I don't believe the word légére is translating to light in this case. In English we wouldn't say light - maybe light-hearted, as in carefree, or in another direction - light-skinned, or if we are talking about weight thin, skinny...and the other translation given was "loose." In English light does not equal loose, and "loose" is definitely an improper description of a woman in polite conversation.
"Light" is one choice here, but "loose" (ref: morals) is definitely a legitimate translation, according to Larousse. Context is so important. Like "light" in English, "légère" can mean many things:
[Edit] léger (adj): light (gait), light (mist), light (vehicle), light (wind), slight (wave), light/thin/flimsy (dress), faint (odor), (s)light (pain), slight/minor/unimportant (error), un repas léger (snack, light meal); in regard to a person (irresponsible, thoughtless, unthinking); in regard to morals (loose, risqué), light-hearted; in regard to music (light), e.g., light opera. http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais-anglais/l%C3%A9ger/46491
The Oxford French Dictionary includes "nimble" along with other terms.
It could easily refer to a person of loose morals, a person of easy virtue, etc. http://dictionnaire.reverso.net/francais-anglais/femme%20l%C3%A9g%C3%A8re
That's right...IF you translate it as "light". We will never know what was actually in the mind of the person who said "la femme est légère". The sentence could be interpreted in very different ways and as such is quite ambiguous as to what was intended. Communication, after all, is only achieved when the message received is the same one that was sent.
Respectfully, n6zs, there is no "IF" in this case to conjecture about. Someone at Duolingo had "The woman is light." in mind, because that is the translation that person gave for "La femme est légère." at the top of this page. As for Communication, when a message is sent by one and received by another, something is always communicated. In fact the message received is never identical to that which is sent: this is called the arch of distortion. We can, however, attempt a more perfect exchange of information and ideas by attempting to understand what is in the minds of those with whom we are communicating. I believe that is what we are attempting to achieve here. Non ?
If we assume that "it must be 'light' because that is the posted answer, then no. But you are correct that we must understand what the speaker actually meant in order to translate correctly (meaning that our interpretation is the one that the speaker intended). Otherwise, it may be this or it may be that. However, we are not free to say that it unequivocally means this or that when (as in this case) we don't actually know. You may have heard me say before, you have to know what is meant (in the original language) BEFORE you translate it. Did the French speaker mean that the woman is light in weight, or nimble, or did he mean that she is thoughtless? Because one could just as easily translate it correctly as "the woman is thoughtless". In this exercise as in many others, we often don't know which way to tilt the translation when these very different outcomes are possible. You need the context of a conversation to determine that. Indeed, a message is received, but is it the message that was sent? That is why "the woman is thoughtless" is also accepted as a legitimate translation, along with a few other similar interpretations.
Here, the use of a possessive would make a clear distinction. If there is no possessive form before "femme", it tends to be interpreted as "woman" and not "wife".
une femme = a woman
la femme = the woman
les femmes = the women
des femmes = some women
ma femme = my wife
ta femme / votre femme = your wife
sa femme = his/her wife
nos femmes = our wives
vos femmes = your wives
leurs femmes = their wives
It is similar with "ami" (masculine) or "amie" (feminine):
mon ami = my boyfriend
mon amie = my girlfriend
un ami à moi = a (male) friend of mine
une amie à moi = a (female) friend of mine
Thank you for this thorough explanation, Melina. One follow up question regarding "Mon ami." I occasionally hear one good friend great another with "Mon ami!" They will also use it sarcastically with someone who isn't really their friend. I'm wondering if they are using it correctly?
Ok. One more question: why wouldn't "my girlfriend" = "ma amie" ?
Oh, I didn't have the time for answering before, came here for that now. Thank you for doing so, @PatrickJaye. =)
And you're welcome, @Frank-O-Phile. By the way, you're right, French people also use "mon ami"/"mon amie" sarcastically.
As for your other question, @PatrickJaye already explained it very well.
There are certainly aspects to "légère" that could support that (thoughtless, irresponsible, even "loose"), but perhaps "inconstante" says it better. http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais-anglais/inconstant/550682 [Edit: the Oxford French Dictionary lists "fickle" as one of a great many uses for légère].