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30 May 2017updated 31 May 2017 1:05pm

How Emmanuel Macron’s sensitive masculinity turned him into politics’ Modern Man

Along with Justin Trudeau, Macron is undermining the old-style masculinity of the Vladimir Putins and Donald Trumps. 

By Pauline Bock

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Emmanuel Macron wants you to know that he is not only the youngest ever French president (at 39), nor just a centrist independent who rose to success in the French presidential election last month, nor merely a Blairite reformist who hopes to modernise the French economy. No, Emmanuel Macron is also a Modern Man, and, now that he is elected, a Modern President.

He is young, attractive, smart and cultured, studied philosophy and used to write plays, but he will stand up for his beliefs (like the European Union) and his pals (like the German chancellor, Angela Merkel) while putting bullies in their place (like destroying Marine Le Pen live on TV). He campaigned on a feminist platform (though he failed to appoint a female prime minister as promised). Macron wants you to know that he can be sensitive and yet protect you France.

At recent international meetings with beasts of a more traditional conception of masculinity, such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, Macron has played a more subtle, but not less direct, hand.

Meeting with Trump for the first time in Brussels last week, Macron displayed his determination not to bow to the US leader in the most masculine of all interactions: a firm, strong and never-ending handshake. “They shook hands for an extended period of time,” bystanders reported. “Each president gripped the other’s hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening.” Macron later declared to the Journal du Dimanche that this handshake “isn’t innocent”. “It’s not the alpha and omega of politics, but a moment of truth,” he said. “We have to show that we won’t make small concessions, not even symbolic ones.”

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After this firm grip, Macron once again played the charming but headstrong leader when, on the carpet outside Nato headquarters, he decisively walked past Trump to embrace Merkel, then greeted several other guests before acknowledging the US president.

Macron played a similar part while welcoming the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Versailles later that week. After emphasising the need for a “great dialogue with Moscow” to find solutions to the “essential issues of our time”, the French president doubled down on the “frank and direct” dialogue he wished to have. Standing next to his Russian counterpart at a joint press conference, Macron denounced the lack of journalistic ethics of the Russian media outlets Sputnik and Russia Todaydeclaring: “Russia Today and Sputnik did not act like press organisations, but like means of lying propaganda, during the campaign [for the French election]. On several occasions, they have acted as mechanisms of influence and shared false information against me and my campaign.”

Russia Today and Sputnik are both financed by the Kremlin. As Putin listened on, impassive, commentators in the media and on Twitter went mad for Macron for the second time in a week. “Macron has balls! Vive la France!” one Twitter user exclaimed

“Donald Trump, like the Turkish president or the Russian president, is in a logic of ratio of power, which I don’t mind,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche. “I don’t believe in public invective diplomacy, but in my bilateral talks I won’t tolerate anything. That’s how one gets respected.”

Macron’s soft-touch bullying and disarming political honesty have been matched by the other New Man of Geopolitics: Canada’s own liberal dreamboat, Justin Trudeau, another fan of the firm handshake with Trump. The two men met at the G7 in Taormina, Sicily, this weekend, and they share more than good looks and a common love for neoliberalism.

“Justin has been inspiring,” Macron declared after their meeting, which has been widely revisited online as the beginning of a “bromance”. “We belong to a generation of leaders that will deeply renew practices and a vision of global affairs.”

Behold the heroes of international relations, the messengers of the free world, non-threatening masculinity personified – the New (States)Men.