In addition to reading literary texts and scholarly conversations on the concept of the flâneur/se and urban spaces, I’ve been looking all over the internet to see what there is to find about the flâneuse. Interestingly, it’s quite different to go to Google and search for “flâneur” than it is to search “flâneuse”.
If you search for the *male version, you generally find what one would expect – pages about the poetry and literature of Baudelaire, information on The Situationists, French philosophers, and men all around the world with social media accounts or blogs about their own habits and interests in exploring urban spaces. Flâneur is a French word and closely tied to intellectuals and artists and, as such, it comes off as very erudite to call oneself a “flâneur” while posting photos of New York City / London / Berlin / Paris / and on and on. (I think Paris isn’t quite as common in the male set, however.)
However, if you go searching for “flâneuse”, something different happens. I have found a few female accounts similar to what I described above but mostly I’ve found Instagram accounts, Pinterest accounts, Tumblrs, Blogspots, websites, etc from self-proclaimed flâneuses. The profiles mention less about urban spaces, wandering, and everything else a person who is familiar with the concept might expect. Instead, these female accounts tend to proclaim an obsession with Paris (bien sûr), all things French (except, it seems, the language as I don’t see much French writing), fashion and makeup, referring to oneself as a “francophile” (see my comment on the language), etc.
For example, if you go to one tumblr account dedicated to the “american flâneuse” (*ahem*, not me) – abandoned since 2015 – you are met with a bright white full of images of French women or advertisements from French magazines and French fashion, etc. Occasionally someone mentions art. My knee-jerk reaction is to yell at my laptop, demanding that the women of the internet stop using this word to mean someone who loves Paris and fashion. Personal feelings aside, I wonder if it might not be worth exploring how women may have adopted this term. There has been some debate as to whether there can even exist such a thing as a flâneuse – which Dr Lauren Elkins explores in her book Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. I agree with Dr. Elkins. Of course a flâneuse can exist, which is why I find it somewhat troubling that it’s being adopted in the way I’ve mentioned. Women need to be allowed to wander and have the same freedom as men in this regard. It doesn’t feel freeing to me to make it about shopping and fashion. Maybe I should back off on this argument, or at least make room for it in my head, seeing as the original flâneur, the male version, was born within the arcades of Paris – window shopping, as it were. (Though the gaze in that respect was on people and people-watching, not to mention our good friend the Male Gaze, and not really about shopping, fashion, or beauty.) Nevertheless, I prefer to clutch tightly to this word flâneuse and insist that it mean something equivalent to what men have taken such pride in doing as “men of the world” for so long.
*I’ll say “male” here rather than “masculine” even though, in French, we refer to words being “masculin” ou “féminin”.