The New Parisienne by Lindsey Tramuta, author of the bestselling The New Paris, was published on July 7, 2020, just over a month after Paris lifted its strict COVID-19 confinement. Her book, a timely and pertinent one for our very challenging times, pays tribute to a diverse array of women in Paris who are pushing for change and visibility in all domains. In today’s world, these French women command attention for more than just exhibiting flair.
The archetype of the chic French woman really took hold with popular lifestyle books like French Women Don’t Get Fat (2004) by Mireille Guiliano, Parisian Chic (2009) by Ines de la Fressange, and How to Be a Parisian Anywhere (2014) by Caroline de Maigret. These how-to guides all portray, with some variation on tips and tone, a uniform vision that French women possess an effortless savoir-faire on what most of their counterparts worry about – namely style, love, parenting, ageing, and staying trim.
Tramuta says she couldn’t help feel that this “engineered, pervasive, and deeply troublesome” myth of the Parisienne, which flattens all French women to a caricature, erases the diversity of an entire population.
It was her feeling that this “how-to-live-like” canon had reached its expiration that motivated her to write the new book.
Author Grace Ly, co-founder of the podcast Kiffe Ta Race, agrees: “Growing up in France, I didn’t feel at all like I was that French girl. I didn’t look like her. It took reading books by Faïza Guène for me to see how I also belonged.”
The roughly 40 women that Tramuta profiles in The New Parisienne recast the image of how Parisian women actually live, find fulfillment and happiness, and make her contributions to the city. And they all qualify as visionary game-changers, from the very famous to the unsung heroines, including Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, award-winning writer Leïla Slimani, activist Rokhaya Diallo, Olympic medalist boxer Sarah Ourahmoune, co-founder of Lallab Sarah Zouak, Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, and disability-rights lawyer Elisa Rojas, among many other professionals in culture, technology, science, politics, journalism, and more.
For Tramuta to be writing against the stereotype of la Parisienne in this day and age speaks to the tenacity of that myth: “Upholding the myth means profiting off of a formula that has had proven success, not just at home but abroad. The fantasy fuels desire to travel, to buy products, to subscribe to a narrow set of ideas about what it means to be a woman and to be French.”
Encountering and interviewing each of the women for her book meant something for Tramuta. Her selection includes women in her own circle and those whose work she has long admired. One in particular, an Inter-LGBT spokesperson and trans activist, stands out for her: “Clémence Zamora-Cruz’s journey from Mexico to France will never leave my mind. I’m grateful that she felt comfortable sharing the details of her story, including those which are most painful, and I remain inspired by her personal mission to support others; to channel her experience into action and education.”
I found myself just as moved by these stories, like how singer-songwriter Inna Modja turned to music and humanitarian causes to transform her childhood trauma into optimism and advocacy; or how ob-gyn Dr. Ghada Hatem-Gantze founded La Maison des Femmes in Saint-Denis so women seeking help, guidance and solace can have a dedicated center — the first of its kind in France.
Beyond just “checking boxes” in featuring such diversity, Tramuta asserts that the women in her book, like the millions of other women in the city, have been here the whole time but have never been given the spotlight. “It is not about replacing women, but rather saying that there are certain figures who have been trotted out as an absolute standard and it’s time to expose people to a broader set of faces and voices,” she says.
Change is definitely afoot, with French women taking on their own cliché. Murièle Roos, founder of Femme Majuscule, the only magazine in France aimed at women 45 and over, agrees:
“French women do not want to be seen through a predefined set of codes. It is not flattery to think we are all young and slim with the endless means to be stylish, it is a distortion of reality.”
In a move towards more inclusiveness, Marie-Claire magazine recently chose five very diverse French women to represent Marianne, the national personification of the French Republic since the Revolution. The picks include Ginette Kolinka, a 95-year-old survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and boxer Sarah Ourahmoune, also featured in Tramuta’s book. To date, Marianne has only been incarnated by famous white French women, notably Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and Inès de la Fressange.
Tramuta would like The New Parisienne to be a part of that dialogue and change, knowing full well that it will take much more: “It requires the media and popular culture at large to stop perpetuating stereotypes.” She sees the biggest change taking place with vocal people on social media calling out magazines and brands for their “myopic viewpoints and tone-deaf editorials” and in consumers who support companies that are more inclusive.
“I truly hope that readers, both French and foreign, learn something about the culture, about the challenges that women face, and about the oppressions that some face more than others.”
– Lindsey Tramuta
“I also hope that they use this book as a new lens through which they can visit Paris in the future. There are many serious themes, such as feminism and intersectionality, or social justice issues related to laïcité and universalism, that are discussed in the book. But there is also lots of joy and hope,” says Tramuta.
One thing is certain, readers will find plenty of joy in the book – from the empowering stories, to the luminous photography by Joann Pai, to the thoughtful lists of each of her subjects’ favorite woman-run businesses, neighborhoods, and other recommendations. When travel becomes safe again, we can look forward to rediscovering Paris through the lens of these Parisiennes who are transforming a timeless city.