When I was out to eat last weekend with a group of French friends (2 men and 2 women), the topic of Canadian women and feminism casually arose when asked what I write about.
When I mentioned feminism, the women were interested to learn more about notorious ‘tough’ Canadian women. Apparently, Canadian women have the reputation for a take-no-bullshit attitude and being the ultimate ball busters. I swear the two men’s penises were inverted at this point.
The French women continued to explain how they had heard many stories about how strong Canadian women are. They are often the head of the family, and take no bullshit from men. We are also more prone to male like behaviour: being aggressive, direct, competitive, vulgar and overall anti-man. And I thought Canadians were supposed to be known as a friendly people?
These lovely French girls were eager for me to answer some questions (without being indiscret, a French national concern) about Canadian women and men. Do we really dominate and control men? Do Canadian feminists hate men, because they all seem very angry? Does the woman actually have the final say in family life? What about young women, who seem to be more aggressive in their pursuit of men? They even seemed to be under the impression that we were very promiscuous! (In France, where sex can be like breathing, this really dumbfounded me).
They seemed happy that women had achieved some sort of equality in Canada, but didn’t seem to sure if that would ever be the case in France. However, they said this ‘Canadian’ feminism was quickly spreading to France, and women were becoming more assertive.
Apparently in France, men traditionally are the supreme head of their family. They will consider their partner’s opinion on most subjects, but in the end, the man makes the final decision. Women seem more likely to support this theory (because it is a theory that I can’t agree with) and tend to be less aggressive in their relationships with men. I have even heard some women actually say that women need to be in a relationship, and can’t thrive without a partner. As if we are somewhat programmed to serve a significant other. Newsflash, this is 2012, not 1912.
I think most of these beliefs have their origins in the Catholic Church, and its strong historical influence in France. While many French people are no longer very Catholic, the conservative influence has left its mark on the culture. Divorce rates are still relatively low in France for Europe; this may be another indication of Catholic roots.
I was under alot of pressure to answer these questions, as a representative for the entire nation of Canada. The men had said nothing at this point, just starring at me as if I was holding a nutcracker in my hand and was ready to pounce on them. I decided to tread carefully, and spoke about Canada in general terms as an immigrant nation where it has been and remains a struggle for newcomers to forge a new life. I spoke of this Canadian determination as some sort of national trait that must have passed down the generations creating a stubborn people.
I also spoke about the sad reality of single motherhood in Canada. Many Canadian women of all origins are left alone to raise children and have to fight to make ends meet without the support of biological fathers. These conditions must create a special kind of woman. While there are single mothers in France, there seems to be a lower rate of paternal absenteeism/rate of default on child support payments. As the daughter, cousin, and friend of single mothers, I have lived through and helped support through the daily struggle of being a single mom. Raising children alone is not an easy task; and it truly takes a strong woman to do so. I certainly became the strong woman I am because of my mother’s role modelling, and I am proud to come from a line of strong women.
This answer seemed to satisfy the French women without threatening the men’s masculinity. As this awkward conversation moved onto another subject, I breathed a sigh of relief and for a moment felt proud of my heritage. I didn’t mention Feminism: A Second Thought, the feminist conference my friends and I held at UBC last March. That may have been too much feminism for one night.
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Song.