Posts Tagged ‘Sexism’

Blair’s Babes and the Hollandettes: Spot the Difference

In Politics on May 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm

This article was first published by e-feminist.com on May 18th 2012

Images from Liberation.fr and Dailymail.com

Remember 1997? Tony Blair had become the UK’s youngest Prime Minister and the first Labour Prime Minister in 18 years. Labour’s majority in the House of Commons included double the number of female MPs than had been elected in the 1992 general election. These women even had their own momentous nickname, ‘Blair’s Babes’, and all the spin doctors were telling us that this photo represented a new era in gender equality in British politics. It made us feel hopeful, as if we had been listened to and, most of all, happy with our new government. Looking at the photo of Hollande and the ‘Hollandettes’ it feels as if we could be right back in 1997.

So what’s the difference between these photos? The short answer is not much. Of course, France’s situation is slightly different; Hollande and Ayrault actively chose to include equal numbers of men and women in their government and not all of ‘Blair’s Babes’ became cabinet ministers. However, both Hollande and Blair’s photos aim to present the same cliched political message to nation, “We’re progressive! We like women too! Look how well we’re doing!”.

Understandably, feminists in France have questioned why it was necessary to emphasize the achievement of gender parity in a way which treats women as tokens. In an article entitled “The irritating photo”, Isabelle Germain asks why these highly qualified women are being treated like Hollande’s trophies. Just like the ‘Blair Babes’, Hollande’s female ministers have their own twee media nickname; the ‘Hollandettes’.  Linguistically, the ‘Hollandettes’ are to Hollande what ‘Belibers’ are to the pop star Justin Beiber – relative to their male leader and their roles determined by his authority. Germain argues that this photo aims to set the right mood for the rest of Hollande’s term and keep the electorate sweet on Ayrault’s government. It’s as if Hollande is keeping a copy of this photo in his wallet to pull out in sticky political situations and say, “But look at this photo! This photo proves that I’m a good guy!”.

A sense that Hollande has done this out of necessity has crept in amongst feminist critics. In an article onEgalite Infos, the feminist academic Françoise Gaspard argues that Hollande set himself up during his campaign to commit to gender parity, when it wasn’t necessarily driven by his own personal beliefs. She also points out that gender parity in ministerial positions, no matter how symbolic, is still a long way from real power in strategic political positions. This is, of course, the thing that the political spin doctors don’t want the French electorate to hear. Any hint of insincerity could wreck the message of Hollande’s female-led publicity campaign and ultimately destroy any confidence he has earnt through this momentous gesture.

Considering that between 1962 and 1968 there were no female ministers at all in the French government, a lot of progress has been made in fifty years to finally achieve gender parity. However, it is clear that the place of women in French politics is still determined by their male leaders. In Hollande’s case it cannot be truly judged whether he is sincere in his feminist convictions. It can only hoped that his actions, no matter what their intentions, succeed in holding the door open for other women in French politics. Perhaps one day gender parity in government institutions will be so commonplace that it will not constitute a PR photo op.

Recommended Reads: 

17/05/2012: Influential French Women: Christiane Taubira

17/05/2012: Influential French Women: Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

16/05/2012: Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise


Influential French Women: Christiane Taubira

In Biography, Politics on May 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Christiane Taubira. Image from lemonde.fr

Christiane Taubira was recently announced to have become the new Minister for Justice in Hollande and Ayrault’s newly formed government. Élisabeth Guigou was the first woman to become France’s Minister for Justice in 1997. In the years following Guigou’s appointment, three out of five ministers occupying that post have been female.  So Christiane’s appointment has not been entirely ground-breaking in terms of female representation, but she is however the first minister from one of France’s over-seas territories to take up the position.

Christiane has been a députée [MP] for French Guyana since 1993. This means that she has been elected to the French assemblée nationale [parliament] as representative for her department [region]. She has changed political allegiances throughout her career, beginning as an independent candidate in 1993, but every party she has stood for have always been radical socialist or leftist parties.

French Guyana in relation to France. From http://www.wikipedia.org

Her most notable work in her political career has been putting her name to the French law no. 2001-434: For the recognition of human trafficking and slavery as a crime against humanity (Loi no 2001-434 du 21 mai 2001 tendant à la reconnaissance de la traite et de l’esclavage en tant que crime contre l’humanité). This law was passed in 2001, and recognized that slavery in the 15th century of which France partook, was illegal and a crime against humanity. Article 2 of the law also states that these crimes should be compulsorily taught within schools through history lessons in order to educate French children about these events. This law, although some have criticised it for only applying to the enslavement of African peoples,  has helped to officially recognize France’s colonial past and the weight of history which its overseas territories carry.

For more information on Christiane and her new role as Minister for Justice, see her webiste here, the official Minister for Justice site here and her Le Monde news stream here.

Hollande Delivers on Equality Promise

In Politics, Society on May 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Image from Liberation.fr

During campaign season, Hollande was very forthcoming about his promises regarding women’s rights. From childcare to contraception, he set out several policies which aimed to help women in their everyday lives. There was a certain amount of scepticism as to whether all of these policies would be implemented after a potential election victory.

Today Hollande announced who would be the members of his cabinet, including the newly-created post of Minister for the Rights of Women (as promised in his International Women’s Day speech). The cabinet included, for the first time in French history, an equal number of male and female ministers. All the names that were announced have long been prominent names in French political activism and politics, such as; Cécile Duflot [Minister for Housing], Najat Vallaud-Belkacem [Minister for the Rights of Women] and Christiane Taubira [Minster for Justice]. Hollande has also been credited for reflecting France’s cultural and racial diversity in his appointments.

It seems that Hollande has begun to follow through with his promises to women. Although we are unable to see the long-term changes only several days into his presidency, it is clear that Hollande’s decisions today will be forever remembered as a momentous occasion for women in France.

For more information on this news, see the Guardian’s article here, Liberation’s coverage of the new cabinet here and Le Monde’s candidate-by-candidate break-down here. Also, why not read Triple F’s profiles of  some of these influential women? [See Archives]

The End for ‘Mademoiselle’

In Movements, Politics, Society on February 22, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Still from the Osez le Feminisme campaign video "Madame Mademoiselle Clown"

The female title ‘Mademoiselle’ (the equivalent of ‘Miss’ in English) is to be made no longer available on official French governmental forms according to the French prime minister’s office. From now onwards there will only be one option available to women – Madame (‘Mrs’, but also used as a general term of address). Libération noted that the terms “nom de jeune fille” (maiden name) and “nom d’épouse” (married name) were also to be removed. The Guardian reported that these changes were in response to “the persistence of terms referring, without justification or need, to women’s matrimonial situation.”

The campaign against ‘Mademoiselle’ began in September 2011 with the launch of a campaign headed by the feminist movements Chiennes de Garde and Osez le Feminisme.  The two movements created the joint website madameoumadame.fr (“Madame or Madame”), arguing that being called ‘Mademoiselle’ is “not flattering!” and “not compulsary!”. The campaign was concerned that whilst men were able only to choose “Monsieur” (‘Mr’), women were being unnecessarily judged by their marital status: “It is much more polite to call a woman ‘Madame’, and also to not judge her on her private life.” (Il est bien plus poli d’appeler une femme «madame», et ainsi de ne pas porter de jugement sur sa vie privée. ) In the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec ‘Mademoiselle’, according to egalite-infos.fr, has long been a derogatory term.

The use of two titles for women has already been eliminated in Denmark, USA and Germany. There has been a similar shift in Britain, too, with the availability of  ‘Miss’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Ms’ as titles for women. However, in the UK it has been a move that has widened women’s choice rather than reducing the choice to equal it with the number of titles available to men.

Ultimately, the collective of Osez le Feminisme and Chiennes de Garde believe that defining women with titles according to marital status is to define women in relation to their status with men. Marie-Noëlle Bas from the Chiennes de Garde said, “It’s as if marriage gives women extra value. Today marriage is a choice and a personal matter, so why still define women by their marital status?”  (comme si le mariage conférait une valeur supplémentaire aux femmes. Alors qu’aujourd’hui le mariage relève d’un choix et de la vie privée, pourquoi encore définir les femmes en fonction de leur statut matrimonial ?)

For more information see the Guardian article here, the “Madame Mademoiselle Clown” video here, the Liberation article here and the Égalité Infos article here

30,000 Faulty Breast Implants and the French ‘Bimbo’ Myth

In Health, Society on December 17, 2011 at 10:29 am

A PIP Prosthesis. Image from L'Express.

On Wednesday it was widely reported that eight cases of cancer had been linked to a faulty breast implant scandal that has seen 30,000 French women affected. However, the cancer cases and the faulty implants have no proven medical connection. The faulty implants were made of industrial grade silicone, which is used in the electronics industry, rather than the medical grade silicone which is normally used in cosmetic surgery.

The scandal sparked protests in Paris on Wednesday, in front of the Ministry of Health. The protest also highlighted the long-standing presumption in France that women who have breast augmentations are “bimbos”. An article in L’Express, entitled “PIP prostheses: ordinary women, not bimbos” (Prothèse PIP: des femmes ordinaires, pas de bimbos), comments on the absence of blonde women in the crowd of protesters. It’s hard to tell if this reference is ironic or not. The article also tells us that “They have all undertaken surgery for aesthetic reasons.” (Toutes ont réalisé l’intervention chirurgicale pour des raisons esthétiques), a blanket statement which does little to dispel the “bimbo” myth.

The Guardian interviews an anonymous protester who had a breast augmentation because she “suffered from depression and mental-health problems linked to body image”. This is a refreshing angle on the coverage, which, so far in the French media, hasn’t properly looked at the profiles of the women who are affected. Despite L’Express’s rather feeble attempt to balance the common, rather patronizing, media image of women who have plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, the French press fails to investigate the reasons why women undertake cosmetic surgery.

For more information see the Guardian article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/14/france-faulty-breast-implant-scandal and L’Express article here (French): http://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/prothese-pip-des-femmes-ordinaires-pas-des-bimbos_1062080.html

La Barbe Celebrates 100th Protest Action

In Movements on December 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm

"Des Barbues à Paris" - Image from La Barbe.

It was reported by egalite-infos.fr yesterday that La Barbe was to celebrate its 100th protest action by co-ordinating six protests in France and a further three in Denmark, Haiti and Mexico. So, what is La Barbe and does it have any potential to move to the UK?

La Barbe (translates as “The Beard” in English) is a French feminist protest movement which aims to highlight the absence of women in high profile political and business positions. The main tool used to gain column inches in the French press is the wearing by protesters of a (rather comedy) beard. La Barbe supporters, wearing their beards, turn up to protest against the disproportionate numbers of men in certain domains such as business, sport, arts and media.

Their manifesto states: “Pour toutes les femmes effarées par la montée du sexisme dans les médias, pour les femmes excédées par la domination masculine dans la société française, pour celles effraient de voir augmenter encore les inégalités entre hommes et femmes dans tous les secteurs d’activité.”

Translation: “For all the women startled by the rise in sexism in the media, for all the women fed up with male domination of French society, for those shocked to still see the inequality of men and women in all sectors.”

According to their statistics it seems La Barbe have every reason to be effarées. They estimate that in the French media 85% of television executives are men and 85% of experts who appear on French radio discussions are male. There are similarly shocking statistics presented for the domination of men in the arts, sports and business.

It seems the movement is spreading, too. Danish feminists, under the name Nordic La Barbe, have also embraced the beard, taking part in the 100th protest celebrations in Copenhagen. They also stand alongside their counterparts in Mexico known as Las Bigotonas (The Mustaches). So could this hirsute form of feminist protest spread to the UK?

Sadly, La Barbe has gone relatively unnoticed by the British media. Aside from a fairly comprehensive overview by the Guardian, and a couple more specific articles in the Independent and Guardian covering the protests following the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, there has been relatively little said about La Barbe in the UK.

Furthermore, English language feminism organizations such as The F Word and Feministing have produced very little on La Barbe. The only mention of it I could find was a very brief article explaining the movement on Feministing dating back to September 2010. It’s a shame because La Barbe has been a effective and visual way to highlight the issues of sexism in France. It has also somewhat rejuvenated the feminist movement in France, so perhaps we have something to learn from our bearded French sisters?

For more information on La Barbe visit their web page: www.labarbelabarbe.org or their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Barbe-groupe-daction-f%C3%A9ministe/149218445123550 (Unfortunately only available in French).