1This book developed out of research proposals that received grants from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. Each of the four chapters is based on one such research project. In a long, highly informative introduction, Sylvie Octobre has pursued two aims. She first presents what is at stake in the research, identifying the overall subject of the book as relations between culture and gender. She then responds to the reiterated barrage of criticism against research on gender, discussing in detail the genesis of the concept and the different facets of this type of research. The afterword by the sociologist of cultural practices Marie Buscatto links the chapters together and provides additional information, often drawn from her own research studies.
2The book covers a vast field: television series, video games, music practices, writing, poetry slam, dance and scientific culture. The perspectives adopted here complement the Culture Ministry’s ongoing surveys on “the cultural practices of the French” (conducted by the Ministry’s Département des Etudes de la Prospective et des Statistiques), the results of which are always eagerly awaited. The approach of all authors here is sociological, regardless of their discipline or institution.
3The first chapter, by Christine Détrez and Claire Piluso, focuses on “scientific culture.” The authors find gender stereotypes to be deeply engrained in young survey respondents. However, several binary oppositions come together here: science is perceived as masculine, but boys from working-class backgrounds feel excluded from it while girls from privileged backgrounds have an easier time engaging with it. Drawing on studies by Ruth Amossy, the authors stress the difficulty of using the notion of stereotype, considered elusive, and the methodological problems of coding in terms of femininity and masculinity. They also point up a paradox: the fact that women are “invisible” (i.e., extremely underrepresented) in the scientific exhibitions and scientific press targeting young people goes so entirely unperceived that it is itself invisible.
4In their chapter, Éric Macé and Sandrine Rui are less interested in cultural practice analysis than in young French people’s attitudes toward gender and how they formulate their own identities (their “identification careers”). They generalize by way of two dominant types – though young people are not taken in by such clichés. Video games are said to sum up young men, characterized by “legitimate selfishness” and self-confidence. Young women, meanwhile, are said to correspond more to television series focused on relationships between self and others; they would seem to be characterized by “anxious centring on others.” Since young women feel constantly subjected to judgment by others, their relationship to gender is “ambivalent.”
5The chapter written by Nathalie Amar, Roger Cantacuzène and Nadine Lefaucheur examines culture in Martinique, including reception of a television series that was shot on the island, the renewal of a traditional dance called bélé, and the recently developed practice of “slam” (poetry chanted on stage). Gender relations are described in terms of a post-colonial context that exceeds and complexifies them. New or newly introduced practices are found to offer women an opportunity to assume a more important position. Cultural productions are opportunities to engage in complex discussions about identity. The colonial taxonomy indicating degrees of racial mix and skin colouring is still very much in people’s minds, though it is also hotly contested. Pale skin is still the standard of beauty. The many-faceted historical heritage can also be glimpsed in a double standard that Peter Wilson described in the 1960s: for men what is crucial is “reputation,” on the model of Hispanic “machismo,” which has to be maintained through “positive” acts, namely behaving like a seducer; women, meanwhile, have to “negatively” preserve their respectability (a value associated with the European colonizers) by ensuring that their behaviour complies with the values represented by institutions.
6The last chapter, by Viviane Albenga, Reguina Hatzipetrou-Andronikou, Catherine Marry and Ionela Roharik, concerns adult amateur music practices. There are few amateur musicians in France, and the practice can be described as one that jumps class boundaries. According to the interviews the authors draw on, how children are introduced to the practice of music varies greatly by sex. Girls are usually oriented toward classical music and such instruments as piano or flute, perceived as so feminine that boys are discouraged from trying them. Nonetheless, boys are offered a greater choice of musical styles and instruments; they have a near monopoly on percussion instruments, for example. In adulthood, the rigid approach imposed by respondents’ families and music teaching institutions no longer holds, leaving women, in particular, free to play instruments they were denied access to at a younger age (brass, drums). Men and women feel equally supported by family and life partner in their amateur musical activity. But in contrast to the trend toward equality, women are still subjected to extremely unequal sharing of household tasks, leaving them less time to play music or sing: fewer women than men practice music every day. The authors of this chapter are more attentive than the others to individual trajectories, and in this sense their approach is closer to those used in demography. In general, the information used in this book is qualitative and interviews constitute a fundamental component of the research.
7Cultural practices are heavily structured by gender at all ages. Child socialization – Sylvie Octobre’s area of specialization – forges lasting representations around gender. Nevertheless, the discourse of young French adults is strongly egalitarian; gender differences and their naturalizing foundations can only be discerned in it through close scrutiny. Amateur music making by adults of all ages, like the music that accompanies bélé dancing, is heavily gendered, but in our time we find more marked individuation and a loosening of gender norms.
8Throughout the work, two complementary mechanisms are readily apparent. First, attitudes toward culture and cultural practices are sharply differentiated by sex and heavily connoted in terms of gender: respondents regularly cite the nature argument to explain or justify this differentiation. And yet second, all of the chapters reveal exceptions to, change in and transgressions of the female-male bi-categorization. Clearly, then, the book demonstrates the relevance of taking a broad approach to culture and linking it to other dimensions of social life.