Ed. note: On Friday, Kate Harding wrote about a blog post in the Washington Post by "What French Women Know" author Debra Ollivier, titled "Unlocking the Secrets of French Women." Ollivier, who has written frequently for Salon in the past, sent us the following response, which we reprint below.
Here's the deal about Kate Harding's Broadsheet post and slap at my book "What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind." She clearly didn't read my book. If she had, she might have reversed the question that concludes her piece. The sincere question is not why American women are buying so much "merde" about Frenchwomen, but why are they buying so much "merde" thrown at them by the American media, by women's magazines, by hackers of packaged beauty who peddle the notion that we should all look the same (or that there's Something Terribly Wrong with Us). The real question is why American women buy so much "merde" thrown at them by love gurus and moral pontificators like Dr. Phil. The more interesting question is why are we so obsessively goal-oriented and less experience-driven? Or why do we buy the "merde" about Frenchwomen not getting fat? (They do get fat, and those that don't get fat stay slim because there's a tremendous, mean-spirited, anti-fat bias in France, not to mention tremendous social pressure to stay thin, which might have surprised Harding had she actually read my book.)
Why is critiquing or comparing/contrasting cultures always perceived by Americans as taking "pot shots" or focusing on "damaging stereotypes"? Guess what? There are damaging cultural messages hard-wired into American brains that need to be challenged, and often the best way to challenge them is to step out of the very culture that nurtures them. Yes, as Harding herself suggests, "it can be fascinating, educational and humbling to explore the real differences between cultures." Read the book, then rant.