Do we blame the « victim »? Cultural differences, women and men..

The other day I met with a group of women working in a large international enterprise. I had just presented PWN Global – an international network for professional women – with a co-member, and we had the opportunity to talk with people afterwards around some snacks and drinks.

Since there were several nationalities, we started talking about challenges for women with a cultural twist. A couple of us as foreign women in France had observed that there is a tendency of men commenting about women – behind their backs as well as straight to their face. My own personal example of that is the comments I get from men I barely know, about my femininity and style, my clothing, my weight and my hair. The women around the circle commented; “you have to give them the same comment!” “Fight back!” I agree, one has to do that. However, it sounds similar to the dilemma of “blaming the victim”. It is the woman’s fault if she feels uncomfortable, because she doesn’t speak up!  Hmmm..

Have to be rude, because other’s are rude. Hit because other people hit. Yes, one has to some times, but is the world getting any better from that? And what about personal values? I, for one, don’t like to be rude so why should I be forced to behave that way?

A male business associate of mine observed a cultural difference on this topic when moving back to France after 10 years abroad. He started noticing all the comments the women got in the office, and how uncomfortable they looked. He concluded that it must drain them for energy over time. Several mature (by that I mean age 30 and above) women I have talked with say the contrary, that they are used to it.

A young Norwegian student in Paris wrote a blog earlier this year about the same topic; being overwhelmed by all the comments she gets. It is the second blog I have read recently that talks about the problem of being groped in the metro in Paris. Additionally, this student mentions the fact that men don’t “allow” her to eat what she wants to eat, because she should “keep her slim line”. She finds it all very tiring and intimidating, and due to that can no longer imagine staying in France when she has completed her studies.

Notice the difference of age. The mature women say; “you have to make the same remarks to them”, “you get used to it”.  You have to learn to fight back and be rude. The young one says, “I won’t take it, I will leave”. Food for thought..

I am “mature”, but I still find the comments annoying and I have difficulty in being rude back – it’s against my values. I think women need help from men who understand. And maybe we women in France – probably other countries too –  can learn to take a different approach; “why do you say such things, how would you feel if you get comments like that all day?” Maybe some people would get it..? Bon, where there is life, there is hope!