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The sexist French expressions you’ll still hear at work

Sexism, we are told, is still rife in French offices, so here are the most common sexist French expressions not to tolerate in the office.

The sexist French expressions you'll still hear at work
Sexism is still rife in French offices it seems.

A worrying 80 percent of women in France say they have been the victim of sexism.

Here are just a few phrases to watch out for if you're working in a French office. Some come from a 2015 report into workplace sexism, while others are taken from the Everyday Sexism Project, French media and anecdotal evidence.

It can be difficult to know how to respond without being seen as overreacting or making a fuss, particularly if the comments seem offhand. So we've also included tips on how to respond to any serial sexists in your workplace.

“Comment ça va ma petite?”

This literally means “How are you my little girl?” and is often used by men who know full well it is demeaning. Perhaps a simple “Je ne suis pas petite” (I'm not small)  might do the trick.

“Elle est pire qu'un homme” (She's worse than a man)

If you have a co-worker who insists on making comparisons based on sex, beat them at their own game. Whenever they do something well, compliment them – “Presque aussi bon qu'une femme!” (Almost as good as a woman!) you can say with an encouraging smile.

“C'est quoi cette Barbie” (Who is this Barbie?) 

Photo: Eirien/Flickr

Sometimes you should give your sexist colleagues the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they weren't trying to demean you by calling you a Barbie – maybe they really want to know more about the iconic doll. “Qui est Barbie? Alors…” Launch into a detailed 50-year history of Barbie, emphasising the fact that she is often blamed with causing body image issues among young girls due to her unrealistic proportions, but that frequent criticism of and focus on her looks hasn't deterred her from pursuing her many careers, including as an astronaut, computer engineer and presidential candidate.

“C'est une réunion Tupperware” (It's a Tupperware meeting) 

This is a derogatory term roughly equivalent to the English phrase 'mother's meeting', implying that a group of women have nothing to talk about but household chores. To silence this kind of person, who may be uncomfortable working in an office with several women, simply ensure that there is plenty of Tupperware at all important meetings. If they try to join, politely remind them “Excusez moi – c'est une reunion Tupperware”.

“Laisse tomber, elle doit avoir ses règles” – (Let it go, she must be on her period)

Photo: amenclinicsphotos/Flickr

If other people in your office insist that menstruation makes women aggressive and incapable of decision-making, who are you to correct them? Be as unreasonable as you want, flinging boring documents into the shredder, and watching cat videos online instead of working. Shrug off any criticism with “Ah, je dois avoir mes    règles”. Hey, it's not your fault, it's biology.

“Ma jolie” (My pretty one) “Ma cocotte” (honey), “Ma puce” (sweetheart) and “Ma poulette” (chick) – (all terms deemed derogatory)

If you're an expat, the language barrier – or pretence of one – can come in handy here. Look puzzled and ask “Cocotte? J'ai jamais écouté ce mot – qu'est-ce qu'il veut dire?” (Cocotte? I've never heard that word – what does it mean?) Get out your pen and notepad as if ready to write down something very important, and maintain eye contact as the speaker stutters and tries to justify the remark.

“Elle ne sait pas faire grand-chose à part se vernir les ongles” (She doesn't know how to do much apart from polish her nails)

Photo: Vladimir Morozov/Flickr

Graciously accept the compliment to your nails, and reassure him that you're sure he'll learn how to paint his just as nicely one day. “Tu les aimes? Merci! Ne t'inquietes pas, je peux te montrer comment le faire” (You like them? Thanks! Don't worry, I can show you how to do it)

“Hysterique” (Hysterical)

This word is often to discredit a woman's opinion and it can be difficult to react to, since attempts to challenge the sexism might be viewed by the speaker as proving their point. The trick is to get in there early, so if you have a colleague who is always a nightmare to have a conversation with, cut him off as soon as he starts being rude or ignoring you and ask “tout bien? Tu es très émotif aujourd'hui” (Is everything OK? You're very emotional today). It should get the message across.

“C'est mignon, ce chemisier” (That's a cute blouse)

Photo: Emma at DreamDate/Flickr

There's a time and a place for complimenting women on their clothes, and the middle of a presentation to a boardroom is not it. You can always respond by complimenting their own outfit “Merci, et ton cravate aussi c'est mignon!” (Thanks, and your tie is cute too!) to get the point across, or tell them where you bought it and reassure them that you think the colour would suit them too.

“Tu es technicienne? C'est peu commun ca” (You're a [female] technician? That's unusual)

For women working in male-dominated fields, this remark, which may not be meant maliciously, can get tiresome. One way of responding could be to say simply “Oui, c'est pourquoi c'est tellement important que j'existe” (Yes, that's why it's so important that I exist).

If this list seems depressing, perhaps the following video will cheer you up.

Made by France Télévisions, it shows a gender role-reversal of the sexist clichés commonly heard at work and often dismissed as “harmless”, in order to highlight how ridiculous the statements are.

A pair of women approach two men, offering compliments on their “cute” tie and jeans, and even making vulgar gestures, while the men look uncomfortable.

When their male colleagues walk off, the women call after them to return, before one remarks that it must be their time of the month.

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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.