Last week, I attended an Alliance Française de Melbourne dinner and workshop on the topic of Exceptional Women.
Unsurprisingly, all of the women featured in the lecture were French (or spent a great deal of their lives in France) and included names like Joan of Arc, Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, Brigitte Bardot and Edith Piaf.
All in all, it was a thought provoking evening, with great food and I was lucky enough to meet some very interesting people.
But the whole event got me considering – yet again – the mythical French woman.
You see, I was struck by the fact that society’s fascination with French women started a long way back. It is not the recent phenomenon that a casual internet search (or trip to your local bookshop) might have you believe.
The realist in me understands that French women come with varying intellects and bank balances, in all shapes and sizes and that not all of them are classic beauties. And although I certainly don’t envy the pressure French women must feel to live up the world’s lofty expectations of them, I can’t help but think that the mystique that surrounds French women must have a grain of truth to it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that women from all over the world can’t lead exceptional lives – it is just that I find it interesting that over a great many years, French women seem to pop up again and again with that certain something, that ‘je ne sais quoi’.
Given today’s global society, I’m not sure I subscribe to the school of thought that the mysteriousness of the French woman is passed on entirely via the genes.
So where does it come from? Here’s what I came up with:
- When I considered the women highlighted in last week’s lecture, one thing that stood out was the fact that they all had a touch of the rebel in them. They knew their purpose in life and went after it with single minded conviction. None of them seemed to care what others thought. They knew what they needed to do and just got on with it. I see similar traits in the women I encounter in France today. Focussed, business like and quietly self assured in their own abilities and with who they are, what they are doing and how they look.
- French society appreciates women of all ages. They refer to their country as female and their emblems are also female. This must send a message to girls as they are growing up as to their own place in the world. To my mind, confidence is a natural outcome of this upbringing. It also gives women permission to appreciate themselves, and this is born out in the way French women care for their skin, hair and bodies.
- The French are disciplined in so many areas of their lives. And they couple that discipline with a commitment to both quality and moderation. For example, they eat less food but it is better quality. They buy fewer clothes but what do they do buy can be considered investment pieces. The small spaces they live in demand discipline – or else they would be swamped with clutter. All this discipline and quality leads to focussed a life…and the lack of shopping means more time for museums, family and parks.
Have you ever considered the mystique of French women? Do you have any thoughts on why they are held in such high regard? If so, I’d love for you to share in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.