Opinion: Don't Be Jealous of French Mothers

Filed under: Opinions

french mother picture

French moms don't have it so easy. Illustration by Christopher Healy

Did you know that in France, the state pays for one-on-one sessions of perineal therapy after you have a baby?

French women get help from a doctor getting their lady bits back into shape after they give birth, according to a recent story in The New York Times. The sessions, all 10 of them, help prevent that embarrassing moment when you sneeze -- and then pee a little.

It also prevents organ descent (after all, who wants a sagging uterus), and improves post-pregnancy sex.

That's not all that France does to help new moms. The state gives them a paid, four-month maternity leave, and, once Maman returns to work, also subsidizes child care for baby, sometimes right at the workplace. One couple, interviewed by The Times, says they effectively stopped paying taxes after their third kid was born, thanks to all the incentives the government offers to parents.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? Sashaying to work in your pencil skirt -- along with that perineal therapy you also get 10 sessions of ab workouts -- with your beret-clad enfants in tow and a tax bill of zero?

Think again.

On the surface it looks like working mothers in France have it all, but what they really have is the encouragement of a patriarchal republic to breed in order to restore the population after centuries of war.

Oh, sure, on paper, it looks good. According to The Times, France not only spends 5.1 percent of its gross domestic product (which is twice the European Union average) on domestic benefits, but also subsidizes birth control and abortion.

So what's all the fuss about? France has it good. Maybe you should move there, right? Well, before you look for a flat in the Latin Quarter, take a gander at these numbers, reported by The Times: France ranks 46th in the World Economic Forum's 2010 gender equality report, behind not only the United States, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica.

While more than 80 percent of French women between the ages of 25 and 49 work, men occupy 82 percent of the seats at the highest levels of government. That's not all: Women earn 26 percent less than their male counterparts, and spend twice as much time on domestic tasks. They have the most babies in Europe -- there's even a national medal for women who have eight or more kids -- but they are also the biggest consumers of antidepressants.

What's France's national motto again? Oh, that's right -- liberty, equality ... and fraternity.

We're not perfect here in the United States. Our maternity, and paternity, leave policies are terrible. Child care is expensive and hard to find, and plenty of mothers are forced to quit their jobs because the costs of working add up to more than their salaries. Gender inequity in the workplace still exists. In fact, a recent court ruling in Massachusetts gave some companies the right to fire new moms who take more than eight weeks of maternity leave.

Yes, we have an uphill climb. No, we don't have great post-pregnancy benefits, or job security. But we also have fathers who choose to stay at home, more than one woman at the top of the corporate chain of command (only one of France's top companies is run by a woman) and even came close to having a female commander in chief.

It's not easy to be a woman anywhere in the world, and that's a fact. Here in the United States, the women who came before our generation raised holy hell so we could get where we are today, and we do have a ways to go still.

Benefits like those offered by France would be great, yes. But I want to have all that, and more. And if we keep making noise, we'll get there.

You can keep your vajayjay classes, your state-funded flat tummies and your stinky cheese. I'll take American motherhood over the French version any day.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.