Ladies of Paris no longer have to fear being arrested for wearing pants. A 200-year-old law preventing Parisian women from wearing trousers, has been struck from the books.
The law was passed in November 1800 prohibited Parisian women from “dressing like a man” unless she received permission from the local police.
Host Marco Werman talks with New York Times’ Paris-based Elaine Sciolino, who credits the new Socialist government under President Francois Hollande with the law’s revocation.
Scoliono says the there had been attempts to modify the law in 1892 and 1909 that would have allow women to wear trousers if they were holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse.
Last May, a 37-year-old politician, Cecile Duflot, attending a cabinet meeting while wearing jeans, was criticized.
Sciolino called pants a safer choice for Parisian women than wearing a skirt. She said many times, women who wear skirts to work are sexually harassed.
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Marco Werman: Mali is clearly on the minds of the French these days, but there’s another story that might be stirring political passions even more in France, and that is who’s allowed to wear the pants in Paris? A 200-year-old law preventing Parisian women from wearing trousers has been struck from the books. You need to go back to November 1800 when a woman was prohibited from dressing like a man, unless she received permission from the local police. Elaine Sciolino is a Paris-based correspondent for The New York Times. So Elaine, this is one of those they never just got around to changing it laws. Parisian women have been wearing pants for years and quite well, I might add. Why now though? Why this change now?
Elaine Sciolino: We have a socialist government now and it’s trying to do the right thing for women. Right now you’ve got a bill going through the parliament to legalize gay marriage and I think this is just a side issue that kind of got caught up in this wear the–France’s minister of women’s rights finally just said look, we should make it impossible to arrest a woman for wearing trousers in Paris.
Werman: Now, I know President Hollande made a great effort to include a lot of women in his cabinet. Did any one of them kind of bring this up and say hey, listen, as long as we’re here can we talk about this pants law?
Sciolino: Well, it’s interesting because a lot of the women in the cabinet go to work in pants anyway and one of the ministers was criticized for coming to the first cabinet meeting wearing pants. You have another minister who always wears flouncy skirts. And we also had a bit of a controversy over the weekend with the marathon gay marriage debate, where some of the women came in, Mon Dieu, wearing blue jeans, which is really a no-no, but they were let in anyway.
Werman: They don’t have casual Saturday or Sunday in France?
Sciolino: They don’t, not in the national assembly. Even the guys, all the guy deputies had to come in in ties.
Werman: Now I gather other attempts have been made to overturn the law. Why did they fail in the past?
Sciolino: Well, back in 1892 the law was modified so if a woman was riding a bicycle or riding a horse she could wear her pants, but it kind of was–it took a long time to change public opinion. If you can believe it, as late as 1972 a guard prevented Michele Alliot-Marie, who has been a defense and foreign minister, prevented her from entering the Assembly building because she was wearing pants. So what she said, “Sir, if my pants bother you I’ll take them off right now.” So it got her into the–got her in. The other thing you should know is you know, I’ve done a lot of research on the subject and I’ve gone to actually two, as a serious observer of striptease, and I went to a striptease class. And what you will learn in striptease 101 is don’t both coming in pants because you’ll never get them off. You really have to wear a skirt.
Werman: Right, so that’s a lesson you’re directing or targeting at whom, Elaine?
Sciolino: Well, that’s for you to figure out, Marco. You know, if you have women who on their vacations to Paris want to come and take a striptease class, they should pack a skirt.
Werman: Roger, you write in a recent article to explain that pants for women are a safe choice as compared to skirts. Explain what they mean by that.
Sciolino: Well, this is really a serious as well as a frivolous subject because sexual harassment is still quite rampant in France, and this issue came to the fore when there were sex scandals in France, most notably one involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund. And in some government offices even, women do not want to come to work in a skirt because if they come dressed in a lovely skirt, they’re going to get remarks and maybe even get touched, which is something that would never be approved of or acceptable in the United States.
Werman: Well, it’s a seemingly anachronistic story with surprising relevance today.
Werman: Elaine Sciolino with The New York Times in Paris, good to speak with you, thanks.
Sciolino: Lovely to speak to you, thank you.
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