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Les Femmes Fatiguées

Vivia Chen

October 20, 2010

  IStock_000009794840XSmallOh, I am so bummed. Just when I thought French women had it made--secure careers, long vacations, and subsidized child care, not to mention luscious food and luscious sex lives--word comes that their world is not so fantastique. Reports The New York Times:

France ranks forty-sixth in the World Economic Forum’s 2010 gender equality report, trailing the United States, most of Europe, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica. Eighty-two percent of French women aged 25-49 work, many of them full-time, but 82 percent of parliamentary seats are occupied by men. French women earn 26 percent less than men but spend twice as much time on domestic tasks. They have the most babies in Europe, but are also the biggest consumers of antidepressants.

Advocates for greater work/life balance in this country might want to take some antidepressants themselves after this report. I mean, France has many of the goodies (parental leave for up to three years, readily available free daycare, etc.) that are supposed to fix our gender issues.

It seems French women's lives are just as pressured as ours--except that they get paid even less--and have to do everything in high heels. “French women are exhausted,” said Valérie Toranian, editor in chief of France's Elle, to the NYT. “We have the right to do what men do--as long as we also take care of the children, cook a delicious dinner, and look immaculate. We have to be superwoman.”

Of course, American professional women know the superwoman syndrome, too--all that juggling  home and work business. But French women seem to be trying even harder, but with less help from their hubbies.

Take Fleur Cohen, a full-time physician with four children, who's shown in the article wearing a fetching miniskirt as she shepherds her kids to school in Paris. Married to another doctor, Cohen told the NYT that she it's her choice to bathe the kids, cook, and food shop. "If I didn’t prepare food for my children, I would feel less like a mother," she said. (Can I just ask what her husband is doing while his wife works herself to the bone? And don't the French have take-out?)

Some American women, especially those with professional degrees, have also bought into the perfect mother stuff. But unlike their Gallic sisters, some are choosing the supermom track and chucking their careers. Middlebury College sociology professor Margaret Nelson says that professional women often feel they have to chose between work and family. There's a presumption that truly devoted moms will abort their high-power careers for their kids. (Remember those women graduates from the Harvard Law School class of '93--nearly a third of whom decided to opt out to raise families?)

On both sides of the Atlantic, it's a fine mess. You can drive yourself crazy by being the superwoman at work and at home under the French model (at least you'll look chic). Or you can drive both yourself and your kids crazy by devoting yourself to supermomdom under the American system (sans chic). 

Any solutions out there? Give me your two cents.

Related posts: "Moms Who Won't Quit," "Harvard Law Women Opt Out"

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Photo: Don Bayley/iStock


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I tried being a "super mum" but decided it's too much. I want to live a balanced, healthy life. I am lucky and my husband does half of the housework. We take turns in breakfast making, driving etc. So I get to the office happy and ready to work on my career. :)

I for one think that people are never satisfied with what they have and always want more. Once you get used to something, it is human nature to grow tired of it and demand for more. As the author pointed out, women in France benefit from secure careers, long vacations, and subsidized child care. Not to mention that they enjoy a generous social security system (so all those antidepressants are actually subsidized by the French state, which may explain why women are dosing themselves with such products). And let's not forget that employees in France only have a 35-hour working week ! Yes, you heard that right, a 35-hour working week! So what is there not to like about working in France? Last time I checked, Americans don't have as many benefits and certainly work well beyond 35 hours per week, and yet the survey are suggesting Americans are happier than the French! So why are the French complaining about being overworked and exhausted? Please, who are we kidding?

I for one, an American woman, wouldn't think of giving up my high heels. They make my legs look great, I like being taller than my male coworkers and I've been wearing them since I was 14, so I’m able to walk in them just as quickly as in flats.

I think many American moms could take a slightly less involved role in their kids' lives. Doing their homework, filling out their college applications and packing their lunch when they're 18 years old hampers children's independence and maturity. By being less of a helicopter mom, women could free up much of their time and do more things for themselves.

One solution to the issue of "they have to do everything in high heels" is to ban high-heels.

One of the main policy planks of Guyinism is the banning of high-heel shoes. Guys are tired of hearing women complain about them, tired of having to do extra work because women can't walk as far, and tired of women believing everyone shorter than them when they are wearing their heels is too short to date.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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