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Response to Review of From Vichy to the Sexual Revolution: Gender and Family Life in Postwar France

I am extremely pleased with Charlotte Faucher’s careful and thoughtful review of my book. There really are no points I would contest. Even her comment that the book could have focused more on the impact of the Americanization of French culture on French children and youth is merited. In my desire to avoid imposing my American identity on the material, I did underplay an important topic. As Richard Kuisel’s excellent book, Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization, notes, the foundational economic modernization that made possible many of the changes in gender and family life the book explores was widely viewed in France as a form of Americanization.(1)

Pop music represented another clear area of cross-cultural influence that had a huge impact on French youth.  Here I recommend Jonathyn Brigg’s wonderful book, Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities, and Pop Music, 1958–1980.  Briggs complicates the notion of a singular, American version of rock and roll the French merely imitated. He points out that rock music is a ‘genre that contains a broad and ever-expanding array of subgenres, which themselves interact with other genres to form new sounds and styles’. He explores French pop music at the intersection of musical cultures across national lines, a hybridization more than a simple assimilation.(2)

That description would apply, in my opinion, to a number of additional Franco-American encounters.

For example, starting before the Second World War and continuing into the 1960s, a less visible but significant cross-culture mutual influence took place between French and American women.

The social work profession provides an excellent example. French women pioneered the profession in the first decade of the 20th century. The Great War added a transatlantic impetus to France’s social services. So many young American women arrived in France wanting to help that at one point the American Red Cross in Paris started turning volunteers away. Some of these American women stayed in France after the war and played a key role in the development of French social services. The most influential member of this group, Chloe Owings, arrived in France in 1916 to work with American war relief organizations. After the war ended, Owings shifted her focus to ‘wayward youth’. She enrolled in the Sorbonne, completed a doctoral dissertation on the French juvenile justice law system, and played a major role, alongside French counterparts, in reforming the system. To this day she is portrayed in France as a patron saint of French juvenile justice reform.

The mutual influence continued during the Second World War. When the Germans occupied Paris, French journalist Hélène Gordon-Lazareff, and her husband, editor of Paris-Soir Pierre Lazareff, both of whom were Jewish, managed to escape to the United States. While there, Hélène continued working as a journalist. When she returned to France after the war she founded Elle magazine.

My book covers two more examples going both directions; Laurence Pernoud, who wrote France’s first baby book and spent time in the US after the war working for United Press, and accouchement sans douleur, which originated in the USSR but translated to America named for the French doctor who brought it to France, Fernand Lamaze.

Once again, many thanks to Charlotte Faucher for her review and to Reviews in History  for allowing me to expand a bit on one of the points she raised.

Notes

  1. Richard Kuisel, Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization (Berkeley, CA, 1993).Back to (1)
  2. Jonathyne Briggs, Sounds French:  Globalization, Cultural Communities, & Pop Music, 1958–1980 (Oxford, 2015).Back to (2)