So, as a somewhat liberal 30-something, I consider myself to be a Feminist. I believe in “equal work for equal pay”, I read Gloria Steinem, and I am as appalled as any over the proposed shut off of Federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
But, like most American feminists, I’ve lost touch with my feminine side, and I find myself reaching for pants vs. skirts, comfortable shoes vs. stilettos, and ignoring the amazing French silk stockings in my drawer.
So, when I was looking over books at my local store, instead of buying the next Malcolm Gladwell -I found this:
“What French Women Know”. The book is written by an American who married a Frenchman and moved to Paris. Upon dealing with women her age, she found the perception of American women is one of over-worked, under-sexed, passionless women who hate men and everything to do with them.
For example, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy stated “This (American) system of dating, relationships, evaluating and getting married is too formal and excessively ritualized, resulting in a loss of mystery-it is an example of American Puritanism, this manner of separating things, of the excessive codification of love”.
Harsh sounding, right? But, then I think of the last time I described my dating to my brother who said “This sounds like you are at battle with these guys!”. And, it got me thinking…..
Stories abound in San Francisco of the shortage of men, the statistical odds of getting married after 40, etc, etc.
But, I wonder, are we just creating an antagonistic environment between men and women where any compliment, advance or flattery is unwelcome? And, only an email, online introduction or dating site allows men and women to interact?
It seems there is no mystery at all, we have rules on how many dates before we are expected to have sex-who will pay-and picture the poor guy in a tuxedo waiting for us at the end of an aisle before even knowing his last name!
It seems as if American women are rushing towards the altar, clutching brochures from fertility clinics, just waiting for the final piece of the puzzle to seal their American Dream (metaphorically speaking of course).
But, lest I judge, I reached out to a few American male friends of mine for their input. One is married to a French woman and the other, a Francophile who travels to France yearly. Their input was this:
“The typical American girl strives to be like a Sorority girl-like a Jennifer Aniston-type cut-out. Dumb and not intelligent. French women do not have this stereotype and are not as 1 dimensional as American women” (ouch!)
The man who’s married to an amazing French lady had more to say-as in:
“It’s not about youth and being physically attractive, but being confident and ‘knowing your stuff’ is what French people want.”
“Everyone in France has had a boyfriend, lover, who is like 15 years older than them. There is a respect for people who know what they are doing.”
“You never have the discussion ‘Where are we going’“???
“American women are willing to let their guys act like children. Guys here don’t know the basics about basics like ‘What is a meal supposed to consist of?’ – Or what women should expect.” (Interesting observation…)
“In France, older guys know their shit so they are considered attractive. ”
“I get the feeling American men are young and stay young for too long-they haven’t really learned how to take care of themselves. You can just see the frat boy in them”
Perhaps our Puritanical roots still effect our behavior today in a country where conservative religion is still somewhat mainstream (I mean, we were the country who conducted the Salem Witch Trials-after all) And, I cannot claim to be totally exempt from this influence (I was baptized Catholic -raised in the Midwest)
But, as an American woman, I wanted to think this was a misrepresentation of our behavior; that we are not these neurotic cookie-cutter creatures. But, looking in the relationship section of the book store, I saw a very American book called “Are Men Necessary” by Maureen Dowd. And, someone pointed out to me a famous cartoon from The New Yorker where a couple is sitting in a restaurant and the man is saying “No, I don’t think we need counseling. This is our first date.” And, this is how we are representing ourselves!
So, I decided to put this to the test. I had a date with a Czech man (a set-up from French friends) and I decided to try and act “non-American”, meaning I didn’t ask about job, salary, status, security. I wore a short skirt and red stockings and a low-cut top despite the rainy weather. I just lived in the moment without any attachment to the outcome. And, to no surprise, I had a blast. We laughed, drank, and flirted. This man was visiting, considering a move to San Francisco, and still going through a divorce. Ordinarily, I’d view all of those as red flags, but I focused on the here and now and enjoyed myself.
And, I couldn’t help but be flattered when we parted and he asked “You seem different from other American women-I wasn’t so sure about this date and now I’m glad to see the women in San Francisco are not so uptight!”
I couldn’t help but respond “Merci beaucoup”!