FRANCE: Young women come out of the dark
Sarah Ben Ammar - 12/03/2008
Boulevard Courcelles in the 17th Arrondissement, Maria, 20 years old, leaves her lovely family apartment to move in with her partner: “I met him through common friends”. Marriage? It’s too soon. “Maybe later on, but I have to feel sure that he’s the right person and then I still have to finish my studies” adds this Japanese and History of Art enthusiast. Studies often restrain these girls from starting their own home and a family life. Sarah, 20 years old, half Italian half Kabyl, lives in the Castellane district of Marseille and has just broken up with her boyfriend: “Everything was going very well, but he wanted children and wanted to get married. I feel I still need to live on my own, I want to have some more fun. And then I want to carry on with my studies”. This thirst for independence was observed by Alain Giami, Head of Research at the INSERM and author of the study on “L’expérience de la sexualité chez de jeunes adultes” appeared in 2004. “Contrary to popular belief, young women perceive the couple as a limiting factor much more than their male partners” states the researcher and adds that “young 20 year old women are not opposed to the traditional love model, but feel that at this moment of their existence it could stifle them and become a routine, so they prefer to postpone it, generally until they turn 25.” Despite some complexes which they perfectly manage to conceal, when questioned, these young women confess they are fully aware of the facts. They also acknowledge their desire for freedom: the freedom to speak openly of pleasure and contraception with their partners, but also the freedom to be attractive, to decide whether to make love or not. Out of the seven girls, two of them, have never had sexual intercourse. Here again they made their own choice in full consciousness. Doris, a pretty French-Togo girl aged 20 who lives in the suburbs of Paris, wishes to keep her virginity until the day she meets “the man of her life”. Chemsi, born in Casablanca, aged 19 and living in Auvergne since her childhood, believes that the idea of remaining a virgin until her wedding is “very romantic”, although she doesn’t believe in eternal love. “Perhaps I’ll get married, but it will be a reasoned marriage because love is fleeting…”
When romanticism rhymes with pragmatism
Highly aware of love’s let downs and disenchantments, young French women live a kind of romanticism mixed with pragmatism. “I believe in love but I know it has highs and lows and that it can’t always be perfect” explains Laurie, a student in Speech Therapy aged 22 who lives in Pas-de-Calais. One thing is certain: the “Blue flowers” generation is well faded! “After many deceptions in love I have become very pessimistic” explains Célia, a pretty 20 years old from the Paris region who, despite herself, accepts her two-timing boyfriend. Her pessimism though, doesn’t prevent her from thinking that she’ll marry once she meets “the man closest to her ideal” and from wanting 4 children! The same goes for Doris: “I may seem cynical and disenchanted, but deep down inside I’m quite romantic”. Anyway, if the majority of the girls interviewed declare their lack of idealism, all of them wish to marry and fill their life with many children. These young women revisit and adapt this traditional model to their own times. “The new generation of young women has incredibly evolved! Now girls react very well to break offs. They pick themselves up quickly and refuse to cry too long about it. Now it’s more like: ok, he left me, I’ll go and buy myself a new pair of shoes or a lipstick” observes Marie Renard, editor in chief of the Magazine Muteen whose target is 15 to 25 year olds. This pragmatism and capacity to put things into perspective can be explained by the image of independence that some media grants to women. “I believe that girls are highly influenced by the TV Series Sex and the City. They’re sure of themselves, at least apparently, and tell themselves that life goes on” analyses Marie Renard.
An initiation rite
These independent girls know what to expect from love. “I believe love is made of respect, care and mutual understanding, but it’s most of all a support to everyday life” labels Hélène, a 20 year old practical nurse who lives near Lille. As for Laurie, she’s looking for a “balanced relationship made of attentiveness and sharing”. In general, most of the interviewed girls confess to having had three to four love experiences. Far from being debauchery, their encounters are rather linked to a quest for a modern time Prince Charming, which they describe as “funny”, “handsome” and “with a personality”. Besides, according to them, sex is always intimately tied to love and affection. “We’re far from a scenario of recreational sex which actually only concerns a minority of the population. The sexual predictability that characterises the experience of these young women is nonetheless filled with complex emotional meanings” analyses Alain Giami. A path disseminated with pitfalls that the researcher of the INSERM defines as “a veritable initiation rite”. Though the sentimental education of these young girls in flower is not always coloured in pink, it is the key that will open the doors to their adult world.