Monday, December 8, 2008


Christmas billboards are going up: the pépineries are advertising Christmas trees, the hardware stores are advertising drills, and La Halle, a Targetesque department store, is advertising lingerie. On the billboard across from the Collège des vignes, in considerably larger than life size living color, a woman with dark, flowing locks poses in a black satin bustier, matching panties, and stockings held up by matching garters. She gazes frankly--the standard model blank stare--into the camera. To her right is the price: €14,99. In the lower corner is the name of the store and their Christmas slogan: Et si c'était vous qui rendiez le monde plus beau? What if you were what made the world more beautiful?

We leave the house for school in the mornings at 7.40. It's been cold recently--coats, gloves, scarves--and of course this time of year, the sun is just coming up. Traffic backs up outside the school as the gendarme stops traffic for the kids to cross the street, so that gives us plenty of time to contemplate the woman in her bustier. For me, it means that I think about women's images in the media every morning before my tea has had a chance to kick in, and I worry, beyond whether the girls have remembered all their books and notebooks and done all their homework and prepared for all their interrogations, about whether I'm giving them the tools they need to cope with these kinds of images.

When C and I were in the car going to town for Christmas shopping this weekend, we passed another billboard from the same series. This one shows a woman in bra and panties, holding her hair up on the top of her head while she kneels inside a clear Christmas ornament ball. (This ensemble is cheaper, only €7,99.) I mentioned the billboard by the collège, and C said he'd seen it. He took the girls to school the other day, and it's hard to miss.

Did you talk about it? I asked, hoping that he would say that they had, and he had said all the things that my Women's Studies professor would have wanted him to.

I said I thought she looked cold.

What did the girls say? I really wanted there to be more to the story.

They weren't paying attention.

Are they paying attention? Or are they, too, thinking over their homework and backpacks and lunch and who's going to sit where? Do I point it out, pull the car over and give them five minutes on the objectification of women, or do I let it go? If I let it go, is that condoning it, letting my daughters think that it's fine for women to be Christmas ornaments? Or is 7.55 on a Thursday morning not the time to talk about sexism?

I think--though I'm not sure--that you only get it when you're ready to get it, that you can only hear the answer after you've asked the question for yourself. Until the girls run smack into the wall of sexism--and they will--all I say to them about the woman in the bustier will sound like so much Mom talking. They'll listen, they'll take it in, they might even file it away somewhere, but it won't mean much.

Maybe. Two more weeks til the Christmas holidays, so I don't have to decide yet.