Can.I.Rock.it?

Is France Paying the Price for Being Notoriously Good in Bed?

In I spied... on May 17, 2011 at 8:19 am

At the forefront of scandal: Strauss Kahn

Okay, so we’ve just found our next Berlusconi.

The over-sexed Italian politican can exit stage left because France’s next would-be President, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (pictured above), is currently sitting in a New York slammer for charges of the attempted rape of a hotel maid.

And here comes the can of worms (spilling all over his party’s hopes to win France in the next election); Strauss-Kahn has apparently been attacking women, journalists and hotel maids alike, for years and getting away with it; the old devil.

To be really honest, I didn’t actually care who this guy was until his extra-curricular activities became the topic of chitchat between customer and baker in the boulangèrie queue one morning, when all I wanted was to do was buy my damn croissant and move on with my day.

Living in France for over six months now, I still read English newspapers and watch the BBC news. Ask me three things about French President Sarkozy and I’ll only tell you two; he’s married to Carla Bruni and likes to point his finger a lot.

Right, so we’ve clarified I’m more interested in my morning pastries than French politics, but the unavoidable frenzy surrounding the story of a powerful Frenchman’s moment of crazed lust for a hotel maid, got me thinking on a tangent and it goes something like this…

Berlusconi and Strauss-Kahn.

Both were in positions of immense power and very much in the public eye. Why would they risk their reputations so callously? Or why were their ongoing antics obligingly brushed under the carpet for so long?

The Italian and the Frenchman…

Both notorious lovers, both synonymous with an infamous culture of vigorous seduction.

What are the consequences of a culture with such deep-rooted sensationalism of sexual desire? More importantly, what are the consequences for women?

Let’s take a look…

One only has to walk a few blocks in Paris or take a few turns through the metro passageways to make an educated guess that advertisements featuring women outnumber those featuring men by about 10 to 1.

The woman’s presence is always inviting. They are portrayed as passive objects of lust.

They are flawlessly-made up young women, under the age of 30, no matter what the advertisement is for, tempting Frenchmen at every corner, constantly provoking and encouraging their clichéd lust for females.

 I  came across an article from the New York Times about women’s equality in France written in October last year. I’m no feminist, but journalist Kathryn Bennhold’s opening sentence certainly raised an eyebrow…

Weeks after giving birth, French women are offered a state-paid, extended course of vaginal gymnastics, complete with personal trainer, electric stimulation devices and computer games that reward particularly nimble squeezing.

Finding it hard to believe that a government would seriously pay for its women to take a course in kegel exercises, I needed confirmation.

A quick Google later and indeed, the French public health insurance program pays for women to have 10 sessions of pelvic-floor tightening physiotherapy after childbirth – per child.  One website claimed it was considered the French woman’s duty to keep her muscles down there firm and toned; for health reasons of course, cited as preventing post-pregnancy incontinence and organ descent. Sure sure.

Ten sessions of free abdominal exercises follow to help the new mother get that washboard stomach back that her husband sees advertised every morning on his way to work.

Oh and that New York Times article also happened to mention…

The birthplace of Simone de Beauvoir and Brigitte Bardot may look Scandinavian in employment statistics, but it remains Latin in attitude. French women appear to worry about being feminine, not feminist, and French men often display a form of gallantry predating the 1789 revolution.

This lingerie advert has been defaced with the words "this is not what woman looks like" (rough translation)

As we’ve noticed women are pretty much portrayed as passive objects of lust to Parisians on a daily basis , now let’s see who represents our typical French male in comparison…

While the six packs and perfectly gelled hair are reserved for the pages of a GQ men’s magazine, what is presented as the typical French male to the general public is pretty interesting…

  Men are average looking blokes (never was this ugly British word so appropriate). Utterly average-looking in comparison to adverts of women, they are carefree, aged 30 to 50 or older, with visible wrinkles, stubble and their physical forms are rarely the focus of the image. Yet they still manage to exude power (and evidently the power to sell the product too).

This one takes the cake ...

Worrying fact no.1:  France ranks 46th in the World Economic Forum’s 2010 gender equality report, trailing behind the United States, most of Europe, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica.

Worrying fact no.2: French women have the most babies in Europe, but are also the biggest consumers of anti-depressants.

Worrying fact no.3: Only one of France’s top companies is run by a woman but her appointment in the public sector is largely the result of her belonging to the cream of the crop of the French elite.

President Sarkozy with wife Carla Bruni

Hold on, let’s just take a moment…

Sarkozy with Bruni strolling on the beach (giving the photographers every angle they could possible need)

He… (top dog in France)

Gets to go to bed at night with her… 

And that’s France’s first lady for ya!

Fortunately, some are recognizing the link between such provocative advertising and attitude towards women. Like the lingerie advertisement before, this poster for online clothing store La Redoute has also been defaced by an activist group. Take a closer look…

In bold red lettering, La Redoute claims “tout est permis” or “everything is allowed”, alongside a model wearing what might as well be underwear, legs spread wide apart.

Well gee, that’s pretty much Strauss-Kahn’s motto too!

The sticker placed over the model’s face translates to “advertisement that solicits rape.”

Quite right…

Are we starting to get an idea for the kind of message being transmitted here in the French capital, a.k.a  the city of romance?

Perhaps there’s a little too much romance going on here. Enough to sugar-coat what’s really going on…?

I don’t claim to know what it’s like yet for a woman in the French workplace, but I have an inkling there are quite a few sectors where the glass ceiling might still be firmly in place…

…the type of environments where inappropriate ‘incidents’ might be more easily ‘understood’ and overlooked. Where an older man in a position of power really can take whatever he wants.

Well it’s part of the deep-rooted culture after all, is it not…?

:::::::

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Images thanks to the Illusionists

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  1. I hate to write this as I usually like this blog, but this article seriously lacks judgement.

    Do you really think men rape women because they are constantly arounsed on the street by sexy ads ? Isn’t it like saying that sexually harassed women « deserve it » by dressing «provocatively» ? Rapists are mentally ill people and criminals, not just folks who get turned on by sexy ads.

    Also, organ descent is a real pathology causing physical pain, so having the state pay for gym sessions to solve it is pretty normal. For the free abdominal sessions : pregnancy distends abdominal muscles, and most French women can’t afford a gym membership. These free admnominal exercises help all women, whatever their revenue, recover from pregnancy. Not everything you do for your body is about pleasing men.

    Your article aims at defending women, but ends up doing the exact opposite.

    • Hi Maillis,

      Do you live in Paris? Have you seen how in your face the advertising is here? I never used to pay attention to street advertising in London but in Paris you cannot ignore it. It’s so obtrusive. Breeding a mindset that focuses on sexual desire but more importantly placing all the sexual attention on the female form. French men are allowed to be old, with big bellies and double chins, they’re still considered charming and encouraged to seduce the young, sexually ripe women glorified by French society. I think French women are pressured to be impossibly perfect as they continue to age and yes, I think French men are quite frankly, over-sexed until the very end. I think a lot of older/ wealthy French men with a bit of power think they’re casanovas here. I think it’s deep rooted in French culture for the women to be treated as passive sexual objects, here to cater to the heightened desires of the powerful French male. It’s quite clear that if DSK had got on that plane and came back to France, he wouldn’t be in nearly as much trouble as he is stateside (think of Polanski). 60% of French people think he was ‘set up’ and that the incident was consensual. My point isn’t about men raping women because of an overload of sexy ads. My point is that they breed the wrong kind of attitude. The embarrassment France is being subjected to right now is a result of its ‘anything goes’ sexual attitude…

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