The French woman ...  
 A few facts about the French woman....   Questions about the French woman....
  • Demography : French women hold the European record for the number of babies they have and for the longevity they enjoy

  • 47,6% of Frenchwomen work outside the home (USA : 46,9%) and 6% only are in executive management position (USA : 5,1%) (Source : Conseil Economique et Social, 2000)

  • Paid maternity leave is 16 weeks (26 from the third child) and 2 weeks for the father (see Social Security). Read about the French way of raising children.

  • Women were under-represented in the French Senate and National Assembly. Ten years ago, France ranked #21 in Europe (out of 25). This situation hs changed dramatically in the recent elections (40% women in the national Assembly elected in 2017). However, French politicians remain very macho : read more about women in politics. and read a portrait of Segolene Royal, who ran for president in 2007.

  • The concept of dating does not exist in France : young people tend to move in groups and do not form couples the way they do in the States

  • French laws are sometimes late to adjust to the reality of society : read a funny anecdote about women wearing pants!

  • France is the world leader of legal equality men/women ! The World Bank publishes every other year a study of 187 countries to answer the question : "what is the % of laws which are strictly identical for men and women ?". With 5 other European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Lithuania and Sweden), the answer for France is : 100% ! For the world, the average is 74,7% with Germany 91,9%, USA 83,75% and China 76,25 for example. (Source : Le Figaro Feb.28, 2019 and World Bank).

Coco Chanel : is she THE emblematic French woman?
  • Want to understand how French women manage to be so savvy, slim and elegant ? Read Harriet's column about la Parisienne, featuring the Seven s's: Slender, Sensuality, Sexuality, Savoir-Faire, Subtlety, Street Sense, Self-Confidence...

  • How do they eat all that food and stay so slim ? The 64,000 dollar question ! First of all, the women you see who are so slim are Parisian women in the touristic parts of the capital. These women are generally well-off and upper-class. They are very aware of fashion and of their " ligne " (figure). If you go out into other areas of Paris or into the provinces, you will see that the French woman is not universally slim. What you don't see ­ yet ­ in France is obesity on the scale of the U.S. Sadly, this will be a problem for the next generation due to unstructured eating habits and snacking on sugary and salty foods. This being said, the answer to how do French women eat " all that food " and stay so slim is that they don't eat " all that food ". Even at dinner parties, French women take a tiny bit of each dish, tasting everything, but managing to consume very little. A recent study showed that American dinner plates are much larger than French dinner plates so just imagine : the French dinner plate is already smaller and the French woman's portion must be only one-fourth of that plate. But remember : they don't totally deprive themselves and when they are invited to dinner, they never say " I'm on a diet ". They enjoy their evening ­ and make up for it the next day! Balance and moderation are French virtues that French women practice well. Read Lithe! Slender! French! by Harriet.

  • How do they get that scarf to look so French ? It's true that Frenchwomen have an inimitable way of tying scarves which gives them a casual but elegant look. How they do it must be inscribed into their French genes. There's no way to know about that but one thing is sure : whether it's the scarf or perfume or accessories, the main interest of the French woman is to emphasize her singularity. Her little black dress or tailored suit might be simple but watch for the detail : a pair of sexy high heels, a family brooch, sparkling earrings, a special shawl. In French society, conformity is not a value. Reflecting that, French women seek the object that will express her own personality, the object that will put the personal stamp on whatever she is wearing, whether it's a fancy dress or a pair of jeans.

French perfumes 101

  • The  French are famous for their perfumes and the little city of Grasse (on the Côte d'Azur) is the capital of perfume and a fascinating visit for tourists

  • For the same perfume, there are two categories of product : the « parfum » and the « eau de toilette ». The parfum is a concentrate of the flavour, richer and more expensive, the eau de toilette is less concentrated, less expensive. You wear the first one to keep the odor on you, the latter for a refreshment.

  • For women the best-sellers are N°5 (Chanel, "unsurpassable"), Shalimar (Guerlain, "oriental") and Opium (Yves Saint Laurent, "spicy"). See the rest of the list.

  • More to come....

About feminism in France   Famous French women

The feminist movement is active in France and its influence is growing steadily. Since 1974, under different appellations, there is a government minister in charge of the specific rights of women, for progress toward total equality in the law and in fact.
Generally speaking the French, both men and women, consider that American women activists go too far in their aggressive attitudes toward men. For many of them, it looks like a war between sexes, which does not seem to be necessary to progress toward total equality.
The Weinstein scandal had a strong impact in France and the movement MeToo helped the French opinion to realize how frequent and unacceptable sexual harassment is in the workplace. The laws were strengthened to protect the victims. However not everybody agreed : a public column sponsored by 100 respected and admired women, led by actress Catherine Deneuve, published by Le Monde Jan. 9, 2018, started with the following statement : "Le viol est un crime. Mais la drague insistante ou maladroite n’est pas un délit, ni la galanterie une agression machiste" (Rape is a crime but insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a macho assault)and the column advocated "a freedom to annoy, essential to sexual freedom". Are they a group of born slave women subjected to male domination ? Not at all : they are sucessful women who consider themselves feminists. Their column raised a large controversy but they stood firm and said that, above all, they want to avoid "the hate between sexes" and "American puritanism".
There is clearly an intercultural difference between France and the US about these issues and, like other differences, it may be explained, at least partly, by history as pointed out by David Hume in the 18th century when he admired how easy the relations seemed to be between men and women in France (of course he meant in the ruling class...), as quoted in a recent history of gallantry (see Viala). He compared the situation with England, where women and men parted at the end of the dinner and went to separate rooms and concluded that "France is the country of women". At that time, it was the same in Spain (with la duegna), in Germany ("Kinder, küche, kirche"), not to mention non-European countries.
The situation today :

  • legally the situation has been cleared up (very few, if any, situations of legal inferiority for women remain)
  • politically, the legislation for parity in all political bodies, including the government has been successfully implemented
  • in terms of salaries in private companies, women are still 20% behind men
  • for sexual harassment, more progress is clearly needed but grossly machinist or sexist behavior is now unanimously condemned
  • in everyday life, there seems to be less tension in France than in the US, but the situation may vary according to social and ethnic origin.

But some forms of gallantry remain and in France, a man holding the door for a woman is not seen as a sign of domination : he does not risk to be insulted and I think it is good !

USEFUL TIP..... Getting married under French law is rather complicated and, practically, it requires you to be resident in France. Why not a religious wedding in France ? There would be no legal requirement whatsoever and the religious authority would just ask for the marriage license from the country where you were married. Check with American churches.


Famous French women include :

  • Joan of Arc, 15th century saint, who saved the French from the English and was burned at the stake in Rouen,
  • Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793), the first French feminist executed during the French Revolution
  • George Sand (1804-1876) was not only a great writer but she was the symbol of freedom for women, a Socialist activist, with her many friends (including Delacroix, Balzac, Flaubert) and lovers (Chopin and Musset, to name a few)
  • Marie Curie (Franco-Polish), first woman to teach at the Sorbonne (1906), twice awarded the Nobel price, once in Physics and once in Chemistry,
  • Josephine Baker (1906-1975), American-born, an African-American who became French in 1937, dancer, singer, antiracist activist, French resistant during WW2, philanthropist, immensely popular in France ; in 2021 her ashes where tranfered to the Pantheon (the monument where only the most illustrious French heroes  are admitted).
  • Simone de Beauvoir, philosopher and famous French feminist ("Le deuxième Sexe"),
  • Simone Veil, who passed the law legalizing abortion and was the first president of the European Parliament
  • and many others... (more in who's who in France)

A few suggested books on French women

  • Elisabeth BADINTER, L'un est l'autre, Odile Jacob, 1986
  • Edith KUNZ, Fatale - How French Women do it, Bridgewood Press, Phoenix, 2001
  • Michèle SARDE, Regard sur les Françaises Xème XXème siècle, Stock, Paris, 1983
  • Susan SOMMERS, French Chic - How to Dress Like a French Woman, Arlington Books, London, 1988
  • A.L.THOMAS, DIDEROT, Mme d'EPINAY, Qu'est-ce qu'une femme ? (préface par Elisabeth BADINTER), P.O.L., Paris, 1989
  • Edith WHARTON, French Ways and their Meaning, Berkshire House, Lee, MS, 1997
  • More bibliography

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....There are several agencies which can organize a complete round-trip tour for couples who want to get married in Paris, together with their relatives and friends ... See wedding agencies.

To related pages : getting married in France, the French and sex, life in Paris, French attitudes, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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