For a country hardly touched by the sexual revolution, this week's government reshuffle in France has provoked an unexpected fuss.
For, while the reshuffle passed off peaceably enough, the dismissal of eight out of 12 women ministers has become a major talking-point and a subject of concern, even anger.
Six months ago Alain Juppe included 12 women in his government, apparently at the insistence of President Jacques Chirac, who had promised to outdo the Socialists' pledge on the political representation of women. Headlines in May referred to a government "modernised" and "feminised".
Now, four days after the cut in the number of women ministers, headlines are still buzzing, largely because, instead of withdrawing modestly into obscurity, as would befit good Frenchwomen, les femmes have come out fighting.
Their mood was clear from the outset. The most senior, Colette Codaccioni, who was minister for solidarity between the generations, published a resignation letter saying she had fulfilled "all the tasks" set by Mr Juppe in his letter of appointment and was leaving "with ... the peace of mind that comes from a mission accomplished".
A day later she said she saw her dismissal not as a reproof but as an injustice, adding that it would "certainly do nothing to reconcile women with politics". Of EU countries, France and Greece have fewest female MPs - 6 per cent - and now France has below the average number of women in government.
The word "injustice" also cropped up in the account of Francoise de Veyrinas, former junior minister in charge of difficult city regions, who had heard her senior minister, Eric Roualt, say: "This flibbertigibbet won't trouble me for long."
Yesterday Francoise de Panafieu, former tourism minister, said Mr Juppe had a "ridiculous" way of treating women and, having given her a detailed list of her tasks on appointment, took four minutes to dismiss her, "all in generalities".
Mr Juppe, having to defend his removal of eight women (out of 13 dismissals) to the National Assembly, gave figures demonstrating that even now France was only just below the European average for women in government, prompting Ms Codaccioni - aged 53 and mother of five - to complain: "We are not milk products, to be talked of in percentages."
During the short life of the first Juppe government, the women ministers, referred to collectively as the "Juppettes", were said to be inexperienced, indiscreet, lacking in political skills and embodying "tokenism". They complained, in turn, that they were left out of decision-making, blamed for all the government's woes, and expected to toe the line - without knowing what it was.
For the defence, one of the four women survivors, Margie Sudre, minister for the francophone world, insisted that the dismissal of so many women had nothing to do with their sex or their competence but was because they mostly occupied junior jobs that were abolished for the sake of efficiency.
But the Socialist and right-wing opposition knows a promising cause when it sees one and has queued up to complain about the poor representation of women in the new government and the way the last ones were treated. "It was the sinking-ship principle," said the right-wing Philippe de Villiers: "Women and children first."Reuse content