01:15:16 amCategories: Fieldwork, Places, Spaces, Distinctions

“Elle va se faire draguer”

Every blog post I’ve tried to write on gender strands for some reason or another before they reach the web. The following text was meant to be a simple and silly account of a quick bike trip around Belleville. However, when I let it rest for a moment in order to start sorting out the huge heap of paper – flyers, magazines, newspapers, brochures… -that was threatening to cover more and more of the surface space in my little office-cum-livingroom-cum-kitchen, I came a cross an old article about a café that I had just passed on my trip. This café reached the national media right after the Mohammad caricature affaire because they put up an exhibition with blasphemous caricatures right in the heart of Belleville. Well, the article in itself wasn’t enough to put me off track. It was rather it’s point of view, or framing, that threatened to put my experiences on my little trip in a new light. I started worrying that my silly little text had to become a bit more complicated.

In one of my French classes in the autumn, my teacher made my research into a little subject of discussion. According to her, a fieldwork in Belleville would be difficult for me, as the local boys would “try to chat me up” (elle va se faire draguer). I’ve been reminded of her words recently, as the season of la drague obviously is well on its way.

The way men and women communicate or not communicate in public spaces in this city is a part of French society I can’t really get my grips on. People exchange glances, or look casually at each other or around themselves, far less in the street here than I’m used to. I think men as well as women feel that that they should keep their eyes to themselves – unless they have certain intentions, that is – but it seems obvious to me that men’s gaze is far freer than women’s.

When I cycled through Belleville the other day, I wasn’t more than giving a young boy a little resigned smile after he – who probably was almost half my age – had leaned out in the street in front of me and called me ma chérie, before he found it opportune to announced to the whole street that one est chaude!. In my hometown Oslo, this - which in my opinion can be categorised as light verbal sexual harassment – has happened to me only a couple of times. At one occasion, when I told the kids to have some respect, they quickly excused themselves. Here, I avoid all further exchanges. I don’t know if that is the best way, but as I said, I don’t understand this interaction. And at occasions when I have answered back, it usually comes to some kind of scene where the man for some reason feels obliged to display a lot of hurt feelings and start an argument.

In another French class we discussed these strange Latin gender relations in public spaces, and una bella Italiana said she appreciated attention in the street. I don’t know if the attention the two of us get is exactly the same, but I didn’t get much support in my class – which for the day consisted of various Latins – for the view that this is limiting women’s freedom.

The kid who called me chaude (“hot”) was probably of North-African origin (either Muslim or Jew, I don’t know – it was right in the Jewish Tunisian part of Belleville). A Danish woman (mid twenties) I discussed this with, said she mostly got attention from men of North-African origin. However, I must say that I’ve experienced approaches by French men of all colours and ages – from old men coming close and almost whispering bonjour (as if I was looking like a prostitute?! - a less “prostitute-like” desscode than mine is hard to find), to such kids – and it happens all over the city. My worst experience took place when I was 17, when two men literally tried to abduct me at Les Halles (they were white French, a point I remember because the police asked specifically about their skin colour).

And it was around here my post stranded some weeks ago. From this point I can wrap up with some more comments on French gender relations in public spaces, - or I can change the framing towards the question of class relations in Belleville, and ask, as they did on posters in a similar quarter in Marseille; à qui appartient la rue? (“to whom belongs the street?”)

I can’t tell how the guy’s sexualising insult should be interpreted. Certainly, it was not a good point of departure for really trying to me draguer. I guess he was probably acting cool in front of his mates. (But why is that a way to act cool, one can ask?) However, the article I found in Le Nouvel Observateur looked at the controversy around public spaces in Belleville in a class perspective.

There is a process of gentrification going on in Belleville and Ménilmontant, where the bourgeois-bohemians are moving into this working-class and cosmopolitan area. And just by Parc de Belleville, a new chic café had decided to make their own little caricature affaire, where they put up religious caricatures on their bright red walls, clearly visible for the passers-byes. (Part of) the local Muslim youth didn’t think that was such a good idea. And then there were discussions (à la français – i.e. loud arguments) and a little destruction, and some national media coverage.

This was certainly a negotiation of space going on, which I, when I read the article, felt was reverberating down to my own recent bike trip. Coincidentally, perhaps, I never experienced any similar incidents on my many trips around Belleville last autumn. Initially, I took all this male expressiveness to be signs of spring, (which seems to affect the locals stronger than elsewhere :D ), but as one of the opening lines in the article went: “the intellos come there with their bikes, while the roughs charge with their Vespas…” I suddenly felt part of a bigger scheme.

As I’ve decided to get this first text on gender relations out on the web now, I’ll not linger any further…


Comment from: D. [Visitor]  

Hi Cecilie,

I’m French, and just back from Scandinavia, where I spent one day & one night in Oslo so I think I can understand why you are so surprised.

When I was in Oslo, the first thing which surprised me was the girls behavior. Most of the where really smiling and opened to talk. Maybe it was because I’m French no idea, but it was really surprising.

In France, most girls are very cold unless they’re possibly interested in dating you, so no wonder they guy went crazy when you smiled at him after he talked to you.

No that I’m saying you did something wrong, it’s exactly the opposite, your behavior was really nice, but in France, it can be seen as strange.

For the same reasons it was cool for him to act like that in front of his friend, because it showed that he could easily make you smile . I bet that he and his friends were doing that a lot, and probably suffered from a lot of rejection, so you can imagine after that he earned some “prestige” among his friends, and wanted to show off.

I think this difference between women’s behavior in Norway and France is, at least partly, due to the difference between men’s behavior. In France, we are more latin (and have you been to Italia ?) so we hesitate less to approach women, even if it’s with crappy approaches ;-) (which makes men who talk to women look more suspicious, even when they only ask “what time is it ?” because they really don’t know what time it is :-) ).

From what I saw (even if it’s a short experience after all) , Norwegian men don’t approach that much women, and so women are less used to that, and more friendly .

That’s my short analysis, and I might be wrong, but it seems to me that it’s like that .

Now add another thing : being Norwegian in France is like being Brazilian in Norway… it’s exotic. I noticed the same thing (maybe not as much as you ;-) ) in Norway for me, and that’s really surprising !

Another thing is that France is not as safe as Norway for a girl alone.

I was with a friend, in Oslo, and a girl smiled at us in a bar. What did we do ? Obviously -we are French ;-) - we talked to her ! We were talking for less than two hours, and she decided to continue the party with us.

Finally she stayed with us until 8 A.M. . A girl alone staying with 2 strangers, she barely knows, one of them (me ! :-) ) being half-black (so most people believe I’m from North-Africa), and should I add we where drunk ?

You will NEVER see that in France, except in very specific context (private party, or a reggae festival, well not in the street I mean) . It was really cool, everybody had fun, but we were totally amazed ! In France every girl (unless very drunk) would have been scared to death.

Just a difference of culture …

08/08/07 @ 17:48
Comment from: A. [Visitor]

If I may add more as to cultural differences, in Norway when you communicate perphaps people value more the content of what people say not the form, and most of times it has to be short, concrete and direct without unuseful “decorations"..while in france and southern europe the form of communication, expressivity is everything! it is even part of communication, so your eyes do communicate, as much as the rest of your facial expressions, bodily postures, gestures, etc. while in norway this is to a much lesser degree so..
But only one question..what if u swap the roles? when men in Norway are called out “hot” by girls on the street noone thinks “oh, that’s a light sexual harassment!", but on the opposite those men are supposed to play along the game, and possibly praise that girl’s sexual emancipation, which is ok, but something doens’t sound so equal there if you swap back the roles…

13/07/11 @ 03:21

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