Okay, it’s official. I’m moving to France.

The New York Times reports on a new study that was just released confirming that we have a long way to go in changing hearts and minds across the world when it comes to genuine gender equality:

People around the world say they firmly support equal rights for men and women, but many still believe men should get preference when it comes to good jobs, higher education or even in some cases the simple right to work outside the home, according to a new survey of 22 nations…The poll, conducted in April and May by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project in association with the International Herald Tribune, shows that in both developing countries and wealthy ones, there is a pronounced gap between a belief in the equality of the sexes and how that translates into reality.

What’s depressing about these results are that they confirm our worst fears and daily experiences about gender inequality through out the world. What’s almost comforting is that the total illogical nature of the responses affirms why our work as feminists is just so damn difficult sometimes. As Susan Douglas argues in Enlightened Sexism, there is a sort of tacit agreement that the sexes should have equal opportunities, and then simultaneously, an attitude that equality doesn’t include good jobs, education, and work (not to mention being protected from sexual assault, objectification etc.).
France was emblematic of this gap. According to the Times:

One hundred percent of French women and 99 percent of French men backed the idea of equal rights. Yet 75 percent also said that men there had a better life, by far the highest percentage in any of the countries in which polling took place.

What I like about this, however, is that folks are being honest about the continued inequality and loudly proclaiming that they want to change it. It ain’t perfect, but it’s a start.

Join the Conversation

  • Athenia

    I read this article and it made me really depressed.
    Why must biology screw women over? Can we ever really overcome it???

  • Tapati

    There is always a difference between real and ideal culture. If we keep working this will shift over time. I’m sure the stats would have been far worse 30 years ago.
    Changing cultures worldwide takes time and we have to be in it for the long haul.

  • babylon-poet

    And this with France already having one of the best child care systems (though not overall educational systems) in Europe, plus enormous tax benefits for couples with children, making it easier for mothers to also pursue a career… *sigh*

  • Cassius

    Hate to dissapoint you, but the French are not feminists and France is not the feminist wonderland. They are just really good at telling you what you want to hear :)

  • stillill

    I’m curious about where this idea that France is feminist comes from. From what I recall, whenever statistics are released regarding gender equality, France usually lags well behind many other “Western” countries. Maybe because they seem so sophisticated and intellectual, they “must” be feminist as well? I recently read an interview with the French woman who wrote a book about how she regretted having children, and she was scathing about the increasing fetishization of motherhood in France, which reduces women’s role to reproduction. She made the point that government support for mothers is part of this and continues the inequality.

  • GalFawkes

    I concede that France has fantastic health care, including reproductive health care. I’d rather give birth in France than in the US.
    But to say “That’s it, I’m moving to France” is hopelessly naive. I wouldn’t take it for granted that France is a feminist bastion. The facepalm-inducing discourse on Muslim women and the headscarf/veil bears witness to that. Was it not also the place from whence lots of Polanski petition signers came?

  • Mad Librarian

    I can’t understand it. The Atlantic Monthly told me in their most recent issue that women rule the world now. So confusing.

  • Rainey

    Ditto this.

  • stillill

    Perhaps part of the reason for France’s perceived lady-friendliness is that the French value beauty, romance, elegance, sophistication, etc, which, from a North American perspective, are considered to be feminine qualities. However this attitude is anything but good for women. It is part of traditional attitudes that formulate women’s role as sex objects/breeders.
    There is a huge amount of pressure placed on French women to be beautiful and thin. In Paris it seems like every third store is beauty related. The pharmacies seem to be 90% beauty products and it can be difficult to find practical items amidst all the beauty aids. I’ve heard that even women on very low incomes (i.e. cleaners) feel that they need to participate in expensive and time consuming beauty regimes, such as regular professional facials, which in most countries are the preserve of those with a lot of discretionary income and free time. Then of course there are the high number of French women who report that they smoke in order to be thin.
    France certainly doesn’t seem like a particularly egalitarian place to a visitor, given the level of street harassment (albeit generally of the polite variety), and the female objectification in public ads (posters, billboards etc), which seemed to be at least 50% women wearing nothing but bikinis or lingerie when I was there this May.
    French academic discourse concerning gender tends to be at a very abstract theoretical level and seems to reinforce retrograde notions of women as the other, illogical, irrational, mysterious, etc. Even feminist discourse seems to work within this framework, though I am certainly not an expert, and this is based on the impression that I got when I dipped into the subject years ago. French intellectualism approaches gender issues from such an abstract perspective that it seems to be much less progressive than a more pragmatic “reality”-based approach tends to be. Placing such a high value on abstract theories (which are untestable) makes more practical approaches, which could be more useful for progress in the status of women, seem vulgar and unsophisticated. It seems as though the French prefer to remain in a fantasy of essentialist gender, rather than adopt more down-to-earth, quotidian progress.

  • iamtheshoshie

    Yes, this. As an observant Jewish woman who covers her head, I feel far safer in the U.S. than I would in France.