The French woman ...  
 A few facts about the French woman....   Questions about the French woman....
  • Demography : Frenchwomen hold the European record for the number of babies they have and for the longevity they enjoy

  • 47,6% of Frenchwomen work outside the home (USA : 46,9%) and 6% only are in executive management position (USA : 5,1%) (Source : Conseil Economique et Social, 2000)

  • Paid maternity leave is 16 weeks (26 from the third child) and 2 weeks for the father (see Social Security). Read about the French way of raising children.

  • Women were under-represented in the French Senate and National Assembly. Ten years ago, France ranked #21 in Europe (out of 25). This situation hs changed dramatically in the recent elections (40% women in the national Assembly elected in 2017). However, French politicians remain very macho : read more about women in politics. and read a portrait of Segolene Royal, who ran for president in 2007.

  • The concept of dating does not exist in France : young people tend to move in groups and do not form couples the way they do in the States

  • French laws are sometimes late to adjust to the reality of society : read a funny anecdote about women wearing pants!

Coco Chanel : is she THE emblematic French woman?
  • Want to understand how French women manage to be so savvy, slim and elegant ? Read Harriet's column about la Parisienne, featuring the Seven s's: Slender, Sensuality, Sexuality, Savoir-Faire, Subtlety, Street Sense, Self-Confidence...

  • How do they eat all that food and stay so slim ? The 64,000 dollar question ! First of all, the women you see who are so slim are Parisian women in the touristic parts of the capital. These women are generally well-off and upper-class. They are very aware of fashion and of their " ligne " (figure). If you go out into other areas of Paris or into the provinces, you will see that the French woman is not universally slim. What you don't see ­ yet ­ in France is obesity on the scale of the U.S. Sadly, this will be a problem for the next generation due to unstructured eating habits and snacking on sugary and salty foods. This being said, the answer to how do French women eat " all that food " and stay so slim is that they don't eat " all that food ". Even at dinner parties, French women take a tiny bit of each dish, tasting everything, but managing to consume very little. A recent study showed that American dinner plates are much larger than French dinner plates so just imagine : the French dinner plate is already smaller and the French woman's portion must be only one-fourth of that plate. But remember : they don't totally deprive themselves and when they are invited to dinner, they never say " I'm on a diet ". They enjoy their evening ­ and make up for it the next day! Balance and moderation are French virtues that French women practice well. Read Lithe! Slender! French!by Harriet.

  • How do they get that scarf to look so French ? It's true that Frenchwomen have an inimitable way of tying scarves which gives them a casual but elegant look. How they do it must be inscribed into their French genes. There's no way to know about that but one thing is sure : whether it's the scarf or perfume or accessories, the main interest of the French woman is to emphasize her singularity. Her little black dress or tailored suit might be simple but watch for the detail : a pair of sexy high heels, a family brooch, sparkling earrings, a special shawl. In French society, conformity is not a value. Reflecting that, French women seek the object that will express her own personality, the object that will put the personal stamp on whatever she is wearing, whether it's a fancy dress or a pair of jeans.


  • There is, of course, an active feminist movement in France but many women consider they can stand for women's rights AND still appreciate flirting in men-women relations. For example, in January 2018 after the global scandal created by the Weinstein affair about sexual harassment, one hundred well-known French women, led by the iconic actress Catherine Deneuve signed a petition in the prestigious newspaper Le Monde advocating "the liberty to be importuned". Are they a group of born slave women subjected to male domination ? Not at all : they are sucessful women who consider themselves feminists. Their column raised a large controversy but they stood firm and said that, above all, they want to avoid "the hate between sexes" and "American puritanism".


A few suggested books on French women :

  • Elisabeth BADINTER, L'un est l'autre, Odile Jacob, 1986
  • Edith KUNZ, Fatale - How French Women do it, Bridgewood Press, Phoenix, 2001
  • Michèle SARDE, Regard sur les Françaises Xème XXème siècle, Stock, Paris, 1983
  • Susan SOMMERS, French Chic - How to Dress Like a French Woman, Arlington Books, London, 1988
  • A.L.THOMAS, DIDEROT, Mme d'EPINAY, Qu'est-ce qu'une femme ? (préface par Elisabeth BADINTER), P.O.L., Paris, 1989
  • Edith WHARTON, French Ways and their Meaning, Berkshire House, Lee, MS, 1997
  • More bibliography

DID YOU KNOW THAT.....There are several agencies which can organize a complete round-trip tour for couples who want to get married in Paris, together with their relatives and friends ... See wedding agencies.


Famous French women include

  • Joan of Arc, 15th century saint, who saved the French from the English and was burned at the stake in Rouen,
  • Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793), the first French feminist
  • George Sand (1804-1876) was not only a great writer but she was the symbol of freedom for women, a Socialist activist, with her many friends (including Delacroix, Balzac, Flaubert) and lovers (Chopin and Musset, to name a few)
  • Marie Curie (Franco-Polish), first woman to teach at the Sorbonne (1906), twice awarded the Nobel price, once in Physics and once in Chemistry,
  • Simone de Beauvoir, philosopher and famous French feminist ("Le deuxième Sexe"), Simone Veil, who passed the law legalizing abortion and was the first president of the European Parliament
  • and many others... (more in who's who in France)

USEFUL TIP..... Getting married under French law is rather complicated and, practically, it requires you to be resident in France. Why not a religious wedding in France ? There would be no legal requirement whatsoever and the religious authority would just ask for the marriage license from the country where you were married. Check with American churches.

French perfumes 101

  • The  French are famous for their perfumes and the little city of Grasse (on the Côte d'Azur) is the capital of perfume and a fascinating visit for tourists

  • For the same perfume, there are two categories of product : the « parfum » and the « eau de toilette ». The parfum is a concentrate of the flavour, richer and more expensive, the eau de toilette is less concentrated, less expensive. You wear the first one to keep the odor on you, the latter for a refreshment.

  • For women the best-sellers are N°5 (Chanel, "unsurpassable"), Shalimar (Guerlain, "oriental") and Opium (Yves Saint Laurent, "spicy"). See the rest of the list.

  • More to come....


To related pages : getting married in France, the French and sex, life in Paris, French attitudes, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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