France vs UK: Who wins at sexism? By GabrielleWritten by Gabrielle Blackburn
A battle as old as time; a rivalry that has fed into many a beautiful stereotype. But who, out of the UK or France, wins at sexism?
Being a Frenchie who has moved to Scotland, I have discovered that different countries have different ways of making sure I never forget my gender. Some more insidious, some more blatant, all very annoying. Here are some differences I have noticed from living in both countries.
CAVEAT – These are my thoughts and feelings, based my experience from what I have witnessed and lived through. Others’ experiences might be different. Similarly, I am not saying all Brits and all Frenchies behave like this. This is not about individuals, but about social norms and general attitudes – CAVEAT OVER.
UK: Gender segregated fun
Being used to hanging out in quite a gender blind way in France, I was confused when arriving here, where a clear “girl/boy” divide seemed to naturally occur at parties and other social gatherings. Things like “girls’ nights out” and “lads’ pub nights” are a thing, and talking to someone of the opposite gender is often seen as flirting. This gender segregated fun culminates in bizarre institutionalised rituals such as hen and stag dos. What happens if you have friends of both genders you want to go out with? No one knows…
France: Cat calling
I grew up very used to cat calls. I learnt how to see them coming; to stare away so I could pretend not to hear; I perfected my natural looking high speed power walk. Then I moved to the UK, and I applied my knowledge only to realise that no one was asking me to come over to them so they could fuck me; no one was telling me that I was a fine mademoiselle and asking me if I had a second to have a chat with them. AND, no one was calling me a whore as I ignored them and powered passed.
What am I to do with my years of experience, dedicated to perfecting the art of pretending like I don’t give a shit, if British men insist on internalising their sexist remarks? How inconsiderate.
UK: Looking the part
“Where are all the girls?” I ask, sipping at my beer at one of my first Scottish nights out. The room is full of men, daring each other to drink more, and faster. “Getting ready,” I am told.
Two hours later, they all arrive together, in a cloud of smell I later learned to identify as spray tan. They all look impeccable, having clearly painstakingly thought out every detail of their outfit (but not dwelt too long on the outfit in question’s suitability to the Scottish cold). Here, going out is serious, sexually charged business, that requires time and effort to maximise visual gender differences.
Walking around the city centre of any British city on a Friday night is a surreal experience for someone like me, who is used to people attending clubs in the jeans and t-shirt they wore to school that day.
France: overly gendered “small talk”
I’m standing next to grandma at the fruit stall at the, when the merchant leans over the strawberries to intone appreciatively how I have truly grown into a beautiful woman and do I have a boyfriend? Would I like one?
As we walk back, an elderly neighbour comments on how tall and attractive I am, “especially in that dress”. Sometimes, small chat in France feels like stepping back into the 19th century. How is this an okay conversation to have? EVER, let alone when I’m with MY GRANDMA! *shudders*
Casual references to women’s beauty, men’s sex drive and how lovers should interact as a couple seem much more common place in my home land compared to the UK.
When I arrived in the UK, I was not used to these different manifestations of sexism. They felt more restrictive and infuriating than the ones back at home. But that was mostly because I had not learnt how to navigate these new social dynamics yet.
Now that I am accustomed to both types of sexism, I can only say: I could seriously do without either existing.
Gabrielle Blackburn is one of our fantastic blogging network members. As a cognitive scientist and a feminist activist, she is interested in exploring the roots and consequences of prejudice and bias, especially those relating to gender. She also enjoys good beer, pole dancing, and confusing people with her unidentifiable accent.