High-profile or invisible? Being first spouse isn't easy

France's first lady Brigitte Trogneux, Turkey's first lady Emine Erdogan, Luxembourg's Gauthier Destenay, US first lady ...
REUTERS

France's first lady Brigitte Trogneux, Turkey's first lady Emine Erdogan, Luxembourg's Gauthier Destenay, US first lady Melania Trump, Slovenia's Mojca Stropnik, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Iceland's Thora Margret Baldvinsdottir, Norway's Ingrid Schulerud - Stoltenberg, Bulgaria's Desislava Radeva and Belgium's Amelie Derbaudrenghien.

A hullabaloo over the new French president's desire to formalise the role of France's first lady is a reminder that being married to a world leader isn't for timid types.

Below, read how some countries approach the issue - and how some first spouses have broken the shackles of protocol or retreated to the mountains to escape scrutiny.

FRONT AND CENTRE

Presidential wives are scrutinised on social media for what they wear as much as what they do or say.
REUTERS

Presidential wives are scrutinised on social media for what they wear as much as what they do or say.

The United States sets the standard for first ladydom. America's first lady assumes a formal public role that comes with a White House office, but makes it impossible to maintain an ordinary lifestyle.

Michelle Obama left her job as a lawyer to campaign for healthier children. Melania Trump has kept a lower profile so far, but is expected to accompany her husband at major public events and summits.

Few other countries have such codified expectations.

Michelle Obama left her job as a lawyer to campaign for healthier children
REUTERS

Michelle Obama left her job as a lawyer to campaign for healthier children

While French first ladies have taken on an increasingly public role, a proposal by President Emmanuel Macron to grant a special budget to finance his wife's official activities has been met with an online petition of protest that is quickly gaining signatures.

UNDER THE RADAR

In many countries, political spouses stay out of the public eye.

German President's wife Elke Buedenbender and Chinese President's wife Peng Liyuan.
REUTERS

German President's wife Elke Buedenbender and Chinese President's wife Peng Liyuan.

Greece doesn't seem to care that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's partner Peristera Pizania rarely appears at official events. Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's wife continued working as a schoolteacher in Tuscany while he was in office. Wives of Spanish prime ministers only make the news when they go into politics themselves.

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is single - but even if he were coupled up, his compatriots might not notice, since Dutch politicians tend to keep their private lives out of the public sphere.

LOSE-LOSE SITUATION

What about me? Denmark's Prince Henrik, married to Queen Margrethe, has long complained that he is stuck with the title ...
REUTERS

What about me? Denmark's Prince Henrik, married to Queen Margrethe, has long complained that he is stuck with the title of prince and couldn't be named king.

It's often difficult however to find the right balance between public action and a private life, especially for presidential wives scrutinised on social media for what they wear as much as what they do or say.

The wife of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Elke Buedenbender, stopped working as a judge out of concern for judicial independence. One of her predecessors, Bettina Wulff, published a book complaining about the role.

The position of first lady in Romania remains sensitive due to the legacy of Elena Ceausescu, who had a major role during the discredited communist regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Her successors have been expected to remain discreet and quietly supportive instead.

Current Romanian first lady Carmen Iohannis was subjected to a barrage of criticism for clothes deemed too daring for a president's wife, and for holidays deemed too glamorous.

She now lives in the couple's home city of Sibiu and is rarely seen in public. The Iohannis no longer go on foreign vacations and instead go hiking in Romania's Carpathians.

WHAT ABOUT THE MEN?

First spouses remain overwhelmingly women, though that is changing.

At a recent Nato summit, the husband of Luxembourg's gay prime minister was among those alongside Melania Trump on the spouses' summit program.

And Europe's two biggest economies have women leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May. But their husbands raised no eyebrows for sticking with their jobs, and both successfully avoid the limelight.

Some men, too, bristle at being reduced to "the husband of.''

Denmark's Prince Henrik, married to Queen Margrethe, has long complained that he is stuck with the title of prince and couldn't be named king. The 83-year-old Henrik announced last week he won't be buried next to his queen in protest at what he sees as unequal treatment.

 - AP

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