‘Fishwife’ insult sparks sexism row in French parliament

LE PECQ, France (AP) — A female lawmaker slighted as “the fishwife” by a yelling male colleague in the French parliament called Thursday for him to be sanctioned, saying the incident typifies the sexism faced by millions of women in France.

National Assembly member Mathilde Panot was preparing to speak in the chamber on Tuesday when she was subjected to cries, clearly audible on video of the parliamentary session, of “c’est la folle” — which translates as “it’s the mad woman” — and “la poissonnière,” the feminine form of fishmonger.

Panot blamed male lawmaker Pierre Henriet for “the fishwife” comment and quickly lodged a complaint with the session speaker,

“We women lawmakers are not here in this hemicycle to be insulted,” she said.

Panot said she hadn’t been able to immediately identify who called her mad.

Henriet is a legislator for President Emmanuel Macron’s party. Panot represents the left-wing France Unbowed party, which frequently is critical of Macron’s policies.

Without acknowledging that it was, indeed, him who called Panot “the fishwife,” Henriet sought to justify his behavior.

Panot “spends her time yelling at the tribune and interrupting,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I was infuriated and my words were not at all an insult and, even less, sexist. It’s an expression to condemn her behavior as I also do with her male colleagues,” he said.

He then added in a follow-up tweet: “If she feels wrongly insulted, I ask for her forgiveness.”

Panot on Thursday called his excuses unacceptable and urged sanctions.

“All women politicians today, at one moment or another, have been victims of this sort of ordinary sexism,” she told French broadcaster BFM-TV.

“It is important to not let it slide, for the millions of women in the country who face this all the time, in the street, in companies and in politics, where the talk is always about our physiques, the way we dress, where our intelligence is questioned,” Panot said. “So I will not let it pass.”

The National Assembly president, Richard Ferrand, condemned the language used against Panot in a statement that said “sexism has no place in our society” but which made no mention of punishments. Ferrand said he’d raise the issue at a meeting next week.

Despite being among the first countries to grant universal suffrage to men, France didn’t allow women to vote or be elected to office until 1945.

Since then, women lawmakers have been no strangers to sexism.

In 2013, conservative lawmaker Philippe Le Ray was fined a quarter of his monthly salary after he, and possibly others, clucked at fellow legislator Veronique Massonneau as she addressed the parliament. She pleaded, “That’s enough….I’m not a chicken!”

Lawmakers also hissed at a Cabinet minister in 2012, apparently because she was wearing a dress. One later explained they were simply admiring her beauty.

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