Being an American woman in Paris–a vision that is purely romantic–poses real challenges in my everyday life. I’m headstrong and I think I’m different than lot of French women. At work they say I am mystique and I think it’s because they’ve never met someone like me before: someone who speaks her mind freely, who doesn’t always take into account politesse.
In the U.S. we have a tendency to idolize everything the French do: the way they eat, the way they dress, the way they raise their children… In recent years, titles like “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and “Bringing Up Bebe” have shot up bestseller lists as we try to understand what makes the French “better than us”… at everything!
While I wholeheartedly agree that the French do a lot of things well. I think we also need to take a step back and recognize that we’re selling ourselves short. Americans have a lot to offer too.
If there was a great meeting of the minds between French women and American women, to discuss core values, here are the things I’d suggest we share:
#1 Support systems: I think American women are really great at supporting each other. From everyday scenarios of helping a friend in need– to larger philanthropic events. I think we know that having a great network and standing by each other makes us stronger. And, this is just a theory, but I think it helps wipe out sexist behavior. It makes us a force to be reckoned with!
#2 Taking initiative: Women in the U.S. are starting small businesses in record numbers. I was inspired by Marissa Mayer’s story as she took over as CEO of Yahoo! — while pregnant. American women are doing amazing things and expanding what it means to “have-it-all.” When I’ve read about French women in the boardroom, or even small business owners, the numbers seem to be very low. Whether it’s a matter of choice or discrimination, I can’t be sure.
#3 Strong role models: From Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga we see strong women all over the media every day. Girls in 2012 are exposed to powerful women in sports, science, politics, etc. Last year I was inspired to hear Geena Davis speak about her theory that “if you see it, you can be it.” In the US, we’re showing kids that women can be anything they want to be. I attended a DVD release party the other night for a popular French series and all I could think was, “why don’t the women in this show deliver any of the punchlines?” And while I know that American television is rife with nonsense (that means you, Honey Boo Boo). I think we also balance it out with really positive role models, which has the power to change people’s perspectives.
#4 Getting healthy: Women in the US are signing up for races in record numbers. So you can imagine my surprise that when I went to cheer on my friend Brittany in a half marathon by the Stade de France, I was shocked to see a very small number of female runners. While we are statistically more obese in the U.S. I think we realize the importance of exercise. When we get together to run we form great support systems, we take initiative over our own health, and we become strong role models for our family and friends.
Et voila! So even though I didn’t live through the women’s lib movement, I realize that I reap the benefits of everyone who struggled before me. And spending time abroad has made me appreciate it even more. Cheers to that!