Thursday, October 14, 2010

The birthplace of de Beauvoir and Bardot may look Scandinavian in employment statistics, but it remains Latin in attitude

Courtesy of the state, French women seem to have it all
writes Katrin Bennhold on the front page of the International Herald Tribune as the New York Times bemoans, yet again, the alleged horrors of society (needless to say, Nordic nations were as usual top candidates for eulogies):
multiple children, a job and, often, a figure to die for. What they [French women] don’t have is equality: France ranks 46th in the World Economic Forum’s 2010 gender equality report, trailing the United States, most of Europe, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica. … A recent 22-country survey by the Pew Research Center summed it up: three in four French people believe men have a better life than women, by far the highest share in any country polled.

“French women are exhausted,” said Valérie Toranian, editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in France. “We have the right to do what men do — as long as we also take care of the children, cook a delicious dinner and look immaculate. We have to be superwoman.”

The birthplace of Simone de Beauvoir and Brigitte Bardot may look Scandinavian in employment statistics, but it remains Latin in attitude. French women appear to worry about being feminine, not feminist, and French men often display a form of gallantry predating the 1789 revolution. Indeed, the liberation of French women can seem almost accidental — a byproduct of a paternalist state that takes children under its republican wings from toddler age and an obsession with natality rooted in three devastating wars.

…as the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy put it: “France is an old Gallic macho country.”

France crystallizes the paradox facing many women across the developed world in the early 21st century: They have more say over their sexuality (in France birth control and abortion are legal and subsidized), they have overtaken men in education and are catching up in the labor market, but few make it to the top of business or politics.