France has always had a reputation for being somewhat more overt in the kind of sexuality that it allows to be portrayed in its advertising, media and entertainment. One would think that this would lead to a more desensitized sex culture — a sexually open culture that is based on instant gratification.
I thought that too when I first arrived here in Paris years ago.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Well, actually, I suppose I could have been wronger, but that means that I’d have thought that Notre Dame Cathedral was made of pineapple.
Wouldn’t that be delightful?
Anyway, when it comes to sex, in general, I’ve found that people here are so repressed that the tension in the air is palpable. Walk up to any parisian man, and you’ll find that he is strung so tightly that any woman with a pulse could pluck his strings with just a look.
Sure, he’ll walk by a perfume advertisement featuring a naked woman the size of a bus, and he’ll be unfazed. But show him a bit of leg on a real, breathing woman, and he’ll likely walk into a lamppost or into oncoming traffic as his eyes follow her down the street. (I’ve definitely seen this happen.)
Here’s my theory… I think that this media-diffused sexual imagery has been embraced by women in some countries; they’ve emulated what they see in the media, so you see women wearing suggestive clothing fashions and being more open with the way the speak and express their views about sex and relationships.
But here, I think that women have gone the opposite direction. They try to disassociate themselves with these highly sexualized women that they see in advertisements and in films. Women here go out of their way to associate appropriate comportment with LESS openness, LESS skin, LESS provocativeness. If there were to be a motto, it’d be “WITHHOLD, WITHHOLD, AND WITHHOLD”. Obviously, slut-shaming is off the charts here.
French fashion is the antithesis of daring and individualist. Cover up. Hide your curves. Conceal your cleavage. Your bare legs do not see the light of day. Do not smile at a man. Do not speak about sex or anything provocative. Because, above all, YOU MUST NOT BE PERCEIVED AS A WHORE.
All this withholding and repression on the frenchwoman’s part means that frenchmen follow their lead. A woman wearing a suggestive outfit must be “the kind of woman” who will give it up at the least provocation and is not deserving of your respect. A woman dressed in a black potato sack, she’s a proper lady — a quality lady — that you court properly and take home to mum.
And while I don’t think that I dress particularly provocatively, I like to feel pretty and to wear clothes that flatter my figure — whether it’s a simple black dress or a bright red blouse. In my book, it’s a matter of self-respect. Yet I suspect that this is why I get harassed in the street but why I’m otherwise ignored by the general date-able populace. And I suspect that this is why frenchwomen often treat me with a certain amount of disdain or otherwise just categorically dismiss me. Both men and women here seem to be working with the same paradigms.
The men seem to get their instant gratification not from their own wives and girlfriends, who are withholding and therefore sacred, but instead from other, “easy” women, easier targets — the ones that look like what they see in the media… the ones whose legs they ogle in the cafes, the ones whose hips that they see swaying in the streets, and the ones in plunging necklines that they pick up in bars.
I’ve been told that American women dress like whores. American women are easy. American women aren’t classy; they are crass because they say whatever they damn well please, when they damn well please.
Compared to the alternative, I think that I’d rather be a crass American whore than what passes for the feminine ideal here.
I like to smile and laugh and wear a skirt that makes my butt look great.
So sue me.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m an egg cooked over-easy, thank you. I’m still a classy lady who deserves some respect and decency, which is not something that I’m accustomed to getting on a daily basis.
The kind of imagery that may result in an over-sexed culture that promotes instant gratification… it can also have the opposite effect on cultural norms. There are two sides to that coin, and here in France, I’m looking at one side of it.
It makes me miss what’s on the other side.
I wonder if the Washington Monument is made of pineapple.
* Today’s topic was brought to you by the Insomnia Club! See what the other cook cats have to say about sexual tension in the age of instant gratification and sexual imagery bombardment…