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It’s a Crime to Wear Pants!

Joan of Arc on horsebackJoan of Arc on horseback – in “pants_It wasn’t until hearing about a friend’s solo day-trip to Normandy with the primary reason of chasing down remnants of Joan of Arc that Joan’s real story touched me. My friend has always had some sort of inexplicable affinity with Joan and felt a strong urge to travel to Rouen for the day, just to see where the woman was burned at the stake.

I must admit, I was ignorant to the fact that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for ‘cross dressing!’ Am I the only one not to realize this? And more in fact, Joan wasn’t alone — as it wasn’t legal for women to wear pants in France until early 2013!

Joan’s story is a little more complicated than being crucified for just wearing trousers instead of a skirt, but nonetheless, that’s what got her in the end. The story goes that this young (very young, indeed) woman hears voices (of Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine). She is subsequently compelled to lead the troops into battle in order to save France from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War — in the first quarter of the 1400’s. ‘Ms. Arc’ was born January 6, 1412 and died May 30, 1431, her ashes were scattered in the River Seine.

This young woman was so brave, so patriotic and so religiously devoted, that they had a really tough time keeping her down. So tough, that they had to trump up the charges against her in order to justify her capital punishment. Those charges? Wearing men’s clothing.

Ms. Arc must have been one ‘helluva’ woman, is all I can say! And what is also so ironic, is that the very church from which she was inspired, is the very church that condemned her to death and the very church that canonized her later into sainthood! Go figure. (They just wanted to look good.)

Now, you are probably thinking what an idiot I am to just now be realizing the depth of the story of Ms. Arc…and you are right. It’s outrageous to have lived in France so long and not fully comprehended the importance of this character, not just from a historical perspective, but from a current and realistic one.

Carla Bruni - Midnight in ParisCarla Bruni (in Midnight in Paris – in pants)You might notice that French women wear more skirts than pants (at least they used to), but one would never have dreamed that it was illegal to wear anything else. For more than 200 years, a law that was intended to keep women in their rightful places, was revoked on January 31st, 2013, by France’s Women’s Rights Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. I suppose something had to give considering ex-First Lady of France, Carla Bruni, broke the law on a regular basis!

Considering the French pride of Joan of Arc, one would think such an ordinance would never have made it to the law books, but memories are short and the need for men to control women is long. Women in France didn’t gain the right to vote until 1944, in spite of their role in the French Resistance (almost 20% of the resistance fighters were women), nor did they have the right to work or have a bank account without their husbands’ permission — finally granted in the 1960s. And still today, the unemployment rate of women in France is higher than that of men, too.

the Women’s Forum Global Meetingthe Women’s Forum Global MeetingFortunately women aren’t sitting around doing nothing about it, though. Every year in the month of October, the Women’s Forum Global Meeting is held in Deauville with almost 1,500 participants. This year’s meeting, the 10th edition, was just held this past week with such illustrious speakers as  Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF; Angel Gurria, Secretary General of the OECD and Salma Hayek Pinault, Actress, Producer and Co-founder Chime for Change.

Pamela GrantPamela GrantThe list of other women to have made considerable contributions to France is as long as their male counterparts’ memories were short. Some of them even wore pants. Here’s a short list thanks to Girls Guide to Paris and the author, another great woman, Pamela Grant (may she rest in peace).

Great Women in French History

Marie Antoinette
(1794–92) Queen of France and wife of Louis XVI. Was executed in the Place de la Concorde during the French Revolution. “Let them eat cake.”


Brigitte Bardot - in jeansBrigitte Bardot – in jeansBrigitte Bardot
(1934–) Actress and sex symbol.

Simone de Beauvoir
(1908–86) Writer, existentialist, philosopher, feminist and lifelong partner of Jean-Paul Sartre. “Buying is a profound pleasure.”

Louise Bourgeois
(1911–2010) French-born American artist and sculptor. You can see the giant spider she did in the Tuileries, titled Maman (“mother” in French).

Coco Chanel - Paris, FranceCoco Chanel – in pantsCoco Chanel
(1883–1971) Fashion designer. “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”

Camille Claudel
(1864–1943) Sculptor and sometime lover of Auguste Rodin. Sadly lived the last 30 years of her life in an insane asylum.

(1873–1954) Writer, novelist who lived at the Palais Royal.

Marie Curie
(1867–1934) Born in Poland, educated in Paris, she discovered the theory of radioactivity.

Catherine Deneuve
(1943–) Actress. “A woman has to be intelligent, have charm, a sense of humor, and be kind. It’s the same qualities I require from a man.”

Marguerite Duras
(1914–96) Writer.

Eleanor of Aquitaine
(1122–1204) Wife of Louis VII of France and Henry II of England.

Catherine de Médicis
(1519–89) Wife of King Henry II of France and mother of Francis II of France.

Jeanne Moreau
(1928–) Actress.

Anaïs Nin
(1903–77) Writer and Henry Miller’s lover. “How wrong it is for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself.”

Edith Piaf
(1915–63) Singer and cabaret artist. Married boxer Marcel Cerdan. “I don’t want to die an old lady.”

Ségolène Royal
(1953–) Politician. Ran for president in 2007 (lost to Sarkozy) and current president of the Poitou-Charentes region. “I think that the moment for women has arrived. Not for women but simply for the harmony of life.”

George Sand
(1804–76) Novelist and feminist.

Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel - in pantsAudrey Tautou as Coco Chanel – in pantsAudrey Tautou
(1976–) Actress, made Montmartre even more famous after her movie Amélie.

And I’m sure you know a few more to add to the list!

A la prochaine…

Adrian at Cafe Charlot - by Erica Simonehttp://www.ericasimone.comAdrian Leeds

Editor, Parler Paris & The Adrian Leeds Group

(photo by Erica Simone)

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House Hunters International - Paris' s Newest RecruitP.S. Watch House Hunters International tonight, October 20, at 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. for “Paris’ Newest Recruit.” Aspiring artist Lisa wants to move to Paris, the center of the art universe, and hopes her first masterpiece will be a home of her own. With a functional budget but long wish list, will she find her ideal home in high-priced Paris? Tune in and find out!


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