French Women Don’t
Get Fat Need Feminism?
10:30 am, January 10th | by Meredith Lepore
French women have so much going for them — impeccable style, the ability to wear scarves in diverse ways, not getting fat and often having better work/life balance than American women. But is life so good for these women that they don’t need feminism?
Ex-model and former French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy made waves in the December issue of Paris Vogue when she declared, “My generation doesn’t need feminism.” Many French women argued that Bruni-Sarkozy was absolutely wrong and that feminism was very much needed by their new generation — but is it? After all, women have made quite a few gains in the country that certainly don’t exist stateside. France’s day-care centers, called crèches, are all state subsidized. If mothers can’t find places in the state-run crèches, they share nannies and receive generous tax refunds that make having childcare affordable. Preschools are free, and open all day, for children as young as 3. Sounds pretty egalitarian to us.
Where French women do fall behind American women is in protection against sexual harassment. According to the French Ministry of Justice, about 1,000 complaints for sexual harassment are filed every year, but only a few dozen actually lead to some sort of enforced punishment. France is ranked 57 of 135 countries in gender equality on the World Economic Forum’s index. But are French women itching to have a more “American” workplace?
NYU French Professor Anne Deneys-Tunney argues that losing the ability to harmlessly flirt and living in an environment with that air of light romance is not worth it to French women. It is part of the culture that makes the French so….French. In the film Le Divorce based on Diane Johnson’s book of the same name, Roxie, the American character who finds out her husband has been cheating on her (and has left her for the other woman) realizes she will get no sympathy from her French friends and family. “C’est normale,” they say.
A clear example of this French attitude was the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal. Sara Miller Llana wrote, “The case shocked many with its frank discussion of certain commonly held French attitudes toward women.” There is a nationally accepted notion of “boys will be boys” in France. After all, this is a country that protected Roman Polanski, an admitted rapist. Contrast that with, say, Anthony Weiner, whose career was over with a couple of texts.
But some French women are not comfortable with this attitude in the workplace. Marilyn Baldeck is a young feminist and the head of the European Association Against Violence Toward Women at Work. She told Llana, ”There is cheese, bullfighting, and the French way of seduction. We are being accused of wanting to sanitize the relationships between men and women…. [It] is claimed to be a puritanical feminism … an American type of feminism.” In some circles, being a feminist means you are a party pooper. You don’t have that wonderful, light-hearted attitude. Your beret is on too tight.
While some are making a push for more equality in France, it’s hard to make progress in a country that considers the movement rather unnecessary. It’s not that French women don’t need feminism, but rather that they aren’t allowed to have the discussion in the first place. That doesn’t sound so egalitarian after all.