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Are Progressive French Women As Liberated As We Think?

karina diaz


Ah, France!  The land of endless chic, where gorgeous Parisian women stroll along the Seine, their Chanel 2.25 bags in one hand and a smoldering cigarette in the other.  The birthplace of such icons as Brigitte BardotCatherine Deneuve, and Audrey Tautou.  Surely, a country with such timeless, charming women must be as forward-thinking in its politics as in its fashion, n’est-ce pas?

To a certain extent, yes.  Women in France are educated and they are highly capable of providing for their families; eighty-two percent of women aged 25-49 are employed, while women make up 59% of university graduates.

The French government is incredibly conscientious when it comes to the family; last year alone, 97 billion euros were spent on family benefits alone.  Pregnant women receive ten half-hour sessions with a personal trainer to improve post-partum health—completely free of charge.  Mothers receive monthly allowances according to their number of their children (123 euros for 2, 282 euros for 3, and 158 for every child after).  Public preschool is free as well, and guaranteed when a child is three years of age.  The low cost of childcare means that even single mothers can balance their familial duties with their career aspirations.

However, despite all this aid, women have not been able to shake off the roles of their gender:  namely, as a wife and mother.  In a New York Times interview (“Where Having It All Doesn’t Mean Having Equality”, October 11), one woman stated that she and a friend, both mothers and part-time office workers, are the only two at their job who have not received a raise in the past two years.  Add this to the fact that French working mothers earn 26 percent less than their male counterparts—while spending twice as much time doing domestic duties as their husbands–and it becomes clear that all the free preschool and monthly allowances still aren’t giving women an easier time in the workplace.

As in the U.S., the French are finding that there is much more to be done in the struggle for gender equality.  However, the romanticized image of the gorgeous, intelligent, independent French woman has blinded much of the world to their social inequality.  We have to remember, regardless of where we live or who we are, that it is incredibly important for women to continue to prove their strength and to not give up the struggle.

Check out these links for more information on the struggle for gender equality in France:

WikiGender:  “Gender Equality in France”

Observatoire Des Inegalites (“Observing Inequality”) (translated with Google Translator)

NYTimes: “Where Having It All Doesn’t Mean You Have Equality” (Oct. 11, 2010.)

Les Papas = Les Mamans (“Fathers = Mothers”) (translated with Google Translator)

What is your opinion on the current gender norms in France?  Do you think that American laws (e.g.  the Paycheck Fairness Act)  would work as well in a European context?  How would you help a single French mother facing inequality at her job?  Leave a comment below!

With Love,

The PeaceKeeper Team

(Writer:  Renee Estey.  Editor: Jessica Smith.  Image of Audrey Tautou courtesyMaxine Turnock.  Statistics courtesy The New York Times.)