Now I bet most of you don’t know what this post is about. Père de famille, you say, “father of the family”? Don’t all fathers have families? And why not mère de famille? Aren’t père and mère enough?
Well, there is an added meaning. Of course. Un père de famille ne doit pas prendre de risques means that a man who has a wife and family to think about shouldn’t be taking any risks. We could say a family man as well in English. Une mère de famille pense toujours à ses enfants. Funny, but we don’t say a “family woman”. I can think of a “woman with a family” or maybe “a wife and mother” and even “housewife” in some contexts. You may have other suggestions.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. Believe it or not, père de famille and more specifically, bon père de famille, is also a financial term, which always amuses me.
Yesterday, I came across it when I was translating a takeover bid: gestion de la Société en bon père de famille. “Management of the company like a good family man” would be a literal translation but you certainly wouldn’t find it in a contract! I decided on “good, safe management of the Company”.
The expression often goes hand-in-hand with investment: placement de père de famille is what we call a gilt-edged or safe investment. Valeurs de père de famille are gilt-edged or blue-chip securities.
The masculinity of the expression is not surprising – French women were kept out of money matters for a very, very long time. It was not until 1965 that women no longer needed their husband’s consent to choose their own profession or open a bank account. Astonishing, isn’t it?
And it was much later – only I can’t find the date – that women were finally entitled to see and sign the family’s tax declaration. Up until then, the husband en bon père de famille, n’est-ce pas declared both his and his wife’s revenue and could refuse to even show her the declaration!
Women were given voting rights in New Zealand in 1893, in Australia in 1902, in the UK in 1918 (but you had to be 30, equal suffrage only came in 1928) and in the US in 1919 (though women could vote in Wyoming as early as 1868) while French women finally voted in 1944. Enough said.