I’ve felt this post coming on for a long time – about 13 years, in fact. Much as I love France, there’s one aspect to which I will never be reconciled: the attitude to women, especially the further south you go.
The following are some examples of how this attitude manifests itself. When my husband and I married in England, I kept my maiden name, for good reasons I won’t bore you with. No one turned a hair and there were no difficulties about dealing with every aspect of life under that name. Move to France, however, and it’s like another planet. Here, I am simply an adjunct of my husband.
- We recently bought a new car and patiently explained to the concessionnaire that I had kept my own surname. Yes, yes, that was understood, no problem, etc. Except that all the letters they wrote us were addressed to M et Mme (husband’s surname). When the carte grise (registration document) came through – addressed only to my husband, naturally – his name appeared on it but I was not even mentioned (despite being the joint owner and having paid for half the car). In the small print somewhere it indicated that there was another owner, but gave no name.
- I am the official owner of our house, but every time the mairie writes to us, the letter is addressed solely to my husband.
- When I ordered a bank card some years ago it was delivered with my husband’s surname on it, despite the fact that I have no bank account in that name.
I could go on at tedious length, but it’s too depressing. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been made to feel invisible while the civil servant/lawyer/shop assistant/whatever addresses only my husband. I call it the death by a thousand cuts. But what can you expect of a country that gave women the vote only in 1944 and where until sometime in the mid-sixties a woman who wanted to exercise a profession had to get her husband’s formal permission? There’s a lot of lip-service paid to égalité, but throughout France women are treated as less than equals.
I take my hat off to women who succeed in public life here. It’s not so much a glass ceiling as a titanium one, so they must be b****y tough. Christine Lagarde, for example, the Finance Minister, is one of those who has chiselled her way through. She has managed to hang onto her job for a lot longer than nearly all her (male) predecessors.
I know: we chose to live here, so I should just accept French society and culture as I find them. I can’t buy that. When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would tell it warts and all and try not to portray only the sunny side of life here. Sexism is a form of oppression just as unpleasant as any other and should be opposed as such. I know that some of my readers disagree with me; that is their prerogative. I can only tell it as I find it, having lived in both countries.
So I will fight on the beaches; I will never surrender.
Rant over. Jollier stuff next time, promise.
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