 1984, Le Pen has made 41 appearances, which is more than any single woman, and in a shorter period than Simone Veil (with 33 appearances in total), Arlette Laguiller (18), and Marie-France Garaud (13). It is Le Pen who nevertheless complains that he is ignored by the media (in fact Anne Sinclair is the only journalist who has ever refused to interview him, and his appearance on Sept sur sept was made possible by Gérard Carreyrou, who took Anne Sinclair’s place for the week in question), and yet Le Pen clearly has less cause for complaint than any individual woman!

Rather than attribute positive discrimination to television professionals, therefore, it would probably be safer to say that television reflects and reproduces the low representation of women in French politics, but that given there are so few women involved (seventy-two personalities in thirty-four years), inevitably they occupy a proportionately larger share of the appearances than they might otherwise have done (just as the addition of one women to a government can take their percentage share from 30 to 40). Nevertheless, what the statistics do show is that a ‘natural’ increase is taking place in parallel with their increase in political institutions. In the latter, women have seen their participation rise on a number of occasions: the 1978 legislative elections, the 1981 Mauroy government, the 1994 European elections, governments since 1995, and the 1997 legislative elections. If one divides the television appearances into three roughly corresponding periods (1966-78, 1978-97, 1997-99), one finds that women’s participation also increases: 3.1%, 12.6% and 15.4% respectively.

Their participation has shown a qualitative increase also, in that women have increasingly been engaged in discussions which previously involved only men, such as foreign affairs, privatisation, hunting, and football, to name but a few. All this would seem to suggest that the parity legislation, once implemented, should bring similar increases. Is this true?

Television and parity

In order to answer the question posed in the previous section we need first of all to comment on some aspects of the parity legislation finally adopted on 3 May 2000, before returning to the question of television. It could be argued that political parity as anticipated in the legislation will be quantitative rather than qualitative, and that even in quantitative terms total parity will not be achieved. This is because parity, where it is to exist, will be parity of candidacy rather than of election (there is no guarantee that women will not be more numerous in unwinnable seats), that even purely in numerical terms parity is not imposed in all elections, and that the elections to which parity applies most strictly are the ones which carry less clout in the eyes of both the public and the political class.

True numerical parity will exist for only two types of election: the European and the Senatorial elections (the latter for departments with five or more representatives). In both these cases, parties will be obliged to present lists of male and female candidates in equal numbers, and since men and women have to alternate on each list, equal numbers should gain office (except for a slight discrepancy where odd numbers of candidates are elected). There is nothing to guarantee an equal number of male and female candidates at the top of each list. For regional and municipal elections (in communes with 3 500 or more inhabitants), the lists also have to consist of equal numbers of male and female candidates, but here men and women do not have to alternate, as they can be presented in groups of six (three men and three women, in any order). This means that unequal numbers are more likely to be elected. As for legislative elections, here parties will be subjected to financial penalties in proportion to the size of the discrepancy between male and female candidates, beyond a permitted gap of 2%. In other words, even parity of candidacy is not guaranteed, and given that some seats will be easier to win than others, any discrepancies which do exist in parties’ selection of male and female candidates may be further accentuated by the results of the ballot.

It will take two years (2001-2) for each different type of election to take place under the new legislation, and as some bodies, such as the Senate and Municipal Councils, are renewed in batches, rather than all at once, it will take even longer for the process to be completed. There will not be parity in all political institutions, therefore, and the parity which does exist will not take effect immediately. Nevertheless, this legislation should lead to a massive, if gradual, increase in the number of women holding political office in France. What will be its effect on French television?

Combining the two trends outlined above: a steady increase in women’s participation in televised debate programmes in line with their growing participation in political institutions, coupled with a major, foreseeable increase in the latter, one would expect television to show a parallel trend in favour of women. This is not likely to be as straightforward as might at first appear, however.

This is because there is a mismatch between the roles directly affected by the parity legislation and those which are pathways to television appearances on this type of programme. Among those women who have appeared most frequently, nearly all were in government for their first appearance (Simone Veil, Martine Aubry, Elisabeth Guigou, Ségolène Royal, Michèle Barzach…). Ministers are appointed, not elected, and the composition of the government is not directly affected by the legislation on parity. If parliament were more feminine, it is possible there might be some pressure on the Prime Minister and President to appoint more women ministers, but parliament is one of the least certain of all the institutions to see equal numbers of men and women actually in office, even if – and this is not certain either – there are equal numbers of male and female candidates at the elections. It is conceivable that in 2002 parity will be a theme in the Presidential election campaign, as it was in 1995, and that the President elected may be under pressure to produce a more feminised government as a result. Be that as it may, in spite of the predominance of members of the government among those interviewed on television, there is already a considerably higher proportion of women in government than in television debate programmes, so it would take a marked increase for that to have any perceptible effect on television appearances.

The other women who appear most frequently are party leaders and presidential candidates (Dominique Voynet, who has since also been a minister; Arlette Laguiller, and Marie-France Garaud…). Neither of these roles is affected by the parity legislation. This illustrates the importance for women to gain influence within political parties, which are notoriously misogynous and have been primarily responsible for women’s lack of candidacy, a situation which has led to the problem of their under-representation in the first place (Gaspard 1997).

If we consider women at the other end of the scale, that is, those with fewer than nine appearances, we find a very similar pattern, with government ministers or MPs high on the list (though in reverse order), followed by the role of Mayor, party and local representatives. These latter are the least numerous on television, but positions in local government are more attainable through the parity legislation than any of the others. They will also come first chronologically, in 2001. It will be interesting to see just how many of the municipal lists will place a woman at the top, and eligible to become Mayor – this is the local government post most women who appear on television occupy, but it is not a requirement of the legislation. As for députées, those who appear on television have usually managed to distinguish themselves from the mass of MPs by acting as spokesperson for a parliamentary commission, or spokesperson for their political group for or against specific legislation: the role of humble MP is not enough in itself to qualify for airtime. There is also a predominance of women representing constituencies in the Paris region – a direct consequence of the convenience for both channel and guest of geographical proximity, and the domination of French political life by the Parisian scene.

As for the two elections which have the surest form of parity, the European and Senatorial elections, these do not provide television guests in any great numbers, and usually only indirectly, through someone who has also held one of the other, more commonly televised, posts. Simone Veil, the most visible woman politician, is a case in point. For many of her thirty-three appearances in the corpus, she has been an MEP, but one wonders whether she would have had such a high profile had she not been a government minister first – and responsible for the highly popular and controversial legalisation of abortion – as well as President of the European Union. In 1994 six parties presented lists with equal numbers of male and female candidates, as a result of which there are 30% women MEPs representing France. While women’s participation in television programmes since 1994 has been higher than previously, it is still a far cry from 30%, largely because national issues dominate the political agenda (as in many other countries) and European issues only really come to the fore during election times.

These details would seem to indicate that although in the next few years women may well become more numerous in political office, this will not necessarily translate itself into more frequent television appearances, since the positions which most frequently earn an entry to debate programmes – being a member of the government, party leader, Mayor, or presidential candidate – will be affected, if at all, only indirectly, whereas women stand most chance of being elected to local office, and this is a less common route to television programmes. All of this goes to show that women will still have a long way to go to get a larger share of televised political debate, as they will need to get themselves in these very specific roles in order to be heard. This is because these programmes will always deal primarily with established politicians, that is their function within the diet of programmes on offer, so women need to get into those positions. Just as parity in legislation is to be quantitative rather than qualitative, so too will parity of participation on television – the ‘prestigious’ appearances, which legitimize an individual’s political standing, will still be less accessible to women than to men. Parity as foreseen by the legislation is therefore only the beginning.

There is a danger that parity will be perceived rather as the end point, as equality having been achieved, but the evidence in this study shows that this would be a mistake. The onus will be on women themselves to negotiate a higher proportion of public debate. In spite of the term invité, media professionals do not act autonomously, and cannot be held solely responsible for the composition of their guest lists. There are several cases of last-minute cancellations, a clear link between regular appearances and the role played by certain personalities within parties, and many politicians themselves constantly harass journalists for opportunities to appear. Do women politicians seek television appearances as actively as men? All the literature on women in politics testifies to the fact that French women politicians hold communication in low regard in relation to action (see, for example, the personal testimonies in Adler 1993, Saint-Criq and Prévost 1993, and Guigou 1997). If they continue with this attitude, it could prove detrimental to their rates of participation. One way to approach this might be to distinguish between the langue de bois (empty, meaningless rhetoric) and communication related to action and policy, but whatever its ideological basis, women need to acknowledge and accept the importance of the role of the media if they are to use them to their advantage.

It would be a mistake to wait passively for the parity legislation to produce results in terms of television appearances, not only because, as we have seen, this is less likely to happen than may be imagined, but because of its potential consequences for the future. Lack of women in debate programmes has been attributed to lack of women in political institutions, with the assumption that it is the root cause which needs to be attacked, not the symptom. But this, as stated initially, is a simplistic view of the role of the media in politics – they are not just the outward manifestation of a pre-existing phenomenon. Television is not a mirror or a window on the world, but part of it, and interactive – it is a ‘caisse de résonance’ to borrow a phrase from Marlène Coulomb-Gully (1994: 237): it amplifies and so contributes to the exclusion of women. The absence of debate regarding the poor representation of women on television means that television has served to perpetuate the status quo.

Presenting their participation in percentage terms masks the fact that at times women have been totally absent from the debate: for nearly 2 years (1 year 11 months) between November 1974 and October 1976, for seven months from October 1984 to May 1985 (there are other similar periods but these include the summer months when there are fewer programmes), eight months from May 1990 to January 1991. Women had only seven appearances in the twelve years from 1966-78. These figures represent the programmes on offer, of course, and not audience viewing — if viewers happen to miss a programme with a woman, the periods of absence could turn out to be much longer! The presence of women is important for their legitimacy: it is a question of who owns the debate. Long periods of absence may go unnoticed as such, but lead viewers to forget that women have a right to be involved and thus reinforce the widely-held belief that women are not interested in politics, or at least not in certain kinds of politics. They have been reduced to silence on certain issues. Their exclusion may seem obviously shocking when in the 1970s programmes featuring only men debated the issue of abortion, but do women not have an equal right to discuss the euro, foreign affairs, etc? And yet, their exclusion becomes the norm. Furthermore, when they have not participated in the debate, no one expects them to become ministers with that particular portfolio. The parity legislation is not going to bring women into power in certain important functions, and if women are not careful, television will legitimize and perpetuate the more lowly role accorded to women. Just as there is a hierarchy of political functions, so there is a hierarchy of political programmes: L'Heure de vérité was always considered the highest, and an appearance on it represented a consecration: it is not by chance therefore that the percentage participation of women on L'Heure de vérité was much below the overall figure for all programmes, at 7.1% (cf. 12.2% average). Its TF1 counterpart and rival, Sept sur sept, was less seriously political, intermingling guests from showbiz and the cinema with political personalities, and involved 12.4% women among its political guests. Dimanche soir and its successor Politique Dimanche (France 3) was, like L'Heure de vérité, a strictly political programme, but like Sept sur sept reviewed the week’s news in the presence of the guest: here women managed to total 14.4% – to what extent is this higher figure due to the lateness of the hour at which this programme was broadcast, and to its lower audience ratings resulting from this and from its smaller channel? Similarly, we find that in 1995-1999, the morning programme Les 4 vérités, consisting of a ten-minute interview within the magazine Télématin, featured 16% of women among the politicians invited. The less significant the programme in terms of hour of broadcast, potential audience, length and political clout, the greater the participation of women. They also feature more frequently in programmes with round-table discussions, such as Polémiques (20.3%), than in single-person interviews with journalists, showing that women can engage in debate as one voice among many much more easily than they can occupy the central position.

This means of course that these ‘lesser’ programmes can be a route whereby women can begin to get themselves known from relatively lowly positions; but they should guard against the potential danger that they undervalue their own role in the eyes of the viewers if they content themselves with these programmes, and do not move into the more prestigious, male-dominated ones.

There is also the danger that the parity legislation will perpetuate the situation whereby women are in fact constantly seen as representing only women or competent to comment on women’s issues. If we consider Polémiques, for example, it is interesting to see the themes which were covered during the programmes involving women. In the round table debate during the second half of the programme, questions relating specifically to the role of women or the parity debate accounted for 22 out of 54 female guests, social questions (traditionally regarded as ‘feminine’ subjects) 14, while other subjects involved 18 women guests. Nine women were interviewed individually in the first half of the programme, seven of whom held positions with a social portfolio (Travail, environnement, condition féminine) as against two others: Europe and Justice (which in fact turns out to be Elisabeth Guigou in both cases, before and after the 1997 legislative elections). So although women were involved in a wide variety of debates, they were more frequently engaged (in a ratio of 2:1) in either social questions or questions relating specifically to women than any other. It is particularly of note that one programme alone had nine women guests: Françoise Giroud (not a politician since the 1970s) and the eight women who had been dismissed from Alain Juppé’s first government – in other words, the high participation of women was in part due to their low participation in institutions, and thanks to Alain Juppé who found them eminently dispensible!

Of course, what this means is that parity will be its own impetus, as a subject of debate and therefore conducive to the involvement of women. But while this is invaluable for the development of the cause (Polémiques was instrumental in bringing together women from the Left and Right to publish a Manifesto, which proved to be an important stage in the parity campaign), this places women on the defensive, in a position of constant justification which men do not have to face, and speaking primarily on ‘women’s’ issues. This does not establish automatic legitimacy – women’s legitimacy is having to be defended, verbally, by those present – whereas equality in the long term would mean women could be present but not noticed as women, taken for granted. Just as it can be argued that women have gained equality only when incompetent ones reach positions of power, likewise they have to become ‘part of the furniture’ for the same to be true in politics. During the next two years, as the parity legislation is implemented in each of the different elections, women are going to be very much in the spotlight, with a record to defend. This is an opportunity, but it is also an added pressure: as Gisèle Halimi has eloquently pointed out, if men had been subjected to a similar ‘obligation de résultat’ in order to prove their worthiness as politicians, the electorate would have got rid of them all a long time ago! (Halimi 1997: 196).

In the same vein, it is likely that during the next two years the public /private debate will be higher on the agenda, and persistently identified as a ‘women’s’ issue. Women politicians have already had occasion to complain that journalists never ask men how they reconcile their family life with the demands of political office (for example, Edith Cresson on the programme Du côté de chez Fred, 10 October 1988) but the notion persists that this is a problem specifically for women: witness the fact that the Observatoire de la parité, set up in 1995 by Alain Juppé to consult widely on parity and to make recommendations to the government, proposed among other things the establishment of a statut de l’élu, designed to reconcile political office with family life. Although this was intended as a measure for all elected representatives, both male and female, the fact that it was coupled with proposals for making it possible for women to be more involved in politics still marks it out as a measure which women make necessary, whereas men have managed without it (and, by implication, could continue to do so). No such measure has yet been adopted, however. Unless women make sure that this is an agenda item for all, it will be used to their disadvantage: either because the need for special concessions to accommodate them will reinforce the notion that they are not as suited to politics as men, or, if they try to engage in politics on men’s terms, because they will have to be superwomen in order to reconcile all the demands placed on them. In either event, they will be differentiated from men and not subject to equal treatment, unless they themselves insist on it. While the weight of cultural tradition militates against such a stance – did Martine Aubry not acquiesce with the implications of Bruno Masure’s question (that she was neglecting her duties as a mother), by responding sweetly, and in the positive, that her daughter did miss her when she was out campaigning? (La France en direct, 6 March 1995) – nevertheless, French women have a great potential tool in the Republican universalist tradition, whereby citizens and their elected representatives should not be distinguished by religion, colour, or gender. This argument has been used against them for so long in the fight against parity that its potential in helping them to reject such differential treatment may not be obvious to all, but some of those campaigning for parity have already used it in their favour.

On the positive side, as long as parity is newsworthy, it will remain a subject of debate, and the electoral calendar will perhaps lead to a higher concentration on local politics in debate programmes, and produce, albeit indirectly, a shift in the focal point of political television, which traditionally has emphasised national issues. This will only be true in the short term, however.

Does any of this matter? Of course, it would be naïve to equate a higher media profile with political success: indeed, it is more directly responsible for failures than successes (the most notable example being Laurent Fabius’s disastrous televised debate with Jacques Chirac in October 1985), and judicious absence from television screens has often served during electoral campaigns (for example, François Mitterrand used this tactic to good effect in the 1988 presidential election) but it is undeniable that political success cannot be achieved without it – it is, in the words of Serge July, ‘une condition nécessaire mais pas suffisante’ (30 ans de télévision politique, Antenne 2, 14 and 21 September 1987). Alone, television is not enough, and can have negative as well as positive consequences: it is still necessary for all that. French women politicians would do well to remember that a place in the spotlight of television has to be fought for and won, in much the same way as political office. Parity will give them a valuable opportunity to do this, but it is an opportunity they will need to seize and exploit to their advantage: the system will not work automatically in their favour, even in these new, exciting times.

1. The consensus is, as might be expected, more broadly shared over the principle of parity than over the means to implement it: in 1999, the Parliamentary Congress (deputies and senators combined) voted 745 in favour, 43 against (with 48 abstentions) to inscribe parity into the Constitution, whereas 128 senators referred the law detailing how parity should be implemented to the Constitutional Council, in an attempt to block it. (In the event, the Council validated the law, except for certain clauses relating to the DOM-TOM, and to municipal elections in communes with fewer than 3 500 inhabitants. It was promulgated on 6 June 2000. Loi no.2000-493, JO no.131, 7 June 2000, p.8560.) As for the general public, according to opinion polls, a large majority has been in favour of legislation to increase women's participation in political institutions, for some time: see Halimi 1997: 225-26 for some examples.


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