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…
Images from a selection at the blog behind The Illusionists, a feature length documentary about the commodification of the body and the marketing of unattainable beauty around the world.
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.
The Illusionists brought my attention to 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.
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).
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.
Hold on, let’s just take a moment…
He… (former top dog in France)
And that was 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.”
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…?
Images thanks to the Illusionists
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