We all know Charles de Gaulle and the beautiful diplomatic Macron, we know the Fitzgeralds and the Hemingway’s, the Monet and the Picasso, but what about the women? Not the wives of these men, but the actual women who paved the streets of Paris to make them what they are today? Why don’t we talk about them?
JOSEPHINE BAKER (1906-1975)
What couldn’t this woman do? Although she was born in the States, she made her life in France due to how behind the times America was on desegregation and racist laws. She was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, “Siren of the Tropics”, and lit up the way for so many other women of color in Europe and in the United States. She was an impeccable performer, adding life to shows that before did not yet exist. Not only was she one of the first black superstars, she was a member of the French Resistance (!!!) as well as a Civil Rights activist.
CATHERINE DE MEDICI (1519-1589)
This woman really went through it all. While there are many portrayals of her on TV, here is the truth: she was a badass. She came from Italy and was forced to marry the King of France (not a bad set up I’ll admit) and all he did was cheat on her. She had three sons, two died, leaving her to rule France alone. Her last child only outlived her by a few months; that’s right, France truly couldn’t live without her. She was a powerhouse; we wouldn’t even have forks without her. It’s true; Italians used the fork and the French were mongrels, eating with their hands and knives. She introduced the fork at court and when the rich followed her lead so did everyone else. Although her rule was controversial, you have to admit she carried France on her back for like, half a century.
COCO CHANEL (1883-1971)
Would we even be wearing pants if it weren’t for Coco? Growing up in poverty, this woman became the queen of fashion, basically inventing the Little Black Dress. During the war, men weren’t around. Women couldn’t go gallivanting in dresses and skirts all day; so, Coco designed a trouser, and made it popular for women to look more masculine. After this, women were walking around 20th century France in suits. Thanks girl! Due to Coco, we have a solid image of the Parisian Woman forever in our heads.
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR (1908-1986)
Ugh Simone, thank you for being a feminist. She wrote the famous treatise, The Second Sex, fighting against sexism and basically destroying what was left of it in the 20th century. She made such a scene that the Vatican actually put it on a list of forbidden books. Isn’t that crazy?? Without her, the famous feminist movements of the 60s and 70s maybe wouldn’t have even happened. Thanks Simone, you rock.
GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946)
Not born in France, Gertrude was another expat who shaped society in Paris; she made the curation of art popular and continuously challenged all the famous male writers of the time. She would have parties where so many artists would get together and form relationships; many of Picasso’s paintings may not have even happened if he hadn’t have met a couple love interests at the Stein’s home by the Seine. Some of Hemingway’s works wouldn’t have been completed, and he and Fitzgerald never would have met. Many of the famous authors’ works wouldn’t have even been published without her. Like they say, behind every great man is Gertrude Stein. Oh, and did I mention she was a lesbian? Even better.
There you have it, some powerful women who made France what it is today; the France we all love, worship, and admire. Thanks ladies.