A new book by an American raising her kids in Paris is being met with skepticism, and some charges of stereotyping, by the actual French mothers it so highly praises.
A Parisian mother watches her children at play / AP
Pamela Druckerman, in her new book Bringing Up Bébé and her lengthy and much-circulated Wall Street Journal article titled "Why French Parents Are Superior," isn't just the latest woman to tell American mothers that a different culture does it better. It's also the latest in a long line of books to tell American women, more broadly, that whatever the problem is, French women do it better. They don't get fat, they don't sleep alone, and apparently now, according to the British title of ex-pat journalist Druckerman's new book, their kids don't throw food.
Americans are eagerly picking over every last scrap of Druckerman's argument, which is, essentially, that the French say "no" to their kids and combine parenthood with balanced adult lives. But what do actual French women think of this stuff? Once they look past the flattery, not much.
Sure, the French reaction online to Druckerman's argument includes a fair amount of gloating -- a natural reaction to being told you're good at everything. But mixed in among the sense of superiority, some French women are wondering what on earth she's talking about.
Chief among the gloating responses is the interview that magazine France-Amérique conducts with French essayist Nathalie Monsaint-Baudry, author of a book about American-French interaction from the French perspective. Asked if the French woman is a female model "for the Anglo-Saxons," she responded simply "Yes. She is naturally feminine. The American woman is 'female.'" And she largely approved of Druckerman's outline of the childrearing division. "In the United States, houses are so 'child-proofed,'" said Monsaint-Baudry, "that one has the impression that it's the parents living with their kids, [not the other way around]." The interviewer then inquired whether Druckerman is right that the French meal, wherein even tiny children behave, is perceived as sacrosanct by Americans. "Yes, they admire it," declared Monsaint-Baudry. "Our 'three course meal' is incredibly sophisticated.'" She added that French "humanism" distances French women from "the Chinese mother and the polemics of last year."
Triumphant responses and matter-of-fact reporting aside, quite a few French folks seem to think Druckerman's overstated her case, and that, more broadly, Americans need to chill out with the French stereotypes.
Antoine Oury at book site ActuaLitté notes The New York Times' complaints about "generalizations" in Druckerman's book. "It's hard to call that wrong," Oury admits. The company Druckerman keeps, "as an American journalist exiled in France and currently speaking six languages -- like Hebrew -- surely isn't representative of the methods and educative resources of the majority of the French population." Oury does take a moment to defend Druckerman, calling it "funny (or disturbing)" to see American critics using Druckerman's earlier Lust in Translation, about arranging a threesome, "to discredit her." (To be fair, Rachael Larimore at Slate's XX Factor wasn't trying to call Druckerman a bad mother: she correctly guessed that the disappearance of an article about the threesome was a publicity stunt, and also suggested Druckerman's manic campaign to produce said threesome at her husband's request betrayed an approach that, whether in marriage or parenthood, might have slanted her view of American women and balance.)
But even Oury ends by saying that "what one deplores the most remains the general tenor of Druckerman's observations."
France TV Info takes it further, saying "more and more the myth of the French style of life is irritating." The author, Julie Rasplus, runs through the recent American gushing about French seduction, cuisine, and now parenting, and points out the counter-arguments.
"Viewed from the United States, French women are close to perfect creatures," agrees an article at L'Atlantico.fr. But "the French bourgeoisie Pamela Druckerman was living in don't necessarily reflect global reality," it points out. "Americans, reassure yourselves: little terrors exist in France, too."
There seems to be some agreement from French commenters across the web on that point. A post from Elisabeth Guédel-Treussard at French Morning, though largely approving of Druckerman's book, sums it up. "Pamela Druckerman has never encountered me in a Parisian Monoprix or a New York Whole Foods. If [she] had, she would have seen my kids tearing around on foot to grab candy and wouldn't have written that 'French children don't make scenes in the supermarket.'"
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
“This western-front business couldn’t be done again.”
On this first day of July, exactly 100 years ago, the peoples of the British Empire suffered the greatest military disaster in their history. A century later, “the Somme” remains the most harrowing place-name in the annals not only of Great Britain, but of the many former dependencies that shed their blood on that scenic river. The single regiment contributed to the First World War by the island of Newfoundland, not yet joined to Canada, suffered nearly 100 percent casualties that day: Of 801 engaged, only 68 came out alive and unwounded. Altogether, the British forces suffered more than 19,000 killed and more than 38,000 wounded: almost as many casualties in one day as Britain suffered in the entire disastrous battle for France in May and June 1940, including prisoners. The French army on the British right flank absorbed some 1,600 casualties more.
Hillary Clinton wrote something for The Toast today. Are you sobbing yet?
Either you’ll immediately get why this is crazy, or you won’t: Hillary Clinton wrote a thing for The Toast today.
Are you weeping? Did your heart skip a beat? Maybe your reaction was, “What. Whaaaat. WHAT,” or “Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!” or “OH MY GOD,” or simply “this is too much goodbye I'm dead now.”
Perhaps your feelings can only be captured in GIF form, as was the case for someone commenting on Clinton’s post under the name Old_Girl:
Reader comments like the ones above are arguably the best part of Clinton’s post, because they highlight just how meaningful hearing directly from Clinton is to The Toast’s community of readers. The Toast is a small but beloved feminist website known for its quirky literary humor. It announced last month it couldn’t afford to continue operating. Friday is its last day of publication.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
George Will is denouncing a GOP that has been ailing for years, but quitting won’t help—an American political party can only be reformed from within.
This past weekend, George Will revealed that he had formally disaffiliated himself from the Republican Party, switching his Maryland voter registration to independent. On Fox News Sunday, the conservative pundit explained his decision: "After Trump went after the 'Mexican' judge from northern Indiana then [House Speaker] Paul Ryan endorsed him, I decided that in fact this was not my party anymore.” For 40 years, George Will defined and personified what it meant to be a thoughtful conservative. His intellect and authority inspired a generation of readers and viewers, myself very much among them.
His departure represents a powerful image of divorce between intellectual conservatism and the new Trump-led GOP. Above all, it raises a haunting question for the many other Republicans and conservatives repelled by the looming nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president of the United States: What will you do?
The trend helps explain Trump and Brexit. What’s next?
On Wednesday, Facebook made an announcement that you’d think would only matter to Facebook users and publishers: It will modify its News Feed algorithm to favor content posted by a user’s friends and family over content posted by media outlets. The company said the move was not about privileging certain sources over others, but about better “connecting people and ideas.”
But Richard Edelman, the head of the communications marketing firm Edelman, sees something more significant in the change: proof of a new “world of self-reference” that, once you notice it, helps explain everything from Donald Trump’s appeal to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Elites used to possess outsized influence and authority, Edelman notes, but now they only have a monopoly on authority. Influence largely rests with the broader population. People trust their peers much more than they trust their political leaders or news organizations.
There needs to be more nuanced language to describe the expanding demographic of unmarried Americans.
In 1957, a team of psychology professors at the University of Michigan released the results of a survey they had conducted—an attempt to reflect Americans’ attitudes about unmarried people. When it came to the group of adults who remained single by choice, 80 percent of the survey’s respondents—reflecting the language used by the survey’s authors—said they believed that the singletons remained so because they must be “immoral,” “sick,” or “neurotic.”
It’s amazing, and reassuring, how much has changed in such a relatively narrow slice of time. Today, certainly, marriage remains a default economic and social arrangement, particularly after having been won as a right for same-sex couples; today, certainly, those who do not marry still face some latent social stigmas (or, at the very least, requests to explain themselves). But the regressive language of failed morality and psychological pathology when it comes to singledom? That has, fortunately, been replaced by more permissive attitudes.
What percentage graduated from high school and enrolled within a year at a four year institution where they live on campus?
Who are today’s college students?
The answer surprises most people who attended four year universities, according to Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of Lumina Foundation. Addressing audiences, like the one he spoke to Friday at The Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, he frequently poses this question: “What percentage of students in American higher education today graduated from high school and enrolled in college within a year to attend a four year institution and live on campus?”
Most people guess “between forty and sixty percent,” he said, whereas “the correct answer is five percent.” There is, he argued, “a real disconnect in our understanding of who today’s students are. The influencers––the policy makers, the business leaders, the media––have a very skewed view of who today’s students are.”