Marlène Schiappa has boasted that she will be the first female politician to make the cover of Playboy magazine.
Schiappa’s 12-page interview illustrated by “sexy” photographs will be published in the French version of the erotic men’s magazine on Thursday, which also happens to be the 11th day of national protests against president Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms.
The voluptuous 40-year-old junior minister for social economy and associations is known for wearing décolleté clothing and for writing erotic books under a pseudonym before Macron plucked her from obscurity six years ago.
Schiappa wore a long white dress for the photoshoot two weeks ago, wrapped herself in a French tricolour and struck a pose as Marianne, France’s national symbol.
Critics suspect the predictable furore was a calculated attempt to distract attention from France’s social crisis. Jean-Christophe Florentin, the editor of the French edition of Playboy, said he has doubled the magazine’s print run to 160,000 copies in anticipation of high sales.
There’s a social context … Where is the respect for the French people? People are going to have to work for two years more under Macron’s pension reform
The media frenzy has also created unease in president Macron’s entourage.
In her former job as minister for gender equality, Schiappa drafted a law which penalises catcalling and street harassment with fines of up to €3,750. She says the Playboy interview addresses the rights of women and LGBT citizens, abortion, gender-based violence, politics and literature.
Critics ask if posing for Playboy is really the best way to convey a feminist message.
French prime minister Élisabeth Borne reportedly telephoned Schiappa to tell her that her appearance in Playboy “was not at all appropriate, especially in the current period”.
Florentin said he contacted Schiappa three months ago because she was the only “Playboy-compatible” woman in the government. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we try to do a story mixing women’s rights and a subject that’s a little sexy?’” he said on French radio.
Schiappa will appear “in poses that are surprising on the part of a cabinet minister, that is certain”, he added. Asked if he would also invite Borne, a 61-year-old with a severe demeanour, he said no.
Is she crazy or what? An almost naked minister in the middle of the pension reform!
Schiappa justified her decision in a tweet: “Defending the right of women to do what they want with their bodies: everywhere and all the time. In France, women are free. Whether it annoys the retrogrades and hypocrites or not.”
Sandrine Rousseau, a far-left environmentalist deputy, said women have the right to expose their bodies anywhere, but added: “There’s a social context … Where is the respect for the French people? People are going to have to work for two years more [under Macron’s pension reform]” and are suffering because of high inflation.
When the story broke last weekend, many assumed it was an April Fool’s Day gag. The Élysée has said nothing. It is difficult to imagine that Schiappa, who has been called “Macron’s sniper” for her fierce loyalty to and defence of him, did not clear the interview and photographs with him.
An unnamed deputy from Macron’s group told Agence France-Presse: “Is she crazy or what? An almost naked minister in the middle of the pension reform!”
The prime minister allegedly banned Schiappa from promoting the magazine interview, but Florentin has been gloating over his media coup. “Playboy is not a soft porn magazine, but a 300-page ‘mook’ (combined book and magazine) that is intellectual and on trend,” he said, even if its pages still contain “a few young women undressed in artistic fashion”.
Schiappa’s frequent appearances on television talk shows have made her one of the best-known cabinet ministers, despite her junior position. Last month, she appeared on the cover of Paris Match magazine with her new lover, Matthias Savignac.
We thought, ‘Why don’t we try to do a story mixing women’s rights and a subject that’s a little sexy?’
Schiappa, a mother of two daughters who is currently divorcing her second husband, said she wanted to make the liaison public so that the paparazzi would not harass her. In a biography published last year, she recounted in detail having been the victim of three sexual assaults.
Schiappa published 10 books in her first five years as a cabinet minister, prompting colleagues to ask when she found time to work for the government. Before entering government, she wrote under the pseudonym Marie Minelli, bringing out books with titles such as Dare Female Orgasm, Dare Sexfriends (subtitle: Dare Go to Bed With Your Best Friend!) and How to Transform Your Guy into Brad Pitt in 30 Days (Laughing Sex).
After the schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by a Muslim extremist in 2020, Schiappa launched a €2 million fund to fight jihadism online. An investigation by Marianne magazine and France 2 television, however, has alleged irregular allocation of its funds.