Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Friday, 4 April 2008

It's not the ooh-la-la factor

Rachida Dati, France's Justice Minister

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about why French women are like that and not like this.

The following, in my view, nails it:

For many sociocultural reasons there has always been more complicity between men and women in France than in Anglo-Saxon cultures, and that complicity breeds a different kind of woman. This is at the heart of fascination with French women. Franco-American actress Charlotte Rampling once said that "French women have been made beautiful by French people. They're very aware of their bodies, the way they move and speak; they are very confident of their sexuality."

My cousin's French partner would be shocked if he did not, at home at the weekend, sit down to a three course lunch on Saturday with napkins in napkin holders and a glass of excellent wine. And shocked if my cousin was not always beautifully dressed.


Belle de Ville said...

A part of me wonders if the prettiest of the French women make it further in politics and business specifically because of their looks, just like in school where the prettier girls tend to get higher marks.
I think that culturally for the French, attractiveness is more important for women than competence.

Toby Wollin said...

I'm going to go waaay out on a limb here and express something that I think is America's dirty (not so) secret: I think one of the major differences between the French and certainly the Americans is that a lot of American men They are afraid of them. They resent them. They see women as competing for jobs and positions that they feel are THEIR right and given the means, mode and opportunity, they will do everything in their power to push women down. Where this comes from, I don't know and it is not a recent thing. I was accosted my first week at college by another freshman who claimed that because I was there, a "competant" boy could not have my place and that I was only there to get married. That was 1970. I think Frenchmen do not feel the same way about women that American men do. I don't know about men in the UK.

60 Going On 16 said...

I don't think American men have a monopoly on this sort of crooked thinking, Toby W. In the early 1980s, I was appointed to run corporate public relations at one of the UK's top retailers. My then boss, the head of PR, made it quite clear, almost from day one, that the pecking order was - as far as he was concerned - irreversible. 'You see,' he explained, 'in order for one woman to succeed, one man has got to fail.' He spent three years just looking for an opportunity to haul me over the coals for some alleged misdemeanour or other. I eventually walked away, having decided that this was no way to live or work.

As for Frenchmen, it might look good on the surface but ...

I say this with full apologies to all the enlightened men who read this blog and who do not subscribe to a Neanderthal view of women.

Deja Pseu said...

Expanding on Toby's point a bit, I think it boils down to this: the French on the whole are more comfortable with and reverent of femininity. I'm not just talking about lipstick and high heels, but of art, music, cuisine, and values. The feminine is not so denigrated in France as it is by some of the more knuckle-dragging Americans (and Brits, perhaps?) In America anyway, art and music are "sissy" endeavors, and it would seem the worst thing to be called if male is a "girly man."

Jen said...

What is the "complicity" the author is talking about?

Is your cousin's partner also "complicit" in making the 3-course meal, washing, ironing and placing the napkins in the rings, and making sure your cousin has the leisure time to shop and tend to herself and her clothes?

Or is that a horribly Anglo-Saxon, and worse, American, comment?

lagatta à Montréal said...

This particular entry has got me pondering, without any great resolution of this problem. I have not lived in either the UK or the US, though been there and have friends in both countries (- have spent considerable time in English-speaking Canada, in France and in Italy, as well as mon pays natal (if you wish) in Montréal.

It is a very complex issue, and there has been bushels of nonsense written on the topic, such as "Frenchwomen don't get fat" (of course they do, but not so much in the social class of the person who wrote that book).

I know many, many brainy Frenchwomen, not all of them particularly beautiful, though there is an attention to the aesthetic in the Latin countries.

One of the most prominent women in French politics in the postwar era, Simone Veil (a fascinating person, of the centre-right, a Holocaust survivor, an important feminist in her own way) was certainly a handsome woman in middle age (as I remember her as a young woman) and remains so as an elderly woman (as I see her in middle age). But she was of a more matronly build than Rachida Dati - though always impeccable in Chanel suits.

I don't have any conclusive, tranchant words on this topic - so interesting for women (and men) who are interested in presentation of self and matters of substance.

I could say that each culture - and here we are speaking of variations of western culture - has its own forms of oppression of women, but also its own complicities in overcoming these. In some ways, Frenchwomen (I mean in France) are relatively privileged with respect to women worldwide - they live longer than most, seem vital much longer, and are much less likely than any others except Scandinavians to fall into poverty as single or divorced mums.

But there is a very thick glass ceiling, and beauty (as opposed to grooming, charm or presentation of self) should not be a criterium for political success.

By the way, do read Badaude on her haircolouring experience! Her drawings are wonderful.

(I have the dark but red-tinged hair she speaks of, but my hair was originally almost black).

Anonymous said...

Debra Olivier and all the "French chic" gurus never seem to get their facts straight which (for me) tends to undercut their arguments.

Charlotte Rampling is NOT Franco-American, but Anglo-French (born in Essex). Her father, Godfrey, actually won an Olympic gold medal at the 1936 Games....for the UK. Not only that, he's still alive! Her mother, IIRC, is French.

dana said...

Jen, thanks for asking my question exactly, and more eloquently: who exactly prepares that three-course meal each Saturday?

phyllis said...

Okay, I'll throw out another theory; from an early age, a French woman is really skilled at finding her fashion "uniform" - e.g., the silhouettes, styles, colors and fabrics that work for her as an individual - and sticks she with it throughout her entire life, regardless of whatever fashion whim is blowing through the atmosphere at any given moment.

This is not to say our choices should be etched in stone, but to me, being fashionable is really all about knowing yourself and figuring out what works for you.