Where are the Women? In the Shadow of Marianne
I have always been a “feminist.” As a teenager in the 1960s, and as a woman, it was virtually impossible to avoid the label…if that’s what you want to call it. We women met in small groups to discuss women’s issues, refused to wear bras (until I was older and realized I might actual “need” it), looked at our “private parts” in mirrors, and rebelled against sexual harassment in the workplace. That was 50 years ago, yet some things take a long time to change, including women having equal rights with men, still on the proverbial battlefield.
One might think that women in France were behind us liberated American women, but the history books will tell you that feminism in France began as far back as the French Revolution. Marianne is THE symbol of the French Republic, portraying the “Goddess of Liberty.” Her image, cast in bronze tops the pedestal at the center of Place de la République, around which almost all demonstrations in Paris take place.
When we in America were burning bras, President of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, nominated nine women into his government including Simone Veil who was the first woman minister and by the end of the 1970s, France was second in the world to honor women with such high political positions (behind Sweden who was first). The National Assembly was still behind the times, however and in 1977, 67 years-old senator of the Republican Party, Janine Alexandre-Derbay, initiated a hunger strike in protest against the complete absence of women on the electoral lists in Paris.
In 2007, some 30 years later, Socialist Ségolène Royal was the first female presidential candidate successfully passing the first round of the French presidential election against conservative UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy. One year later, voter polls showed they regretted electing Sarkozy, but her final rival was another woman, Martine Aubry, who defeated Royal in the November 2008 second round. Now, in 2017, we have National Front leader Marine Le Pen, gaining strength among women, likely more for her gender than her politics.
March is Women’s History Month and last Thursday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day. French women were called to strike, with a gathering during working hours, organized…where else?…but Place de la République, in the shadow of Marianne. Women were encouraged to walk out of their workplaces in a show of solidarity. Promoters of the event claimed that still, women in France are underpaid by 26%, and women managers are earning 10% less than their male counterparts. These women say that simply has to end. In addition, women are still the primary victims of domestic violence, even if under-reported in France.
For the demonstration, they adopted the new American symbol of women’s freedom, the “pussy hat,” for which we have President Donald Trump to thank, after his vulgar words that were inadvertently recorded: “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything…grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” France had their own political leader to incite them to the feminist cause, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn went on trial. His sex scandal “triggered the most significant shift of French consciousness around gender issues since the publication of ‘The Second Sex.'” (forward.com/)
I didn’t see too many pussy hats at the demonstration, nor did I think to bring mine, which was worn during the Women’s March on January 21st, but there was a large group of Muslim women in headscarves carrying purple flags on which was written “Liberté et Justice” showing their own solidarity.
In my personal opinion, the gathering there seemed like a weak show of feminism, compared to women in America who are bold, loud and angry and who have a strong sense of sisterhood. Culturally I have observed that American women “stick together” better than French women on the whole, for specifically what reasons I’m unsure — this is a study in itself.
In New York on March 9th, Matthew Morowitz posted an article in The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation site, “Where Are the Women? A Mother-Daughter Greenwich Village Pair Tell Us,” to highlight some of the “radical and notorious women” who helped shape New York neighborhoods. Among them is our own adopted “Française” — playwright/actor, performance artist, historian, and community activist, Lulu Lolo (a.k.a. Lulu Evans). She came naturally to the role, following in the footsteps of her mother, Rose Pascale, who was an active feminist and community liaison to the Greenwich Village community board in 1969.
LuLu often portrays a 14th-street version of “Jeanne d’Arc” on the streets of New York to ask “Where are the women?” in an effort to have more women nominated for being honored with their own monuments in the city. My daughter, Erica, met up with Lulu in New York more than one year ago to nominate yours truly to the honor. Just the nomination is honor enough, but the cause is what’s so important, not just to feminists such as myself, but to men and women everywhere.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(in her Pussy Hat)
P.S. Please be sure to set your DVR’s for “A Paris Shoebox for Six,” one of our most recenent episodes on House Hunters International. It airs on Thursday, March 16. See the detials on our HHI page. Thanks!