Overt harassment abounds. Ms. Rousseau was one of more than a dozen women who accused a Green Party legislator, Denis Baupin, of forcing himself on them; in her case, he pushed her up against a wall and kissed her against her will. Another regional legislator gave her the traditional French double kiss and pat on the back in greeting — and undid her bra.
In two widely publicized incidents, a female minister wore a flowery dress to testify in Parliament and faced catcalls to take it off; and a legislator started clucking like a chicken when one of his female colleagues began to speak.
And then there are the more subtle barriers, ones that confront American female politicians as well. “When newspapers write a story about a woman in politics, they write about the way she dresses,” Ms. Rousseau said. “Of course after one has written that, we cannot be a political leader, manage millions of euros, make war … ” Once again, Ms. Le Pen turned that political vulnerability upside down.
Perhaps France’s most famous woman, one that the National Front celebrates every May Day, is Joan of Arc. “And we don’t all want to end up burned at the stake,” Ms. Koscuisko-Morizet said.
Whatever the ironies, and even if Ms. Le Pen falls short, as the polls suggest, political analysts here say that her gender strategy is one of the reasons the National Front has gained ground — although she has long worked at repositioning the party, expelling her father and playing down its anti-Semitic past.
An analysis of the National Front results in 2012 by Nonna Mayer, a sociologist at Sciences Po university and specialist on right-wing French parties, showed that Ms. Le Pen had virtually eliminated a longstanding gender gap, attracting as many women voters as men. She drew strong support from women in low-paid, low-skilled service jobs like cashiers.
“She is proud of being a mother of three children, living out of wedlock, she has divorced twice,” Ms. Mayer said. “She gives the image of a modern working woman who does politics.”