I bet you’ve seen a bunch of fille gardes in your day-to-day life. Maybe one or two of them even served as your high school French maids. These women are often seen walking hand-in-hand with their male counterparts or sitting together on the grassy banks of a French river. If you’re unfamiliar, the term “fille gardienne” is used to describe a lady’s companion who acts as her protector and provider. It literally means “protectorate lady” or “protectorate damsel” in French. So, in a way, a fille gardienne is like a lady’s very own knight in shining armor.
It isn’t a role that has been portrayed in a positive light in recent times in the media, however. Over the past year or so, the phrase “Fille Gardienne of” has been used to described some pretty despicable characters in popular culture. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate, for example, has been ridiculed for her association with a woman known as “Frog Prince,” who was accused of rape by multiple women in 2009. The term “Fille Gardienne of” was also attached to the nickname of Harvey Weinstein’s estranged wife, Georgina, who allegedly provided protection and shelter to aspiring actress Lucia Evans and other women who’d suffered at the hands of the studio head. Evans later withdrew her allegations of rape, claiming that she’d made them up because she’d been intimidated by Georgina.
Perhaps it’s time we reconsidered the feminist potential of the French maid outfit. After all, isn’t the ability to question and challenge patriarchy what makes a woman strong?
Feminism & the French Maid Outfit
In the context of today’s feminist movements, the phrase “fille gardienne of” is often used in a derogatory manner. It’s a way of dismissing a woman’s ability or willingness to fight for her rights, or those of others.
Feminists have long argued that women should be able to express themselves through their attire as well as their words. And it’s true: when one looks back at the history of feminism, it’s clear that women have used fashion as a form of expression for years. The women’s suffrage movement of the 1900s, for example, used visual representations of strength and equality in their posters and other forms of media. They wanted to be seen as confident individuals who demanded the right to vote, and they certainly succeeded. Their fashion choices – including the use of the French maid outfit – were a way of demonstrating their strength and independence.
What made this particular style of dress so important to feminists was that it allowed women to express their independence of men. As feminist scholar Elizabeth Burns has noted, the French maid outfit “is both a bold statement and a visual pun on the subordination of women in traditional French culture.” In other words, the French maid outfit didn’t just allow women to express their strength and independence; it also served as a constant reminder of the stereotypical submissive position that women were expected to occupy in French society at the time. The outfit was a fashion choice that symbolized a rejection of French patriarchal culture and an embrace of feminism.
It’s important to point out here that not all women who chose to wear the French maid outfit were feminist. Some were probably just playing around with the idea of gender equality or wanted to experiment with a bold fashion choice. Nonetheless, it was a way of protesting cultural expectations and asserting individuality.
Fashion Trends & the Changing Stereotype
While it’s important to recognize the unique strength and spirit that the French maid outfit represented for women in the early part of the last century, it’s also important to understand why it fell out of favor in later years. As I noted above, the term “feminine mystique” was coined in the early 1900s to describe the way in which women’s clothing and behavior were expected to be decorative, submissive, and passive. And it wasn’t just a fashion trend; it was a way of life that was enforced by social and cultural norms. Most notably, it was the way that French women dressed, which was seen as a reflection of their supposedly inherent submissiveness.
By the 1950s, as more and more women began to achieve equality in all areas of society, the feminine mystique began to be seen as outdated and oppressive. The French maid outfit was seen as just one symptom of the way in which patriarchal norms had limited and controlled women’s lives for too long.
Resisting and Rejecting Patriarchal Control
Although the French maid outfit was never really accepted as a legitimate fashion choice, women defied the cultural expectations that had dictated their clothing and lifestyle choices for so long. They chose to resist and reject the patriarchal control that had limited their lives and choices for so long. Women began to express themselves through their fashion choices, and they did so in a way that was not only unique and individual, but also powerful and effective.
This fashion choice was most successfully championed by the 1960s feminist movement, which used bold, colorful clothing as a way of symbolizing their strength and independence. Women began to see fashion as a form of self-expression, creating opportunities for individuals who’d never had the chance to dress or appear as they wanted. For example, previously “blushing” brides were now able to wear something that made them feel more comfortable, confident, and even excited about the important day. They were able to showcase their individual style, something that had never been permitted in previous decades.
Style Over Substance
The ability to express one’s individuality and to stand out from the crowd are important tools for any woman. And it’s true: whether or not one chooses to use one’s fashion choices to resist and show solidarity with the feminist movement of the 1960s is irrelevant. The point is that everyone has the right to dress as they choose, and individuals should be able to find a way of expressing their unique personality.
Fashion is a tool, and like any other tool, it has the potential to be both powerful and effective, or it can be a hindrance, holding women back instead of helping them to achieve their full potential. It’s important that we remember this when we talk about fashion choices.
So, to answer the question: who is the Fille Gardienne of Robert Pattinson?
Let me show you…
The Future of Feminism
It’s important to keep an open mind, especially when considering the work of cultural historians, as the nature of this topic can be changed at any moment. We live in a world that is constantly evolving and changing, one that will always have room for both new ideas and old ones.
It’s important to keep in mind that fashion is just a tool. It can be used to resist and fight against oppression, or it can be used to uphold and perpetrate it. It all depends on how we choose to wield it.
The nature of feminism will never change: it will always be about equality and combatting injustice. What happens next is purely up to us.