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The Gallic Singularity

The Medieval and Early Modern Origins

Tracy Adams

Abstract

The popular narrative that the French relationship between the sexes is more emotionally rewarding than its American counterpart has entered into scholarly discourse over the past decades. Promoted by several well-known French feminist scholars, the narrative locates the particularity of the French relationship in its paradoxical structure: women are both equal and not equal to men. Sexual difference lies in the particular, which is subordinate to the universal value of equality. The narrative was most recently revived in the anti-#MeToo manifesto published in Le Monde in January 2018. This article surveys the narrative's history, beginning with French feudal law and tracing it through some of its later iterations to highlight how it has long offered French women a way of performing femininity while exercising power. The emotional investment in this narrative explains why it continues to be accepted among at least some French intellectuals, whereas it is generally rejected by American feminists.