French women seem to have it all: multiple children, a job and, often, a figure to envy.
What they don't have is equality. A recent 22-country survey by the Pew Research Center summed it up: three in four French people believe men have a better life than women, by far the highest share in any country polled.
"French women are exhausted," said Valérie Toranian, editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in France.
"We have the right to do what men do — as long as we also take care of the children, cook a delicious dinner and look immaculate. We have to be superwoman."
France ranks 46th in the World Economic Forum's 2010 gender equality report, trailing the United States, most of Europe, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica.
Francecrystallizes the paradox facing many women across the developed world in the early 21st century: They have more say over their sexuality (in France birth control and abortion are legal and subsidized), they have overtaken men in education and are catching up in the labor market, but few make it to the top of business or politics.
Having children is relatively easy in France, one reason Paris seems to teem with stylish career women with several offspring. At 31, Fleur Cohen has four children and works full-time as a doctor. As she drops her youngest at nursery in stilettos heels and a pencil skirt you would never guess that she gave birth only three months ago.
In Paris, Ms. Cohen's husband is a doctor, too. But she bathes all four children, cooks and does the Saturday shopping. "If I didn't prepare food for my children, I would feel less like a mother," she said.
Women spend on average five hours and one minute per day on childcare and domestic tasks, while men spend two hours and seven minutes, according to the national statistics office Insee.
A majority of medical graduates in France are female. Yet all 11 department heads in her hospital are men.
"French men have always been slow to give up power," said Jean-Francois Copé, parliamentary leader of President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right party, who is defending a bill to oblige netpanies to fill 40 percent of boardroom seats with women. Women were allowed to vote for the first time only in 1945. Since a 1998 law obliged political parties to have an equal number of men and women candidates on their party lists, parties have tended to pay fines rather than netply.
Four pieces of equal pay legislation have passed since 1972. But in 2009, even childless women in their forties still earned 17 percent less than men.
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