Friday, October 22, 2010

Gender equality in France - Fact or fiction?

by Expat Focus Columnist, Sharon Revol

When I first moved to France aged 16, I was too young to realize what a male chauvinistic, male dominated country I was living in, probably because I had no reference points to compare it to. So my first few years here were spent in total oblivion to the plight of fellow females and the difficulties they encountered on a daily basis.

I first realized how sexist France was when I was living back in England for a few years, aged 22. I was dealing with French businesses on a daily basis and as a joint partner in the company I worked for; I was entitled to make a certain number of decisions or to sign contracts without consulting my business partner. Yet, the French companies would never accept my word or signature until they had confirmation from my partner. It was like being considered a child or as being incompetent, they were always checking that what I said was true, thus undermining any responsibility I had.

Frustrating as this was, alarm bells should really have started ringing very loudly during one of my first French business meetings which I had set up and prepared. I was supposed to lead the meeting but I quickly realized that there was little point… The men from the other company were openly staring at my chest area whilst ignoring anything I had to say. Their questions and answers were addressed to my business partner and despite my efforts to regain control of the meeting and my partner’s constant deflection of all their questions back to me, nothing changed. Needless to say polo necks quickly became a staple part of my working wardrobe.

Thankfully, I am not a feminist although I am a strongly independent female willing to constantly battle for my rights. I will stand up and be heard and will stand firm if people do not wish to deal with me because of my lack of testosterone. France is definitely not a country for the faint hearted feminist that is for sure...


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