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The sexist French expressions you'll still hear at work

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
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.


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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