October 13, 2010

French Feminism.

My dad sent me this article: "Where Having It All Doesn't Mean Having Equality" from The New York Times a couple of days ago.

I've written about how perplexing French femininity was to me while living in France. French women are the ultimate gate keepers of a traditional notion of femininity and yet, employment rates for women in France are among the highest in Europe and so are birth rates. This article from the Times addresses exactly these seeming contradictions. It sites that France is number 46 on the World Economic Forum's gender equality report list - dragging behind its European neighbors, and countries like Kazakhstan and Jamaica (and the US). And despite high employment rates, French women earn far less than their male counterparts and work far more hours in the home and with their children.

The article opens citing the state-paid program designed to rejuvenate women's vaginas after birth - a series of guided exercises with practictioners to make women both ready to make love more quickly and have more children. It sounds outrageous, but it is consistent with the idea that women are expected to be both objects of desire and vessels of the next generation. France, like everywhere else, is part of a demographic battle but neither femininity nor laborers should be the casualties of that struggle.

The article also addresses the most pressing issue in the post-feminist game in my opinion: men. While women may generally be granted more rights and occupy larger spaces in the employment/political world (albeit token at times), men, largely, haven't budged. The article sites that even when there are institutional means of taking time off for childcare when children are young, the only people who take advantage of these provisions are women. Women spend the majority of the hours outside work on housecare/childcare, whereas the hours spent by men on these activities is nominal in comparison (even when both individuals put in the same hours at their jobs). France does have phenomenal infrastructural support in terms of things like childcare, but that does not account for how work gets distributed after-hours.

The ending sentence of the article is a quotation from a Geneviève Fraisse (philosopher), "We had one revolution, now we need another one - in the family." (Her reference is not to the feminist revolution, of course, but to 1789). And, with this statement, je suis d'accord. Couldn't agree more completely. This is the heart of the issue - not whether women should work or shouldn't work, not whether babies should go to daycare, but that feminism (to me) is about changing the geography of responsibility in the home and the possibility of expression for individual people, regardless of whether they are male or female.


Gaby Munoz said...

I also saw this article in the NY Times, and it immediately caught my eye. It reminded me so much of my research on women's sexual and reproductive rights in 20th/21st century France. After studying in Paris and doing this research, I'm still very much perplexed by the French notion of femininity/feminism.

By the way, I never did thank you for providing me with the wonderful resources to start my research. I ended up doing very well on the project and received an award from the French department because of it. Plus, it's the most fun I've ever had doing independent research, outside of my senior thesis. Couldn't have done it without you.

Emilie said...

So very glad to hear, Gaby. Hope all is well...I miss you guys.

Maria Petrova said...

Funny I too saw this in the Times and thought of you, Em. Heartbreaking. And then if they looked at Eastern European feminism, they'd slit their wrists. You don't see a man at the stove here unless he is cooking his own brains.

keb said...

Would love to send you my report from my experiences in Russia. I was befuddled by gender roles as well-- just shocked.

love this blog.
your blog stalker

Emilie said...

send along, my dear! i would love to hear the russian side of things...yes, please

Maria Petrova said...

Rereading this with such pleasure (and a tad of sadness and hope). I can't wait to hold your first book in my giddy hands. The world wants your sharp intellect and your embracing heart.

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