International Women’s Day (8th March) not only commemorates the historical struggle of women throughout the world to obtain the same rights and opportunities as men but, by providing the occasion to reflect on the present state of female equality, to identify the more important areas of discrimination still remaining to be combated in the years to come.
In view of my French side’s legendary fondness for, and solid reputation with the ladies, I can, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking that the guidance of an article devoted to such a delicate and complex subject as the fair sex could not be placed in a more caring and expert hand than his. My decision was, however, not without raising the concern that, given my Englishman’s apparent indifference to most of the manifestations of female charm (is it the dampness of the climate which has extinguished most of the fire?), such a disproportionate Gallic influence in this comparative study of the female gender on each side of the Channel might cause it to be not only heavily weighted in favour of his own female compatriotes, but revelatory of the strong sexist attitudes still firmly anchored in the French male mentality and, consequently – what is infinitely more regrettable - sentence me to the life-long disapprobation of my English lady readers. So, before entering into the meat of the subject, as it were, I should like to take this opportunity of assuring them that the views conveyed below do not necessarily echo those of my fully integrated self.
Though I may be accused of simplistic generalization, not to mention typical Latin sexism, as well as compromising the internationally acclaimed gallantry of my French male compatriotes, for me the two words which spring to mind when describing the most striking difference between English and French women are those, so similar in spelling, yet so different in meaning, which I have chosen as a heading to this article. Toutefois, let me make it quite clear from the start that it is in no way my intention to imply that the only common denominator between les Anglaises and les Françaises is that, broadly speaking, they both have a lower testosterone count than men: for each is aware that the physical attributes of men and women are not quite the same; both realize that male and female reasoning doesn’t always follow the same logical lines; each is not without knowing that a normally-constituted member of the one is a source of physical attraction to the other; and both one and the other are of the opinion that Mother Nature has put things together in such a way that any normal attempt to perpetuate the species requires an interactive contribution from each. Here all agreement ends.
As far as perceptions of the relationships between sexes are concerned, I can’t help thinking that my French lady compatriotes tend towards an integral view: for them, a man and a woman have each been allocated a different, yet complementary role, the two parts of which fit together to form an interdependent, integrated whole. The result, therefore, is simplicity itself: a man can concentrate on being a man, and a woman on being a woman. In contrast, their English sisters seem to have a more divisive view. For they see the human race, not as an addition of two complementary halves coming together to form an intrinsic whole, but as the division of this whole into two unequal parts. Thus, an English woman’s raison d’être is less to remain feminine and complement a man than to redress this gross injustice of nature by perpetual struggle to conquer territory unjustly occupied by the male.
Consequently, since a French woman perceives herself in terms of her attraction to men, her main rivals are … other females. The English woman, on the other hand, sees herself in terms of her inequality with men. Her main rivals, therefore, are … men. And would I be wrong in thinking that, while most French boys dream of growing up to be a man, this is also the dream of many English girls?
So, since a French woman’s aim is to gain the affection of men, she asserts herself for men: she cooks for men, she dresses for men and she tries to remain seductively attractive to men. By contrast, in her crusade against male domination, her English sister has taken up the same arms as men; and I can’t help thinking that somewhere en route she has lost her way. For not only has she sacrificed a part of her femininity on the alter of feminism, but by trying so hard to behave like a man, some strange mimetic phenomenon has caused her to look like a man.
Will it go some way towards placating the understandable indignation which my Frenchman’s thoughts will certainly have aroused in my English lady readers (who will no doubt interpret what he has just said as a humiliating, misogynistic macho attack), if I hasten to add that not all feminists are English women, and not all English women are feminists. Some can still be sent into raptures by the renowned French male touch. And far be it from me to wish to imply that all English girls have horse-like teeth, a prominent lower jaw, square shoulders, bulging biceps, hairs on their chest and big feet. Not only does the legendary English rose exist, but she more than makes up for all the thorns around. Nor is it my intention to suggest that a French woman is no less determined in her fight to obtain equality of rights with men. The difference resides, above all, in the approach: for the tactics she uses rely much more on discreet, gentle feminine seduction than aggressive disputation of territory deemed to be unfairly occupied by the male.