Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Excerpt of the Day

From What is Sexual Harassment: From the Capital Hill to the Sorbonne by Abigail Saguy:


That sexual harassment is conceptualized differently in the United States and France makes intuitive sense to many people. Americans having lived in France share anecdotes about France's more "laissez-faire" sexual environent, where physical toucing and sexual banter is still a common and even valued feature of French workplaces. Others talk more critically about how in France the climate is more sexist and oppressive for women, and sexual coercion and humiliation remain commonplace, to the detriment of female workers. Few French are surprised to hea that sexual harassment is taken more seriously in the United States. For many, this information coincides with heir impressions of American workpalces as repressive and intolerant of sexual innuendo. For others, the United States is "ahead of" of France in matter of gender eqity. For many, the United States is a country of contradictions, a place where workplaces are both more women-friendly and also dangerously invasive of people's personal lives.

However, when people venture to explain such national differences, they usually appeal to essentialist accounts of national character, which explain national variation as the product of exaggeraed adn ahistorical "cultural" differences. The mass media in both countries affirm that Americans are uptight and puritanical compared to the French, who are more at ease with matters sexual. For instance, a New York Times article on sexual harassment policy in France reports:

When one thinks of France, certain images spring to mind. The accordion. Foie gras. Ah, yes, the French lover, whose seductive skills have long seemed as much a birthright as a good Bordeaux. Eroticism has helped define the country. The disclosure by the former president, Francois Mitterand, of a decades-long relationship with a mistress created barely a ripple--and when it did, it was an approving one.

This article and others like it gloss over the fact that surveys show that most French disapprove of marital infidelity...More importantly, however, reports such as this one treat cultural differences as widely agreed upon and unchanging.

In fact, culture, whether this term is used to denote norms, values, beliefs expressive symbols, or any number of the "totality of man's products," is multivalent and highly contested.

It is a signifier of my level of maturity that I could not help reading the embedded quote from the NYT about the French lover withou picturing mustachioed lothario in a beret and striped shirt laughing, gutterally, "augh ha ha."

I'm as guilty as any other about stereotypizing countries based on tired essentialist tropes. actually, this got worse after last year in the international LL.M program, when such tropes, in which I in my ivory tower cosmopolitanism didn't believe, were verified. Ah, yes indeed, the French lover. Avoid him. Avoid him like the plague. Avoid even being friends with him, unless you like reading cheap knockoffs of already tawdry Anne Marie Villefranche. But also avoid essentialist accounts, especially if you're being serious and scholarly about it.

In all seriousness though, this is a very interesting book that I'm reading. A full precis/critique to come. The difference between French law and U.S. law is pronounced and quite interesting to examine, mainly that ours is based on a the Title VII statutory discrimination model, and the French based on a penal code model of interpersonal violence/rape.


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