The thin and white lie: shaking up the stereotype of “French women” | Books

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WWhat comes to your mind when you hear the word “Parisienne”? For most of us, the woman of the French capital is, historically, a familiar figure: elegant, attractive and cultured, spending her days smoking cigarettes and drinking fine wine in cafes. She was personified by a long list of women: Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Inès de la Fressange, Laetitia Casta. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Parisienne has become a symbol of national identity – to such an extent that, since 1969, these same celebrities have even served as models for the busts of Marianne, personification of the French Republic who adorns town halls throughout the country. .

La Parisienne (a term often applied to French women in general) is above all an object of global consumption: she has contributed to endlessly selling lipsticks, striped T-shirts, perfumes, and even her hometown, with strangers who fall in love with its postcard beauty and flawless inhabitants. She has found her niche on Instagram, in the form of influencers Jeanne Damas and Adenorah, who sell their own fashion and beauty brands directly to their followers. Women’s magazines around the world are devoting an endless stream of articles on click traps to “French secrets”, from The One Piece Every Chic French Girl Has in Her Winter Wardrobe, to Why French Women Don’t Contour. The old article proclaims: “It is a widely accepted fact that French women all have a seemingly universal birthright that includes the secret to sleeping hair, invisible makeup, and a simple (if otherwise non-existent) approach to hair. fitness. All women are apparently just a diet, dress or face cream far from looking like their French counterparts.

Like the woman herself, the myth of the Parisienne does not seem to be getting old – until now perhaps. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women in France have started to denounce it as a nefarious stereotype that excludes the majority of French women, a false and inaccessible image that erases the country’s black, Asian and LGBTQ populations.

Journalist Lindsey Tramuta’s new book, The New Parisienne: The Women and Ideas Shaping Paris, portrays 40 women living in the French capital who do not necessarily fit this very narrow mold, including disability activist Elisa Rojas, Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur and Paris recently re-elected. Hispano-French mayor, Anne Hidalgo. “The Parisienne represents perhaps 1% of the Parisian population, in a certain district. But she’s the one you see over and over again and that’s a real problem, ”Tramuta tells me from her home in Paris, where she has lived for 15 years since leaving the United States. She quickly grew tired of the clichés about French women, repeated in films, magazines and advertising campaigns: “The way it was stigmatized and marketed in this way to attract attention and exploit insecurities, it m ‘just got angry. “

‘It just made me angry’ … Lindsey Tramuta, author of La Nouvelle Parisienne. Photography: Joanna Pai

Tramuta’s first book, The New Paris: The People, Places, and Ideas That Fuel a Movement, went beyond the beauty of the capital to focus on how its creative inhabitants were behind the social change. With La Nouvelle Parisienne, she hopes to shift the conversation around Parisian women. “It’s about better representing women and I think the Parisian, who has enjoyed this cult status for so long, must be reframed,” she said.

La Nouvelle Parisienne contrasts sharply with a multitude of books which have reinforced this simplistic image of the French woman. Mireille Giuliano’s 2004 book, French Women Don’t Get Fat became a worldwide bestseller with advice on “Eat Well and Stay Lean and Healthy,” and was followed 10 years later. by French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. In 2011 Parisian Chic: A Style Guide, supermodel De la Fressange shared the “well-kept secrets of how Parisian women maintain effortless glamor and a timeless allure,” while model and music producer Caroline de Maigret co-wrote How to Be Parisian Wherever Tu es. The latter includes tips such as, “Always be fuckable: when you line up at the bakery on a Sunday morning, buy champagne in the middle of the night, or even pick the kids up from school.” You never know. ”Her second book Older, But Better, But Older, published in 2019, is also devoted to the art of aging like a Frenchwoman.

Rokhaya Diallo.
‘There is a conversation going on now’ … Rokhaya Diallo. Photograph: Philippe Huguen / AFP / Getty Images

Tramuta is not the only writer to question the stereotype. The 2019 book by Franco-British journalist Alice Pfeiffer I am not parisian attacks the myth both in the fashion world and in society at large. Pfeiffer, who grew up in Paris but studied Gender Studies at the London School of Economics, examines the snap while recounting her own experience as a young woman in France and the UK. If there is only one Parisian (necessarily white and bourgeois), there is a multitude of Londoners. “At first glance,” writes Pfeiffer, “there are at least two myths about Londoners, in perfect social dichotomy: the aristocratic English rose (from Alice in Wonderland to Cara Delevingne) with the stiff upper lip from West London and the Cockney Punkette from the popular parts of the city (Kate Moss or Amy Winehouse). ”

The main difference, according to Pfeiffer, is that the UK describes itself as a multi-faith society, while France is seen as the epitome of secularism (a version of state secularism). “The first celebrates multiplicity, while the second imposes a unique and supposedly universal freedom,” she writes. French identity is based on “a single and indivisible republic” which makes no distinction between its citizens, and where communitarianism – any division of the republic into individual identity groups must be avoided. The French state is believed to be color blind and does not collect data on race, ethnicity or religion. However, unlike New York or London, “Paris tends to use the same image of whiteness in its marketing,” says journalist, filmmaker and activist Rokhaya Diallo, one of the women described in Tramuta’s book. Denying the very existence of the breed, she says, means that “in France, we don’t really talk about it”.

Aissa Maiga (center) with some of her co-authors of Noire is not my job at the Cannes film festival in 2018.
Aïssa Maïga (center) with some of her co-authors of Noire N’Est Pas Mon Métier at the Cannes film festival in 2018. Photograph: Loïc Venance / AFP / Getty Images

In 2018, the actress Aïssa Maïga initiated Black Is Not My Job (Black Is Not My Profession), collective essay by 16 black French actresses denouncing stereotypes and the lack of equal opportunities in the film industry. At this year’s Césars, Maïga denounced the lack of diversity on French screens by naming the blacks of the public (only 12 out of 1,600). “We survived the money laundering, the blackface, tons of roles of drug traffickers, housekeepers with the Bwana accent, we survived the roles of terrorists, all the roles of hypersexualized girls. But we are not going to leave French cinema alone “, she proclaimed. The discomfort in the room was palpable. When Roman Polanski received the award for best director, Maïga left the ceremony with Adèle Haenel, the first leading actress in France to speak out against abuses in the country’s film industry. As Maiga’s speech went viral, conservative newspapers were quick to label her “racist” and “arrogant. Right-wing MEP Nadine Morano suggested that if Maïga “was not happy to see so many whites in France”, she should “return to Africa”.

In recent weeks, the murder of George Floyd has sparked large protests against racism across France and forced a significant shift in the focus on discrimination. “There’s a conversation going on now,” says Diallo. “Not only around French women but also non-white French people. The rejection of stereotypes like the Parisienne is part of a debate on the representation of women and minorities in French society. “People are more interested in it, they are expressing themselves more and more,” says Tramuta. “And it’s very difficult to avoid questioning what our countries and businesses are doing to stand up for some of these old and tired values ​​and value systems. “



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