If there’s anything the French love more than a less-than-subtle leer over a girl in a knee-length skirt, it’s a strike. First day in Paris, the teachers are on strike. Second day in Paris ; still on strike. Third day in Paris ; I start to become a little concerned for the place, because, as far as I can tell, there are no strikes. Fourth day ; I wake up to the screams of children waving banners outside the blockaded school gates, and the world order is restored. I find myself having to squeeze through the crowds in a desperate attempt to quit my cooped-up boarding lodges and embrace my rights to liberty, freedom, fraternity…
But what surprises me for a country so apparently aware of rights and equality is the lack of resistance to the chauvinism of the male half. It’s impossible to step onto the metro in a pair of casual jeans without attracting a fair few glances.
In fact, before coming to gay Paree, never had I ever (get ready to drink if you’ve ever lived in Paris…) been leered at quite so blatantly. Never had I ever been followed onto the tube (I was just minding my own business during an innocent stroll along the Champs-Elysees). Never had I ever been subjected to comments from 50 year-old men such as ‘mm trop belle’, ‘mm la classe’ and ‘mm you sleep with me tonight yees’. (NB – in my defence that one was a lot younger than 50. Further NB – it definitely needs to be imagined in a leering French accent to get the full effect).
Maybe that explains why jeans – along with some hefty boots (no doubt handy in warding off the odd stalker) – are the main clothing of choice here. If the words of one young French garcon are anything to go by, the French perceive English style as ‘provocant’. Perhaps that’s because a French man is simply unable to contain himself when he sees a girl wearing a pair of Primark leggings. Our attempt at explaining the Slut-walks protest was less than fruitful in the ears of a boy habituated to a society where leering is the norm if a woman is wearing anything other than a mechanic’s overall (even that is a bit too revealing, of course).
If women dress in a way that’s ‘provocant’, it’s because they feel liberated. Whilst the French are claiming apparent awareness of liberté, égalité and fraternité through large, visible movements in the form of the famous strike, it seems that it’s the English who are more genuinely embracing the motto. Women aren’t afraid to do and dress as they like at the fear of arousing the desires of a patriarchal male ; voila, you have equality. And the difference in culture means that women can dress as they like without having to worry about attracting pervy glances and comments that make you want to vomir dans les visages… voila, you have fraternity.
Dear France. You want my advice? Quit the strikes. And put on a skirt!