It's ironic that the word 'feminism' comes from the French language, because here it appears to be a dirty word. I have never in real life heard a French woman refer to herself as a feminist. You see them on TV, rarely, and if they happen to be interviewed by one of the older generation male presenters there will be a sneery or sometimes just slightly patronising undertone to the questions. Other female guests or presenters will distance themselves from the self-labelled feminists, sometimes physically so with their body language, leaning away slightly, or with an expression of benevolent disbelief on their faces.
I have lost count of the women I have met over the years here who have clearly stated that they are not feminists, as if not being a feminist is somehow a good thing. 'Oh non, I am not a feminist, I believe men and women are different, and that is good' is the kind of justification they come out with. Which misses the point spectacularly. So I ask them if their male colleagues earn more than them. 'I hope not'. Well, yes, quite. Sorry French women, your male colleagues probably do earn more than you (to be fair, pretty much as elsewhere in Europe, sadly). There's a good chance the ones just below you in your precious hierarchy, if you have managed as a woman to get off the bottom rung, earn more than you. And if you have managed to climb up the corporate ladder you can be fairly sure that most of the men in your company will be privately joking that you slept your way there. Did you?
Carla Bruni Sarkozy, our former first lady, regularly comes out with statements which I am sure she thinks highlight her femininity all the while harming the feminist cause. Telling Valérie Trierweiler to marry the President, because otherwise she won't find herself accepted as First Lady was a recent comment. Even more recently, in an interview with Vogue, she has said that her generation don't need to be feminists. Ha! Which kind of contradicts her advice to her successor doesn't it?
It is telling that the main feminist organisation in France is called 'Osez le féminisme' - dare to be a feminist. And you do actually, sadly, have to be brave to admit you're a feminist. Because people will either think you mean that you believe women are better than men, or that you hate men, or that you don't want to be so called feminine. You can be sure that you won't be taken seriously, often even by other women. And isn't that a shame? Of course it suits men that there is this prevailing attitude to feminism. Keeps us in our place you see. Puts us in a nice little box and keeps us quiet.
And again I worry about brining up two daughters in a place where women who accuse powerful men of rape are not believed. Where one of the most powerful women in France says that feminism no longer has a place in society. Where a women who asks the father of her child to recognise paternity is not surprised when the man in question spreads rumours about how many other men she was sleeping with at the time, content in the knowledge that it is he who will be believed, and her reputation will be trashed. Where gang rape has become the norm for some young girls in the most impoverished areas, and not only that but their attackers, IF caught and IF tried in court, will get away with none-sentences which are an insult to every woman that has ever been the victim of violence at the hands of men. Talking of which, where a woman who has been beaten up by her so called boyfriend is discouraged from going to the police because she knows she will not be taken seriously, that nothing will happen, and that she may as well fart into the wind for all the good it will do. Where I was told, in all seriousness recently, to dress my daughter in more girly clothes otherwise there could be gender confusion. And where in 2012 a female minister can walk into parliament wearing a dress and be wolf whistled and jeered at by the men in there. The men that are running this country, and who say what? It was a joke? It was a compliment?
French feminists don't want to put an end to compliments, to banter or to femininity, whatever that is. They just want women to be taken seriously in their jobs, as drivers of cars, as mothers. They don't want men to be ridiculed if they want to become nurses, or boys to be pigeonholed if they are allowed to play with dolls. They don't want young women to grow up thinking that if they are beaten up or raped that they will be judged as somehow deserving it.
Is it too much to ask of an otherwise fairly progressive country in the 21st century? I don't think so. So I will teach my French daughters that non, feminisim is not a dirty word, and hope beyond hope that things start to progress in the next few years.