samedi 6 juin 2009

Feminism today

No, we're not dead!

Feminism has always been so critizised that it is not good today to call yourself a feminist. Introduced as dangers for the moral order, some think that feminists stir up the war between sexes.
Men say: “Why the hell do they go on fighting because they have all the rights they asked for?” Abortion rights, contraception, parity in politics... A very hypocritical argument, indeed, because these rights benefit also men. Aren’t you happy, gentlemen, not to be fathers at 16 years-old?

In France, the movement for parity in politics and public life began in the 90’s. These inequalities were relieved by newspaper journalists, especially young ones. Feminism has always had a good capacity of mobilization. In November 1995, 100 000 people marched for contraception and abortion, threatened by the government. This new-feminism is not like the 68’s movement. If it is less militant, it continues to be alert. It also includes men now, to the contrary of the MLF, which was essentially non-mixed.

We of course are luckier than our grandmothers, thanks to them. But feminist associations, like “Chiennes de garde”, are still very useful and have some duties:
- A duty of alertness : they have to make sure that our rights are still growing, and not disappearing.
- A duty of education
- A duty of action against the still existing inequalities : and there are many (differences of wages, sexist jokes, lack of representation in politics...).
- A duty of international solidarity : feminists have to fight for women’s rights all over the world (against rape, forced marriage, for civil rights...) and for the end of patriarchy.
- A duty of memory : the fight of our grandmothers must be known by everyone (not only women).

mardi 2 juin 2009

Feminist themes in french fiction : « La fiancée du pirate » by Nelly Kaplan

« La fiancée du pirate » was released in 1969, in the militant background of may 68. It divided the public and the professionals because the subject was scandalous. If some people just saw a spicy tale, some felt and analysed the underlying message, forerunning the feminist struggle of the 70’s.
This movie is first of all the story of a woman fighting against the oppression of her body, which was the main fight of 70’s feminist movement. It is the story of Marie, a young woman who scares the inhabitants of a village called Tellier because she attracts them with an unlimited power of seduction. Publicly, men treat her very badly, laughing at her dead mother and murdering her beloved animal, and when the night begins, they go find comfort in her arms. Performed by Bernadette Lafont, Marie is a character full of duality; by selling her body, she is preparing her revenge. She dares to own and use her own body as she wants: it is used as a weapon. Marie is a modern witch, a myth which will later be used by the MLF as a symbol of the oppression of women’s body.
“La fiancée du pirate” is not a feminist movie, but carries some activist messages. Nelly Kaplan, even if she agreed with feminist movements, was not a feminist filmmaker. She defended the liberation of women, but rejected the militant way.
You can watch a short extract in It is a little bit weird because there are a few cuts in this extract, but it gives the tone of the movie.

mardi 26 mai 2009

Feminist themes in french fiction : the example of “Trois hommes et un couffin” by Coline Serreau (1982)

On the contrary to what men usually think, feminism is not against them. In fact, the freedom of women leads to a new way of thinking about them, and not necessarily a bad way. The purpose of feminist movements is not to emasculate men, but to help them to find a new place in society ; feminists ask for men the right to wish to have a child, to love him, to be stressed for him...

It is exactly the theme of “Trois hommes et un couffin”. If this film is not feminist, it talks about quite an unexplored theme in cinema : the feeling of fatherhood. It is one of the first movies to show men confronted to some problems, which everybody considers as “mothers’ problems” : how to change nappies, what to do when the baby cries... It breaks with the cliches “Men don’t have to worry about these sorts of problems, they just bring the money, they don’t have to be tender...” This movie shows sensitive men (what a horrible thing!) and allows men to love their children.

Coline Serreau did some very feminist movies (documentaries and fictions) like “Mais qu’est-ce qu’elles veulent?” (1973) or “Chaos” (2001). In “Trois hommes et un couffin”, she is not militant anymore, but chooses discreet themes instead of provocation.

mardi 12 mai 2009


I write this article to answer Stacey’s question : why was 1975 the Year of the Woman ? First of all, it was not just a French initiative, it was an international decision. The UN decreed 1975 Year of the Woman, answering the national feminist movements. This year was dedicated to intensive actions for women’s rights all over the world. The main theme was : “equality between man and woman, development and peace”. UN decided also that the 8th March will be the international Woman's Day.
You can imagine how these feminist groups liked this... First, they fought a lot against the idea of The Woman, and now the international community decided to celebrate Her? Obviously, there were (and are) only men in the UN... It was a patriarchal initiative, as if men have said : “Poor women, we have to help them!”. For these women, who fought by themselves for their rights, rejecting the idea of women’s weakness against men’s strength, this was an unbearable idea.
The feminists answer the UN with one of their favorite ways : parody. The MLF published in its own newspaper a quiz for women ; they answer the questions and know if they are the “ideal woman” (for men of course). You can read this very funny article here
The group “Les insoumuses”, led by Delphine Seyrig and Carole Roussopoulos, made a movie called “Maso et Miso vont en bateau”, to answer Bernard Pivot’s emission at the end of the 1975 year, called “L’année de la femme, ouf! c’est fini.” He invited Françoise Giroud, State Secretary of the feminine condition, and it was a surrealist show. Pivot interviewed some political or “important” men, each more chauvinist than the others (Jacques Martin, Pierre Bellemare, Marcel Julian...). Françoise Giroud, who was asked to react to what she heard in these interviews, had amazingly stupid answers like : “There are women who liked chauvinist men” or “Women behave like persecuted persons.” “Les Insoumuses” made this parodic movie to make fun of her, who is supposed to represent them, (she is “Maso”) and of the men (they are “Miso”). You can watch a too short extract of this amazing movie, and you understand the tone of it :

samedi 2 mai 2009

"Réponse de femmes" by Agnès Varda

In 1975, it was the Year of the Woman. Antenne 2 asked seven female filmmakers the question : “How does it feel to be a woman?”. They had to answer with a seven-minute movie. Agnès Varda chose to answer with the cine-leaflet “Réponses de femmes”. It is a possible answer concerning women’s bodies and the feminine condition. In this short movie, women, from female children to old women, chat about sex, desire, advertising and children (to have some or not) : “our object-body, our taboo-body, our body with or without children, our sex, etc...”. How can we experience our body? How can we experience our sex? On a white set, women, dressed or naked, try to answer the question “What is a woman?”. One answers: “To be a woman is to be born in a female body”. Nothing more, no idea of feminine essence, or predisposition to motherhood, ideas against which the feminist movement was struggling. A pregnant and naked woman, dancing and laughing loud, made a lot of viewers react : Antenne 2 got a lot of written reproaches.

This cine-leaflet was aired on Antenne 2 the 23rd of June 1975. It was also nominated to Cesars 76, category documentary short-movie.

samedi 18 avril 2009


May 68

The cinema quickly became a very important weapon in the service of the struggle. The women grabbed the camera to allow the women without a voiceto express theirselves. By assuming their representation, they assumed their liberation. The idea was that the control of the image of their body would lead to the control of their body. The feminist cinema of May 68 was of course militant, shot in the middle of the action, on the fringe of the production and distribution systems. Cinema was, at this time, almost exclusively for men. That is why women shot all their short-movies in Super-8 or Video, and these little cameras were the best tools for this kind of militant action, thanks to the technological innovations : they could watch their images immediately, the cameras were less heavy, the shots could last 30 seconds. The video allowed the filmmakers to be quick and reactive.
Their movies rejected the language of the dominant cinema, reproducing the dominant ideology. They gave women the right to talk : for instance, Carole Roussopoulos interviewed a female manual laborer in Monique Lip 1 , and she talks about her life during the strike.
A movie synthetizes all the feminist questions : Sorcières Camarades by Danielle Jaeggi in 1971. It symbolizes the birth of a “We, women”, from the individual to the collective. This movie links politics to aesthetics. You can see an extract on : it is the beginnig of the movie.
These militant movies were often about abortion. One was particularly direct. Y a qu’à pas baiser, by Carole Roussopoulos, shows images of an abortion in 1971 : the camera was really between the legs of a woman. It was of course censored (as many feminist movies were) and was projected in illegal theaters.

vendredi 10 avril 2009


2nd part (1968-1977)

This feminist movement, begun in 68, is different from the first one, because it’s no longer about civil rights. It is about the right for women to control their body. The main demands were about abortion and contraception. In May 68, the French “Feminin Masculin Avenir” group was very active and organized a lot of debates on womens’ roles.

The 28th of August 1970, nine women put down some flowers under the Triumph Arch to the glory of the unknown soldier’s wife. This is the birth of the MLF (Mouvement de Libération de la Femme). Actually, this name was given to these women by a journalist of France Soir; they of course hated it and changed for the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes (and that made all the difference).

So the feminist movment was divided into smaller groups:

- The Movment for the Legalisation of Abortion and Contraception : this group created the centers of Planning Familial. It was a women's group: men were forbidden.

- The MLF : it was mixed, and divided into smaller groups:
+ “Psychanalysis and politics”: led by Antoinette Fouques, it was based on literatury contestation. They did not trust cinema to serve womens’ struggle.
+ “Revolutionary Feminists” : they fought against patriarchy, doing a lot of videos.
+ “Class struggle” : composed by gauchist groups.

It is the period when women became aware of their oppression, and they began a real struggle as an oppressed population (as Black people or gays did). This feminist movment rejected the idea of a feminine essence, a sort of genetic predisposition to softness, motherhood, futility and submission. “The Woman doesn’t exist, there are just women”: that was one of the main messages. That is what Simone de Beauvoir means in « Le Deuxième Sexe », with her famous sentence : « On ne naît pas femme, on le devient. »
Contrary to a common idea, feminists did not fight men (there were some in feminist groups), but the patriarchal society, which makes women feel inferior. Actually, this kind of society is led by men... For example, until 1965, a woman could not work or have a bank account without her husband’s agreement!
But the main pressure was against womens’ body and their right to have a baby (or not) when they want. A lot of demonstrations were done on this theme. One of them, shot by Carole Roussopoulos, became famous : an old lady , who was asked by the filmmaker what she thought about abortion, answered : “Y a qu’à pas baiser!” (I don’t translate it because it’s better in french...). It was a so clever answer... This sentence became the title of one of Roussopoulos’s movie. The feminists did a lot of militant movies, but I will talk about feminist cinema in my next article...
The Bobigny trial, in 1972, was a very important event which contributed to the legalisation of abortion a few years later (1975). Five women were judged : a 16-year-old girl, who aborted after a rape, and four grown-ups (including her mother) who have helped her and performed the abortion. Gisele Halimi was their lawyer : they were all freed or had symbolic sentences. This trial made a huge impression on public opinion, and contributed to letting people know what women were asking.
The following link leads to a video called “Debout! Une histoire du mouvement des femmes 1970-1980” by Carole Roussopoulos. It is made with extracts from feminist militant movies, and some interviews of feminists. I love this film because it makes us remember our duty to these women who fighted for our rights.