Breadwinners and Citizens: Gender in the Making of the French Social Model.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Beaudoin, Steven M.
Pub Date: 09/22/2009
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Breadwinners and Citizens: Gender in the Making of the French Social Model (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Frader, Laura Levine
Accession Number: 209577959
Full Text: Breadwinners and Citizens: Gender in the Making of the French Social Model. By Laura Levine Frader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. ix plus 347 pp. $24.95).

In this carefully nuanced study, Laura Levine Frader traces the gendered nature of the French social model back to interwar developments that strengthened the male breadwinner ideal as the foundation of social policy. This interpretation rejects previous arguments that cited women's significant participation in the labor force, as well as the creation of social programs to assist women who balanced paid labor and motherhood, as ample evidence of the relative weakness of the male breadwinner archetype in interwar France. To counter such views, Frader focuses on the nature and meanings of work on the one hand and the evolving nature of French citizenship on the other to demonstrate that gender differences remained paramount in French society. In short, "[w]omen's employment itself constituted recognition of women's right to work, but it did not constitute recognition of women's rights as workers." (p. 13) In the end, employers, politicians, and labor organizers all reinforced and refined gender differences so as to protect the privileged position of French men, who were being threatened by both French women and immigrant men, while creating social programs that continued to address women primarily as wives and mothers. It is a testament to Frader's skills as a historian that she supports this argument by adroitly weaving her way through complex and sometimes contradictory data in a vast landscape where gender, race, and ethnicity interacted in often conflicting and incongruous ways.

It would be easy to interpret employment conditions in interwar France as threatening to the white male breadwinner ideal. Despite concerns with depopulation and the protection of French culture, reconstruction demanded labor from French women and immigrants from both the colonies and elsewhere in Europe. In addition, the widespread though frequently unsystematic adoption of various rationalization schemes throughout French industry seemingly jeopardized male security in skilled labor. As Frader demonstrates, however, the implementation of such schemes didn't transform French labor into an indistinct mass of unskilled laborers. Instead, the same scientific mindset that supported the spread of Taylorism also encouraged the rise of industrial physiology, which insisted that human bodies could not be treated like mere extensions of the machines they operated. Of course, it also supported the view that increasing industrial productivity depended upon matching physical and psychological types to the correct sorts of work. These types were easily grafted on to prevailing attitudes regarding gender and race. Physiology allowed employers to "identify the allegedly 'natural' qualities that made gendered and racialized workers suitable to certain kinds of jobs and excluded them from others." (p. 103) Higher paid jobs remained the preserve of white, French men, a situation reinforced by training and apprenticeship programs that continued to equate skill with masculinity. In addition, employers adopted wage systems that offered family allowances and thus maintained a discourse centered on French male breadwinners, often by characterizing such benefits as a form of unwaged mother's allowance. As for immigrants, they were typically ineligible for such benefits. The significance of such practices rests on the social meanings they attributed to labor, meanings rooted in race and gender. Employers and society as a whole continued to view women's wage-earning as secondary, a position that even the divided labor movement did little to challenge.

That secondary status carried over into evolving concepts of citizenship, a topic of increasing concern in the context of immigration and depopulation. As in the case of economic rationalization, some evidence supports the declining importance of the male breadwinner ideal. New laws allowed French women married to foreigners to retain their citizenship, for example, and to transfer that status over to their children. At the same time, however, the rhetoric of citizenship, including demands for the implementation of a family vote, began to emphasize the link between fatherhood and citizenship. Increasingly, the model from which French employers and politicians drew envisioned a "worker citizen" who was clearly male and a father. More importantly, according to Frader, as social policies developed, women acquired rights of social citizenship without achieving political and economic citizenship. At the heart of this analysis lie recent reformulations of T.H. Marshall's classic taxonomy of civil, political, and social citizenship. By adding the fourth category of economic citizenship, understood primarily as the right to economic independence, Frader argues that interwar social policies treated French men and women primarily as gendered beings. Only French men enjoyed the status of full citizenship during these all-important formative years of the French social model. The centrality of economic citizenship thus brings together the two strands of Frader's argument. Both industry and the state continued to sustain a French male breadwinner ideal despite making room for women workers and immigrants. Depression era policies only cemented further the link between French men and economic citizenship.

There is much to recommend this book. Frader has done a masterful job of analyzing the interplay of gender, race, and ethnicity in a wide array of environments. At the same time, it is difficult to appreciate this study fully without recourse to pre-existing work on French social welfare. Despite its centrality to the problem she sets out in her introduction, for example, there is no extended discussion of the French social model as it exists today. Its basic attributes are left unexplored, including its enduring connection to employment. For this reason, despite her disagreements with them, this work is best read alongside others by Susan Pedersen and Jane Jenson. (1) In that context, her contribution offers a significant complement to our understanding of the origins of the French social model at a time when it is increasingly under fire.

Steven M. Beaudoin

Centre College


(1.) Especially Susan Pedersen, Family, Dependence, and the Welfare State in France and Britain, 1914-1945 (Cambridge, 1995) and Jane Jenson, "Friend or Foe? Women and State Welfare in Western Europe," in Renate Bridenthal, et al, eds. Becoming Visible: Women in European History, 3rd ed. (Boston, 1998): 493-513.
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