There is a difference between being married and not being married. That difference has come into sharp focus in the romantic life of French President Francois Hollande, a sort of Socialist Sun King around whom women revolve. All of his female companions are reputedly strong, but none seems strong enough to tell him to scram.
Instead, they suffer and complain and jockey for the orbit closest to the star. You see, he won't marry any of them. That included Segolene Royal, the ex-live-in who bore his four children. Royal reportedly asked him to (I quote Beyonce) "put a ring on it." (Royal was not without status, having herself run for president of France.)
Marriage confers certain rights. In "The Wolf of Wall Street," Leonardo DiCaprio's character shows that for jerks with power and money, big-busted blondes may come and go. The only one who can yell at him is the one he married.
Hollande left Royal for Valerie Trierweiler, a journalist. As Royal predicted, "He who has betrayed will betray."
Hollande is now keeping Trierweiler off balance. Though she's been given the palace office and staff of a first lady, Hollande won't confirm that she is first lady.
Now he's been found sneaking off on a motor scooter to visit an actress. Would that make Trierweiler first mistress or second? A distraught Trierweiler checked herself in to a hospital.
The French are famously lax about their leaders' extramarital affairs. Disorder is something else, and Hollande's messy personal life makes them very unhappy.
Recall the funeral of the former President Francois Mitterrand. His wife and their children were there — but also his longtime mistress and their daughter. Neither woman was flustered. Madame Mitterrand had official status of wife. And the mistress, though obviously occupying a different place, was treated with deference. Point is, they all knew what ballpark they were playing in.
One last thought. The members of Hollande's harem chose to sign up for membership. Any one of them could have found a far more dignified relationship elsewhere, in or outside of marriage.
When children are involved, the stability provided by marriage is even more important. For so many poor and working-class mothers, doing it all without a reliable partner has made for a harrowing and impoverished existence.
Consider the interesting case of Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor of Texas. Davis offers an inspirational life story: A single mother living in a trailer ends up with a Harvard law degree and successful career. I like Davis very much, and I like her story, but a few facts were apparently "blurred," as reported in The Dallas Morning News.
Davis was married when she had her children. After separating from her first husband, she did move in to a trailer with her child, though only for a few months. She did work two jobs. But she eventually married a lawyer, who paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University. He cared for the two children (they had one together) in Texas while she attended Harvard Law School, which he also paid for.
The message here is that a down-on-her-luck single mother with grit can work her way up. But it's so much easier if she's had one or more husbands on the way to help.
My feminist credentials are pretty sterling. No woman has to get married, and those who do should lead full lives.
The problem comes when women who want the security of marriage stay with — or have the children of — men who won't commit in that way. For a lot of women, marriage still matters. They should just admit it.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)