Photo by Henri Garat
Photo by Joann Pai
Guests enjoy drinks at Bar Martin in Paris.
A new book tackles the tropes of the “Parisian woman” and introduces readers to some of the game-changers reshaping the City of Light.
The Parisian female, much like the city she inhabits, has been mythologized for generations, flattened to a cigarette-smoking, all-black-clad figure riding a bicycle with a baguette in the basket. She is also, invariably, French-born and white. News flash: That caricature doesn’t reflect most Parisian women. In her latest book, The New Parisienne (Abrams, 2020), AFAR contributor Lindsey Tramuta recasts the archetype by highlighting a diverse group of more than 40 Parisian women who are shaping the city through their work and ideas. Here, meet three who are nudging the capital forward.
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Since winning the mayoral election in 2014, Spanish-born Anne Hidalgo has been at the forefront of global climate action, waging war against cars and pushing pro-pedestrian and pro-bike policies as part of her vision for a greener Paris. In her perspective, reducing pollution and improving air quality will not only give Parisians healthier lives but also make the city a more pleasant place to visit, particularly as tourism continues to rise. On her watch, large stretches of the left and right banks of the Seine River, which served as intercity expressways for decades, have been cleared of cars and reopened as urban parks where pedestrians can stroll, exercise, or hang out. She has also overhauled streets to add to the city’s 400-plus miles of dedicated bike lanes, increased access for disabled people, reconfigured iconic squares to incorporate walkways and green space, and committed to banning all combustion-engine vehicles by 2030. Car-dependent locals and Hidalgo’s political opponents accuse her of being a radical who is trying to alter the face of a storied city. But to those concerned about sustainability, she’s driving necessary change.
The Malian-born artist has performed at the city’s legendary cabaret hall Folies Bergère and popular concert venue L’Olympia, but she lends her voice to more than catchy soul-pop tunes. She uses it to educate her fans about a shocking reality: Up to 91 percent of Malian women are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). A victim herself, Modja leverages her fame as a musician to build awareness⎯via social media, benefit concerts, and speaking engagements around the world⎯about the lasting consequences of excision. She campaigns for policies that would formally ban the inhumane practice and serves as an ambassador to La Maison des Femmes, a pioneering clinical treatment center in Saint-Denis that cares for women who have suffered FGM and other forms of abuse. Modja has led discussions at the United Nations about the risks of shaming survivors and continues to channel her message of female liberation through her music. Paris is home, but her influence and advocacy travel far and wide.
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Guided tours of Paris always cover a lot of history, but few address the contributions of women. That’s the first thing London transplant Heidi Evans noticed when she began leading walks around the city for major tour companies. If women were mentioned at all, they were framed as historical footnotes in a narrative dominated by great and valiant men. To balance the story, Evans took action. In 2016, she launched Women of Paris tours, thematic walks dedicated to women’s history as well as their defining influence in art, theater, science, culture, politics, and everyday life. Literary figures such as George Sand and Colette, women’s rights champion Simone Veil, and other extraordinary women of the city’s past are finally getting the attention they deserve. “Tours are meant to be an informal education,” Evans says. “It’s extremely important to get the story right.”
>>Plan your trip with AFAR’s Guide to Paris
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