I spent part of tonight and the other evening writing a long blog post that I don’t think I’m going to publish ultimately. It felt yet again a little like this:
I don’t think the purpose this blog is about me blowing off steam or getting really personal: I try to write about France and wine and the process of adapting to a new culture so I guess some personal things get swept up in that. But if I have a bad day, I try not to speed to WordPress to shake my fists and castigate all the people and events in my life. 🙂 You’re welcome.
The blog post, the invisible draft still sitting like a big stinking turd, a big hulking pissed off elephant, in the corner of my writing desk, was about feminism. It was about how pregnancy and living in France has brought up a lot of issues for me regarding independence and gender, and how I’m struggling with this loss of control in my life. On days when I’m feeling sad and scared, it feels overwhelming.
Whether it’s the immigration issue or feminism, I think the statistics back up my impression that sexism is a huge problem in France. There appears to be very rigid gender roles (while it’s a bit of a generalization and of course there are exceptions, I think statistically most French women in the workforce are largely represented in lower paying careers like health care, child care, education, and service); furthermore, a new study by statistics agency INSEE, released to mark Women’s Day reveals men are paid on average 18 percent more than women the public sector and 28 percent more than women in the private sector. That represents only a marginal improvement on 20 years ago, when the gap in the private sector stood at 34 percent. In the banking and insurance sectors the discrepancy is as much as 44 percent. I read another statistic that stated that women earn on average 27 percent less than men in France and pensions for retired women are on average 40 less than for men. Domestic violence is still a huge problem in France with one in ten women a victim.
As in the U.S, women are expected to handle the majority of childcare and household chores in the home, in particular those tasks which are most repetitive and least rewarding. When you have children, women’s careers take a back seat (with a resulting pay gap that lasts for the rest of her career) while men’s careers tend to thrive.
I’m not going to lie, I’m struggling with it. For me, when it comes to my daily experience, it’s hard to tease apart what percentage is due to my status as an immigrant, and how much is related to my role as a woman. Some days are ok, and I feel positive…but, well. For example:
-Some of it is small stuff that ads up to big stuff over sheer, banal, repetition: the bank sending MY bank statements addressed to my husband. The doctor, when he needs to deliver the results of a blood test or to confirm or change an appointment, calling my husband’s cell phone instead of mine. Yes, these things can get (and have gotten) corrected if I speak up, throw a fit, and insist. However: the fact that I HAVE to even insist that people address me directly as an adult is just…exhausting after a while.
-Some of it is subtle: being initially told I shouldn’t use the power shears (or really any of the power tools) for cutting the vines because “you might hurt yourself”, having to have my blades checked after I sharpen them to “make sure you did it right”, or being asked if I want gloves when I’m working because “you don’t want your hands to look like a man’s!” (As I’ve said before, women don’t really participate in the vine and wine industry in this region. Or use power tools.) Yes, it used to be fun when I was in my twenties to defy gender expectations and show people that women could do things (blow glass, keep farm animals, change a tire and do maintenance on my car, be able to weld, etc.) Now, it just makes me want to scream every time I get that side look from people, that little smile that seems to signal surprise that I’m not, I don’t know, reading tabloids and getting my nails done or, I don’t know, owning lots of shoes? I remember when I worked for Corning on the ship as the manager of the Hot Glass Shows, having the engineers address my male team members instead of me when handling repairs that I’d requested, or having guests come up to me when I was preparing for a demonstration piece and tell me that “It’s nice you’re setting up the color for the glassblower!” and “Oh, are you the apprentice?” (FYI: this is me as the boss of the show with 14 years experience blowing glass.) IT’S 2013! WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS???
-Some of it is soul-crushing: not going to give specific examples since the other rejected blog post went on about this for ages, but suffice to say, there are a lot of expectations I’m running into surrounding pregnancy, motherhood, division of responsibilites in the home, career and income, and expectations about where one, as a possessor of two X chromosones, is supposed to derive her fulfillment, satisfaction, sense of dignity and sense of self. (Hint: apparently, it does NOT come from work, creativity, intellectual abilities, independence and the respect of others.)
I have plans for the fall to get back to the studio to make glasswork, focusing on product samples that I can use to build a website and advertising and begin to feel out the market and generate orders. And I’m looking into programs to get certified to teach English as a second language, a job that I think I’d be good at and that would also allow me enough flexibility to handle my new responsibilities to the baby and his needs. I continue to work for the wine business, even though I’m thirty weeks pregnant, and will continue to do that as long as I physically can.
I am going to make this work.
But while I’ve been aware my whole life of the limitations of being a woman, the barriers that it feels like I’m always struggling against, the double standards, the aesthetic standards, all of it…it seems particularily prevalent in my life right now. For me, working gives me dignity and autonomy. And between the pregnancy and the immigration and the language and all of it, I have some huge limits that I’m fighting against. Fighting people’s opinions makes it that much harder.
Have any of you dealt with these things before, with motherhood or with people’s expectations, or have you run into surprising biases in a new culture? I’d love to hear advice or encouragement…this stuff can beat you down on days when you’re not feeling so good.
This following short film, “Majorité Opprimée” came out recently here in France to a lot of controversy and has sparked a pretty big debate about male privilege. It does have some nudity (a group of female joggers run by early in the film with no shirts) and reference to sexual assault, so I don’t think everyone should watch it, if those are things that are offensive and/or triggering for you. However, I did find it interesting based on French culture and my personal conflicts! (There’s also a bit that, for me, smacks heavily of anti-Muslim bias that is prevalent in France. Some commentators argued that the director was not trying to be racist but was trying to show another aspect of female societal oppression, but frankly, I’m not convinced.)
The little blurb reads: “On what seems to be just another ordinary day, a man is exposed to sexism and sexual violence in a society ruled by women… (10 minutes)”. The video was directed by Eléonore Pourriat and stars Pierre Benezit, Marie-Lorna Vaconsin, Marie Favasuli, and Céline Menville; the opening song is : “Comme un garçon” (Like a Boy), by StereoTotal.