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Sharon Revol: Gender equality in France - Fact or fiction?
About the Author
Sharon Revol has been living in France for the last 14 years and is married to a Frenchman. Her daily experiences of life in France can be read at pigletinfrance.wordpress.com
I first realized how sexist France was when I was living back in England for a few years, aged 22. I was dealing with French businesses on a daily basis and as a joint partner in the company I worked for; I was entitled to make a certain number of decisions or to sign contracts without consulting my business partner. Yet, the French companies would never accept my word or signature until they had confirmation from my partner. It was like being considered a child or as being incompetent, they were always checking that what I said was true, thus undermining any responsibility I had.
Frustrating as this was, alarm bells should really have started ringing very loudly during one of my first French business meetings which I had set up and prepared. I was supposed to lead the meeting but I quickly realized that there was little point… The men from the other company were openly staring at my chest area whilst ignoring anything I had to say. Their questions and answers were addressed to my business partner and despite my efforts to regain control of the meeting and my partner’s constant deflection of all their questions back to me, nothing changed. Needless to say polo necks quickly became a staple part of my working wardrobe.
Thankfully, I am not a feminist although I am a strongly independent female willing to constantly battle for my rights. I will stand up and be heard and will stand firm if people do not wish to deal with me because of my lack of testosterone. France is definitely not a country for the faint hearted feminist that is for sure!
So it was not surprising when the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index was recently published to see that France ranks 46th out of 134 countries, lagging behind most other European countries, the United States, Jamaica and quite a few Latin American countries to boot.
So whilst the women of France appear to have it all, gender equality is one thing they certainly don’t have! Women are poorly represented in government, rarely obtain board level management positions within large companies and earn 26% less than their male colleagues in the work place.
It’s as if women are to be seen and not heard whilst they carry out their role of raising the perfect family and providing top notch, simply delicious meals for their spouses. After all, this is a country where tax returns are completed jointly in Mr’s name, so how can women expect to be equal?
Discussing the report with friends and family, I was told a story of how one lady was not even able to tell the milkman how many bottles of milk she wanted delivered. The milkman would only deal with her husband and if he wasn’t available he had to write a note. Now, if that was me I would have promptly cancelled my milk delivery and arranged to pick it up myself! This was going back 30 years ago and is not something you would still consider rife in this day and age but unfortunately I had my own experience last week.
We had arranged for our home to be put on the market and were seeking an estate agent to market the property for us. Despite joint ownership, the estate agents only wanted to deal with my husband despite him telling them he was busy and that I was looking after it. I’m sure one of the agents never expected to get the sack from a female though!
The agent in question had come round to see us for the paperwork to be signed and my husband was busy on a call. The estate agent and I just sat there waiting and after an indeterminable silence, I asked the agent if there was anything that we could be getting on with whilst we waited for my husband to return. He dismissively told me that he had some questions so I said he could go ahead and ask them thus saving time, only to be told that he would rather not as he didn’t think I would be able to answer them and they would be better answered by the man of the household. Dumbfounded by his outright sexist approach to business, my bottom jaw hit the table leaving me speechless for a while. Thankfully I managed to find my voice just as my husband reentered the room and told the agent to leave as we wouldn’t be doing business with him after all. Thankfully estate agents are two a penny in the city and my other half believes strongly in gender equality; he couldn’t believe what the agent had said and gave him a piece of his mind to boot!
So, with its old fashioned ways France certainly isn’t a country for women expecting gender equality, but I wonder, is this truly something that is widespread in France or are the French just more openly discriminatory?
World Economic Forum: Full Report http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/report2010.pdf
France report: http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap2010/France.pdf
Sharon Revol has been living in France for the last 14 years, is married to a Frenchman and has written business columns in the UK as well as articles about French life for various publications. Her daily experiences of life in France can be read at pigletinfrance.wordpress.com
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