All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

It won't go away....

'Hooke at Home'. For nearly forty years, until...Image via Wikipedia
I've tried all sorts....
Had a massive baking session .
Made a batch of banana wine.
Cleared the freezer....UFOs on the menu......unidentified frozen objects.
Read several books.
Watched the Chelsea Flower Show.
Waxed indignant about Morgan being chosen rather than Bopara.
Went shopping.

But it won't go away.
The thought of it rises oft like a malignant version of Parson Woodeforde's mince pie.
And this is what it is.

The French elite were very upset about the arrest in New York of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on suspicion of sexual assault.
They were very vocal.
They had a great deal to say in support of their friend.....but nothing to say in respect of the woman concerned except that, in the words of one of one of them, the whole thing was a fuss about was only a matter of a bit of fun with the maid.

'Trousser la domestique'

I was outraged when I first heard it and it has rankled ever since.

Quite apart from the startling revelation that the man concerned thinks that there are different standards according to one's status in life, it is the atmosphere of the men's smoking room that offends....

The willful blindness to the context of the remark.

Forget about fancies of the 'droit de seigneur' and the plot of  the Marriage of Fiagaro and think about the reality for the generations of girls from poor families sent out to work in the houses of the better off.

Not only were they poorly paid, not only were they fed and lodged at the minimum of decency, not only were they over worked, they were also at risk from the attentions of the men of the household.

That very respectable household, which would sack them should they be unlucky enough to become pregnant.
Not only did they lose their employment...they lost their character...and would inevitably lose their child as well.

Fiction is full of scenes of the 'fallen woman' returning home only to find the stern father barring the door to his house.....but does fiction ask why?
Because the father could not afford to welcome home his daughter in distress, neither in terms of feeding her and the baby nor in terms of the survival of the rest of his family.

The same respectable employers that dismissed a pregnant girl would refuse to employ anyone not of 'good character' - and a father who took in his pregnant daughter would lose his character by that normal, loving, charitable act, thus risking plunging his whole family into utter poverty.

It was thought - by the respectable better off - that the poor were basically irreligious and that they needed to be continually shepherded into the paths of attendance, hard work and social deference.
Is it any wonder, if that was the example of religion offered, that the poor were, indeed, irreligious.
They could see past the humbug, the smoke and mirrors, and see the reality....enforced drudgery all the days of their lives.

So where does she go, this pregnant girl?
To the bosom of the church, to expiate her sins by scrubbing floors and sweating in the laundry, giving birth in pain and squalor and losing the child as soon as it could be taken from her so that she could continue her a servant.
But a servant even less well fed and lodged, more overworked than before and continually confronted, humiliated, by treatment which was supposed to be the consequence of her 'sin'.

Does he think of all this, this man who speaks so lightly of a bit of fun with the maid?

And do we think all this is behind us in our enlightened age?

Perhaps we had better look at the plight of the poor women brought into Europe by, notably, rich Arab families, prisoners in the house, their passports held by their employers.
Their conditions are no better...perhaps worse....and I don't see society in general and governments in particular doing much about it.

There was a period when there was a concensus that the treatment of female servants had been unacceptable, that these conditions should never return, but with the growing division in society between those with money and influence and those without, it seems we are returning to the notion that you can place different values on people according to their status.

I cannot eat a thing that I have baked.
It sticks in the craw.

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  1. Elites all over the world are the same - whether it is women, oppressed minorities ( often both) that are being abused. The principle is one rule for us, another for you - much the same in business too.

    When I travelled in Asia, admittedly only briefly, the situation for women seemed even worse. So not just France.

  2. Mark, I take your point...but we don't, as a society, seem to want to see the abuse, wherever it is.

    The remark was made in France, but the situation applies worldwide.

  3. Oligarchs and plutocrats have always shared a rather converse and jagged view of true human rights to the rest of us. Deep down, they believe we exist only in their debt, and in that way we somehow owe them for our very existence. I’m surrounded by arrogant, duplicitous, selfish control freaks and over inflated ego’s who regularly dish out contempt for their fellow citizens with practiced ease – and we badly don’t get along. If DSK ‘is’ eventually found guilty as charged, I’ll be fascinated to see how the elites on both sides of the pond, punish him.

    If the CIA could keep Klaus Barbie in gainful employment after the war, and continue to support his activities in setting up concentration camps and torture techniques in Bolivia in the 60’s, then what chance justice for the common man or woman? Question is…will Obama step up to the plate on this one? The juries’ going to be out on that one for a very long time.

    Banana wine eh? Is it any good? How many temporary servants will I need to bully to trample the juice out of the skins to save me slipping up?

  4. Such abhorrent behaviour may indeed be global but it is the French who are so proud of their "liberté, égalité, fraternité" motto. Plainly the validity of this depends on your gender and your social position. And that is as backward as anything I've heard.

  5. This case has certainly stirred muddy waters. The things I've read on the web in support of conspiracy theories, too, are nauseating in their assumptions about women. The whole thing is a sickening reminder that where powerful elites are concerned, the old rules apply.

  6. Phil, what worries me is that these elites now seem confident enough to come out into the open with their views....after all, who can touch them?

    Banana wine....highly recommended!

    Steve, it is sickening. And in the case of France in particular it just bears out my experience of living there for years...forget the slogans, look at the reality.

    Pueblo girl..and what about the women in those circles who go along with it?

  7. I grew up with Margaret Thatcher in power. I have no illusions about global sisterhood. But my opinion of women who adhere to sexist ideology in order to trample over other women in their climbing and clinging to power is not very complementary.

  8. The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate
    He made them high or lowly
    And ordered their estate

    All things bright and beautiful, etc.

  9. Pueblo girl, think we might have those opinions in common.

    Mark in Mayenne, I was in terrible trouble at primary school for refusing to sing that verse. I'd heard my father saying how disgusting it was.
    Started early as a troublemaker...

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Oh I can perfectly understand why this just won't go away. It's a subject that should be talked about much more, because this is the 21st century and it's still going on..more than we know about I would imagine.

    Excellent post Fly x

  12. I just think it's lovely how the church cements its vested interest in keeping people "in their place"

    I note another prominent French politician is accused of sexual aggression. There are going to be sooooo many of these in the next year.

  13. I have those opinions in common too.

    DSK is a sleaze-bag, he is supported by a bunch of self-serving arrogant buddies who think they are above both the law and human decency.

    I wonder if they have ever read Animal Farm. If they have, they certainly don't understand the irony.

  14. Fly, ugh! That sticks in my gullet too. Social history is an interest of mine and everything you say accords with what I've read. The lower classes didn't count for much and the women of the lower classes even less. Apparently my paternal great-grandfather was illegitimate and his mother had a dreadful life. I'd hoped things were improving but outremanche it appears not.

  15. Apologies for your comments not appearing.
    Blogger trouble again.

  16. An article in the Times described France as a 'phallocracy'. I think it has left France looking fairly shabby and backward to be honest. I wonder whether the fact that the chambermaid is Muslim and comes from a former French colony has anything to do with the level of their opprobrium for the poor woman.

  17. Fly, to make sure you get my reply to your last message on my blog, I'm reposting it here. It's difficult to know who can access what at the moment.

    Oh Fly, the whole thing gets worse and worse! My followers reappeared this morning and have now vanished again, I can only comment by not staying signed-in permanently and now you can't even access your own blogs! No wonder people are migrating to Wordpress and other platforms.

    It wouldn't be so bad if Blogger would acknowledge what a lot of problems people are having just mow, but there's just a big, fat silence.

    Are you able to access the Help Group at the bottom of your dashboard or can't you even access your dashboard? If you can't, let me know on here and I'll try posing a question on your behalf and see if anyone has any ideas on what you can do to get it sorted.

  18. Helen, I'll be interviewing you for BlogCatalog and I need your email address, so I may email you my questions. Please click my link and follow me on BlogCatalog, and then write on my profile wall to let me know you got my message. Then send me a hello email to:

    and I will send them to you. Thanks very kindly.

  19. Hi Fly, I just read this on the BBC web page and thought it might amuse you:

  20. Not like you not to post or reply to a comment (no need to do either with this one) - I hope you (and Mr Fly) are OK.

  21. Really thoughtful and though-provoking blog, my friend. And it keeps going on and on. There was just a case in Vancouver of a couple using a Chinese immigrant girl as a 'slave' and they'd had her working 24/7 for the past two years. And they, of course, originated in the same country as she, but had much more money.

  22. "It" might not go away, but you seem to have. Sending best (slightly worried) wishes.

  23. I am living in France right now, and have noticed and been bothered by this attitude throughout the year. It's one thing to forgive politicians their all-too-human indiscretions, as the French are wont to do, but sexual assault is in a whole different category than stepping outside one's marriage.

    Great post, so well-written!

  24. Very nice website - good inspiration for mine

    keep up the great writing !!

  25. Latest news is the case is falling apart. Evidently there are doubts about the veraccity of the accuser's complaints. Is that really what it's all about, or are wealth and power prevailing yet again?

  26. First, my apologies for not answering before. I wouldn't be answering now if it were not for the good offices of the kind people running BlogCatalog who sorted out the Google v Blogger problem and let me back in to the Blogosphere.

    Ayak,but no one wants to know...not anyone who counts in our lousy top downwards world anyway.

    Mark in Mayenne, when an idea becomes an institution it becomes a self serving oligarchy. Look at the NGOs.

    Sarah, animal Farm? They'd probably be choosing which cut to order in their five star restaurant.

    Perpetua, yes it does stick in the craw and it is dreadful that this exploitation is allowed to contiue under our very noses while the 'authorities' look the other way...or don't look at all.

    Melody, thank you for such a super make me look much more interesting than I am!

    Genny, good for you for spotting it. Most of the long term expats wouldn't notice if it bit them.

    A Girl, good luck with your blog.

    Mr Writeon, not surprised given the amount of pressure involved.
    We should always bear in mind, however, that you don't have to be a saint to be raped.