Sunday, November 11, 2012

Europeans and Gender Equality Part III

Recently, I came across an interesting article relevant to the themes in recent posts.  The link below pulls up an article about male attitudes in France towards women.

The article describes how deeply ingrained sexist attitudes are in French culture.  Even in elite circles of well-educated men who should know better, and in circles of Socialist men who purport to value equality, women are viewed in sexualized, condescending terms.  Women are viewed as sex objects first and foremost.  Other potential contributions are secondary at best.  Incredible in this day and age.

The article focuses on sexualization as evidenced by members of the French government, but I don’t believe this is in any way a phenomenon only exhibited by politicians. 

I first began studying the French language when I was in 7th grade and ultimately it was one of my undergraduate majors.  To improve my language skills and learn more about French culture, for years, I would watch French films whenever I could.  One thing I noticed over the years was that it was apparently mandatory that the leading actress appear topless at some point in every film.  It didn’t matter the type of film.  It could be a period piece about fictional characters or people from history that took place decades or centuries ago, or a modern drama, but at some point we had to see some female breasts on the screen. 

And there didn’t always seem to be a reason for it.  I remember one film where a very respected actress stood in front of her closet naked for several moments before choosing an outfit and getting dressed.  It was silly.  Isabelle Huppert, Nathalie Baye, Isabelle Adjani—no matter how impressive an actress was the star of the film, she was apparently always required to strip for the cameras.  Funny but the same was not also demanded of the male actors.  Indeed, I watched a lot of French films over the years, but I don’t remember seeing the men naked much.  Perhaps seeing Gerard Depardieu in the buff is not a big box office draw.

When I lived in France, I was stunned to discover that what Americans would label “pornography” was broadcast on French media.  As a student and au pair, I was pretty busy during the day and early evenings.  But I’d get some time to myself after I had cleaned up from dinner and the kids went to bed.  At such times, I’d listen to the radio with earphones while writing letters or doing homework in my room.  I listened to various radio stations but particularly those with pop music.  On one such station, sometimes the music was interrupted by a woman talking for prolonged periods.  Typically I was multitasking and the radio was background noise, so initially I didn’t pay much attention to this woman talking.  When I listened to the radio at that hour, I wanted to hear some good music, not someone talking.  And obviously she was speaking in French.  My language skills were still improving, but I would have had to really concentrate to be able to follow her message. 

At first, when this woman would speak I thought it was just the DJ and they’d return to music before long.  But then I noticed the music breaks were fairly long, and one night instead of flipping to another music station, I listened to try to figure out what she was saying.  When I did, I realized she was telling a story.  Ok, that was odd.  Interrupt music to tell a story.  Hmmmm.   

And the story wasn’t particularly gripping.  It was something mundane about a young man taking his new 14 year old girlfriend home to meet his parents for the weekend.  After a few minutes, the station would go back to the music, but later the same woman would come back on air to tell more of the same dumb story. 

This woman had a very distinctive voice and she spoke in an odd way.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but she was clearly trying to sound sexy and alluring.  I’m not sure how to explain what I mean, but trust me on this. 

Bits and pieces of the story interrupted the music over several hours.  It went on and on like that but towards the end, the story became more and more sexual.  Towards the end of the evening, it was extremely graphic.  I was shocked.  I wasn’t staying up particularly late.  Kids could be listening.  And even without the issue of kids, why would this be socially acceptable to broadcast over the radio the telling of a story with an obviously prurient aim?! 

My French family didn’t have cable and rarely watched TV.  That was fine by me.  French TV is not that good anyhow.  At one point towards the end of my time with them, they loaned me a small old TV to keep in my room.  Because the family’s main TV was right by where the babies slept, no one could watch it once they went down for the night.  The little TV they gave me for my room didn’t get good reception, so I didn’t watch it much. 

But one night I couldn’t sleep and turned it on to see if there might be anything worth watching.  Maybe a French David Letterman or something.  Indeed, I stumbled upon some sort of a comedy show.  But it didn’t take long to figure out the comedy was highly sexualized.  It was really graphic.  And at one point there was some female nudity that seemed to serve no real purpose. 

Again, I was horrified.  This show was borderline pornographic.  This was just being broadcast across the airwaves.  I guess most kids were asleep at that hour.  But why was it socially acceptable to air such filth?  The show seemed to be scripted by a couple of junior high boys going through puberty.  How did this get produced?

Europe has become increasingly secular over the years.  When I lived in France, it was depressing.  Churches were dead places.  They were typically these large, old, decaying structures.  Services were infrequent and sparsely attended.  Often I was the only person under the age of 60 to attend.

As an American and as a Christian, I cannot help but wonder if this rampant sexualization of women is at least in part a reflection of the secular culture of Europe.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But if you don’t see women as children of God created with inherent value and purpose—beyond simply sexual pleasure—then perhaps it is easy to be dismissive of them and to treat them in such a disrespectful manner. 

Indeed, if one's worldview informs that there is nothing worthwhile in this life but the pursuit of pleasure, it makes sense to me that prurient media would be common place.  Further, in a society dominated by men, it makes particular sense that the images of women in the media would be so sexualized.

What a sad state of affairs.



1 Peter 3:3

Wives must not let their beauty be something external. Beauty doesn’t come from hairstyles, gold jewelry, or clothes.


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