Feminism in France

Feminism in France has its origins in the French Revolution. A few famous figures emerged during the 1871 Paris Commune, including Louise Michel, Russian-born Elisabeth Dmitrieff, Nathalie Lemel, and Renée Vivien.

French Revolution

In November 1789, at the very beginning of the Revolution, a Women's Petition was addressed to the National Assembly. However, it was not discussed. Although various feminist movements emerged during the Revolution, most politicians stood on Rousseau's theorues as outlined in "L'Emile", which confined women to the role of mothers and spouses. Condorcet was a notable exception to the rule.

The "Société fraternelle de l'un et l'autre sexe" (Fraternal Society of one and the other Sex), was founded in 1790 by Claude Dansart. It included included such prominent persons as Etta Palm d'Aelders, Jacques Hébert, Louise-Félicité de Kéralio, Pauline Léon, Théroigne de Méricourt, Manon Roland, Talien and Merlin de Thionville. The following year, Olympe de Gouges published the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen". This was a letter addressed to Queen Marie Antoinette which requested actions in favour of women's rights. Gouges ended up guillotined.

In February 1793, Pauline Léon and Claire Lacombe created the "Société des républicaines révolutionnaires" (Society of Revolutionary Republicans — the final "e" implicitly referring to Republican Women), which boasted 200 exclusively female members. Viewed by the historian Daniel Guérin as a sort of "feminist section of the "Enragés" [ Daniel Guérin, "La lutte des classes", 1946 fr icon ] , they participated to the fall of the Girondins. Lacombe advocated arming of women. The Society, however, was outlawed by the revolutionary government in the following year.

From the Restoration to the Second Republic

The feminist movement expanded again in Socialist movements of the Romantic generation, in particular among Parisian Saint-Simonians. Women freely adopted new life-styles, inciting indignation in public opinion. They claimed equality of rights and participated in the abundant literary activity, for instance with Claire Démar's "Appel au peuple sur l'affranchissement de la femme" (1833), a feminist pamphlet. On the other hand, Charles Fourier's Utopian Socialist theory of passions advocated "free love." His architectural model of the "phalanstère" community explicitly took into account women's emancipation.

The Bourbon Restoration re-established the prohibition of divorce in 1816. When the July Monarchy restricted the political rights of the majority of the population, the feminist struggle rejoined the Republican and Socialist struggle for a "Democratic and Social Republic," leading to the 1848 Revolution and the proclamation of the Second Republic.

The 1848 Revolution became the occasion of a public expression of the feminist movement, who organized itself in various associations. Women's political activities led several of them to be proscripted as the other Forty-Eighters.

The Commune

Some women organized a feminist movement during the Commune, following-up on pn earlier attempts in 1789 and 1848. Nathalie Lemel, a socialist bookbinder, and Élisabeth Dmitrieff, a young Russian exile and member of the Russian section of the First International (IWA), created the "Union des femmes pour la défense de Paris et les soins aux blessés" ("Women's Union for the Defense of Paris and Care of the Injured") on 11 April 1871. The feminist writer André Léo, a friend of Paule Minck, was also active in the Women's Union. The association demanded gender equality, wage equality, right of divorce for women, and right to secular and professional education for girls. They also demanded suppression of the distinction between married women and concubines, between legitimate and natural children, the abolition of prostitution (closing of the "maisons de tolérance", or legal official brothels).

The Women's Union also participated in several municipal commissions and organized cooperative workshops. [ [http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2005-03-19/2005-03-19-458756 Women and the Commune] , in "L'Humanité", 19 March 2005 fr icon ] Along with Eugène Varlin, Nathalie Le Mel created the cooperative restaurant "La Marmite", which served free food for indigents, and then fought during the Bloody Week on the barricades François Bodinaux, Dominique Plasman, Michèle Ribourdouille. " [http://www.femmesprevoyantes.be/NR/rdonlyres/E9B8FF14-B989-404F-A844-DB71B8D98326/0/PETROLEUSESDEFVERSIONFPS.doc On les disait 'pétroleuses'...] " fr icon] On the other hand, Paule Minck opened a free school in the Church of Saint Pierre de Montmartre, and animated the Club Saint-Sulpice on the Left Bank . The Russian Anne Jaclard, who declined to marry Dostoievsky and finally became the wife of Blanquist activist Victor Jaclard, founded with André Léo the newspaper "La Sociale". She was also a member of the "Comité de vigilance de Montmartre", along with Louise Michel and Paule Minck, as well as of the Russian section of the First International. Victorine Brocher, close to the IWA activists, and founder of a cooperative bakerie in 1867, also fought during the Commune and the Bloody Week .

Famous figures such as Louise Michel, the "Red Virgin of Montmartre" who joined the National Guard and would later be sent to New Caledonia, symbolize the active participation of a small number of women in the insurrectionary events. A female battalion from the National Guard defended the Place Blanche during the repression.

Under the Third Republic

Despite some cultural changes following World War I, which had witnessed women replacing men, gone to the front, as workers, the "Années folles" and their exuberance was restricted to a very small group of female elites. Victor Margueritte's "La Garçonne" (The Flapper, 1922), depicting an emancipated woman, was seen as scandalous and caused him to lose his "Légion d'honneur". During the Third Republic, the "suffragettes" movement claimed the right to vote for women, but did not insist on the access of women to legislative and executive offices Christine Bard, [http://www.histoire-politique.fr/index.php?numero=01&rub=dossier&item=7 Les premières femmes au Gouvernement (France, 1936-1981)] , "Histoire@Politique", n°1, May-June 2007 fr icon] . The "suffragettes", however, did valorize foreign experiences with women in power, in particular by bringing attention to legislation passed under their influence concerning alcohol (such as Prohibition in the United States), regulation of prostitution, or protection of children's rights . Despite this campaign and the new role of women following World War I, the Third Republic declined to grant them voting rights, mostly because of fear concerning the influence of clericalism among them — which echoed the conservative vote of rural areas for Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte during the Second Republic.

A few women acceded to political responsibilities in the 1930s, although they kept a low profile . In 1936, the new President, Léon Blum, included three women in the Popular Front government: Cécile Brunschvicg, Suzanne Lacore and Irène Joliot-Curie . Although Blum's feminism has been subjected to debate [ Helmut Gruber has rejected it, see Helmut Gruber, Pamela Graves ed., "Women and Socialism . Socialism and Women. Europe between the Two World Wars", Oxford, Berghan Books, 1998 (quoted by Christine Bard, "op.cit.") ] , he had defended voting rights for women, a proposition included in the program of the Socialist SFIO party since 1906 . However, he did not implement this measure because of the opposition of the Radical-Socialist Party . The inclusion of women in the Popular Front government was unanimously appreciated: even the far-right candidate Xavier Vallat addressed his "congratulations" to Blum for this measure , while the conservative newspaper "Le Temps" wrote, on June 1 1936, that women could be ministers without previous authorizations from their husbands . Cécile Brunschvicg and Irène Joliot-Curie were both legally "under-age" as women . At the end of the 1930s, the right-wing did not oppose anymore women's right to vote, partly because this female vote could help them .


Women obtained the right to vote only with the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF)'s ordinance of 21 April, 1944 . The Consultative Assembly of Algiers of 1944 proposed on 24 March, 1944 to grant eligibility to women. Following an amendment by the communist deputy Fernand Grenier, they were given full citizenship, including the right to vote . Grenier's proposition was adopted 51 to 16 . In May 1947, following the November 1946 elections, the sociologist Robert Verdier minimized the "gender gap," stating in "Le Populaire" that women had not voted in a consistent way, dividing themselves, as men, according to social classes . Despite these progresses, and the inclusion in the 1946 Constitution of the "equality of rights" between women and men, inequalities would persist until today.Fact|date=July 2008 During the baby boom period, feminism again became a minor movement, despite some forerunners such as Simone de Beauvoir, who published "The Second Sex" in 1949 . Wars (both World War I and World War II) had seen the provisional emancipation of some, individual, women, but post-war periods signalled the return to conservative roles . For instance, Lucie Aubrac, who was active in the French Resistance — a role highlighted by Gaullist myths — returned to private life after the war . Thirty-three women managed to be elected at the Liberation, but none entered the government, and the euphoria of the Liberation was quickly halted .

Women retained a low profile during the Fourth and Fifth Republic. Jeanne-Paule Sicard (1913-1962) was, in 1949, the first female chief of staff, but was called "Mr. Pleven [then Minister of Defence ] 's secretary." Marie-France Garaud, who entered Jean Foyer's office at the Ministry of Cooperation and would later become President Georges Pompidou's main counselor, along with Pierre Juillet, was given the same title . The leftist newspaper "Libération", founded in 1973 by Jean-Paul Sartre, would depict Marie-France Garaud as yet another figure of female spin-doctors, far away from any type of women's liberation . However, the new role granted to the President of the Republic in the semi-presidential regime of the Fifth Republic, in particular after the 1962 referendum on the election of the President at direct universal suffrage, led to a greater role of the "First Lady of France" . Although Charles de Gaulle's wife, Yvonne, remained out of the public sphere, the image of Claude Pompidou would interest the media more and more . The media frenzy surrounding Cécilia Sarkozy, former wife of the current President Nicolas Sarkozy, would mark the culmination of this current.

Difficult access to governmental responsibilities for women (1945-1974)

Of the 27 cabinets formed during the Fourth Republic, only four included women, and never more than one at a time . SFIO member Andrée Viénot, widow of a Resistant, was nominated in June 1946 by the Christian-Democrat Georges Bidault as Under-State Secretary to Youth and Sports, but remained in office for only seven months . The next woman to accede to governmental responsibilities, Germaine Poinso-Chapuis, was minister from 24 November 1947 to 19 July 1948, in Robert Schuman's cabinet, charged of Health and Population. Remaining one year in office, her name remained attached to a decree financing private education. Published in the "Journal officiel" on 22 May 1948 with her signature, the decree had been drafted in her absence at the Council of Ministers . The Communist and the Radical-Socialist Party called for the repealing of the decree, and finally, Schuman's cabinet was overturned after failing a confidence motion on the subject . Germaine Poinso-Chapuis did not pursue her political career, encouraged to abandon it by Pope Pius XII .

The third woman to accede to governmental responsibilities would be the Radical-Socialist Jacqueline Thome-Patenôtre, nominated Under-State Secretary to Reconstruction and Lodging in Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury's cabinet in 1957 . Nafissa Sid Cara then participated to the government as State Secretary in charge of Algeria from 1959 till the end of the war in 1962 . Marie-Madeleine Dienesch, who evolved from Christian-Democracy to Gaullism (in 1966), occupied various offices as State Secretary between 1968 and 1974 . Finally, Suzanne Ploux was State Secretary for the Minister of National Education in 1973 and 1974 . In total, only seven women — quite forgotten today (the name of Cécile Brunschvicg had been attached to only one street in France, in Antony, until 2006, when Saint-Denis and the XVIIIth arrondissement of Paris named a street in her honour) — acceded to governmental offices between 1946 and 1974, and only one as minister .

Historians explain this rarity by underlining the specific context of the "Trente Glorieuses" (Thirty Glorious) and of the baby boom, leading to a strengthening of familialism and patriarchy. Even left-wing cabinets abstained from nominating women: Pierre Mendès-France (advised by Colette Baudry) did not include any woman in his cabinet, neither did Guy Mollet, the secretary general of the SFIO, nor the centrist Antoine Pinay . Although the "École nationale d'administration" (ENA) elite administrative school (from which a lot of French politicians graduate) became gender-mixed in 1945, only 18 women graduated from it between 1946 and 1956 (compared to 706 men) .

Of the first eleven cabinets of the Fifth Republic, four did not count any women — in May '68, the cabinet was exclusively male . This low representation of women was not, however, specific to France: West Germany's government did not include any women in any office from 1949 to 1961 , and in 1974-1975, only 12 countries in the world had female ministers . The British government had exclusively male ministers .

May '68 and its aftermath

A strong feminist movement would only emerge in the aftermath of May '68, with the creation of the "Mouvement de libération des femmes" (Women's Liberation Movement, MLF), allegedly by Antoinette Fouquette, Monique Wittig and Josiane Chanel in 1968. The name itself was given by the press, in reference to the US Women's Lib movement. In the frame of the cultural and social changes that occurred during the Fifth Republic — more and more women were beginning to work — they advocated the right of autonomy from their husbands, and the rights to contraception and to abortion.

In 1971, the feminist lawyer Gisèle Halimi founded the group "Choisir" ("To Chose"), to protect the women who had signed the Manifesto of the 343 ("Manifeste des 343 salopes", Manifest of the 343 Bitches) admitting to have practiced illegal abortions, and therefore exposing themselves to judicial actions and prison sentences [fr icon [http://archquo.nouvelobs.com/cgi/articles?ad=culture/20041126.OBS2461.html&host=http://permanent.nouvelobs.com/ Text of the Manifesto of the 343] with list of signatories, on the Nouvel Observateur's website.] . The Manifesto had been published in "Le Nouvel Observateur" on 5 April 1971. In 1972 "Choisir" transformed into a clearly reformist body, and the campaign greatly influenced the passing of the law allowing contraception and abortion carried through by Simone Veil in 1975. The Veil Act was at the time hotly contested by Veil's own party, the conservative Union for French Democracy (UDF).

In 1974, Françoise d'Eaubonne coined the term of "ecofeminism." The same year, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was elected President, and nominated 9 women in his government between 1974 and 1981: Simone Veil, the first female minister, Françoise Giroud, named Minister of the Feminine Condition, Hélène Dorlhac, Alice Saunier-Séïté, Annie Lesur and Christiane Scrivener, Nicole Pasquier, Monique Pelletier and Hélène Missoffe . At the end of the 1970s, France was one of the leading countries in the world with respect to the number of female ministers, just behind Sweden . However, they remained highly under-represented in the National Assembly: only 14 female deputies (1.8%) in 1973, and 22 (2.8%) in 1978 . During the 1977 senatorial elections, the 67 years-old senator of the Republican Party (PR), Janine Alexandre-Derbay, initiated a hunger strike to protest against the complete absence of women on the governmental majority's electoral lists in Paris .

This new, and relative feminisation of power was partly explained by Giscard's government's fears of being confronted with another May '68 , and largely due to the influence of the MLF Women Lib's group: "We can therefore explain the birth of state feminism under the pressure of contest feminism ["féminisme de contestation"] ", thus write Christine Bard . Although the far-left remained indifferent to the feminization of power, Arlette Laguiller became in 1974 the first woman (aged 34) to present herself at a presidential election (for the Trotskyist party Workers' Struggle, LO), and integrated in her party feminist propositions . Giscard's achievements concerning the inclusion of women in government has been qualified by Françoise Giroud as his most important feat , while others, such as Evelyne Surrot, Benoîte Groult or the minister Monique Pelletier, denounced electoral "alibis ." The sociologist Mariette Sineau underlined that Giscard included women only in the low-levels of the governmental hierarchy (state secretaries), and kept them in socio-educative affairs . Seven women in eighteen (from 1936 to 1981) had offices related to youth and education, and four (including two ministers) had offices related to health, reflecting a traditional gender division . The important Ministry of Finances, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Interior remained out of reach for women . Only six women in eighteen had been elected through universal suffrage, the rest being nominated by the Prime minister — Hélène Missoffe being the only deputy to be named by Giscard .

French feminism

The Anglo-Saxon world refers to literary and psychoanalytical works by French feminists of the 1970s-1990s as "French Feminism". These include works by Chantal Chawaf, Catherine Clément, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Monique Wittig or the film maker Agnès Varda ("L'une chante, l'autre pas", 1977).

From the 1980s to today

After the election of the socialist candidate François Mitterrand in 1981, Yvette Roudy passed the 1983 law against sexism.

Left and right-wing female ministers signed the "Manifeste des 10" in 1996 for equal representation of women in politics .

In 1999, Florence Montreynaud launched the "Chiennes de guarde" NGO. Their manifesto was signed by a variety of persons, including the historian Michelle Perrot, the navigator Isabelle Autissier, the journalist Laure Adler, the ethologist Boris Cyrulnik, the bishop Jacques Gaillot, the writer Pascal Bruckner, the sociologists Françoise Héritier and Alain Touraine, the MEP Olivier Duhamel, Geneviève Fraisse and Alain Lipietz, the politicians Yves Cochet, Roselyne Bachot, Véronique Neiertz and Huguette Bouchardeau, and other intellectuals such as Régis Debray, Pierre-André Taguieff and André Comte-Sponteville. It was opposed, however, by the feminist psychoanalyst Elisabeth Roudinesco, who criticized the passing of new anti-sexist laws, believing the existing legislation was sufficient.

The creation of the NGO "Ni putes, ni soumises" (Neither Whores, Nor Submissives) in 2002 was also largely mediatizedclarifyme. Several authors (Elsa Dorlin Elsa Dorlin (professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne, member of NextGenderation), [http://www.lautrecampagne.org/article.php?id=132 « Pas en notre nom ! » - Contre la récupération raciste du féminisme par la droite française] (Not in our names! Against the Racist Recuperation of Feminism by the French Right), "L'Autre Campagne" fr icon] , Etienne Balibar Etienne Balibar, [http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1467-8675.2007.00422.x?cookieSet=1 Uprising in the "banlieues"] , Conference at the University of Chicago, 10 May 2006 en icon (published in French in "Lignes", November 2006) ] , Sylvie Tissot Sylvie Tissot, [http://www.gisti.org/spip.php?article1072 Bilan d’un féminisme d’État] , in "Plein Droit" n°75, December 2007 ] , Houria Bouteldja Houria Bouteldja, [http://lmsi.net/spip.php?article320 De la cérémonie du dévoilement à Alger (1958) à Ni Putes Ni Soumises : l’instrumentalisation coloniale et néo-coloniale de la cause des femmes., Ni putes ni soumises, un appareil idéologique d’État] , June 2007 fr icon] ) have denounced an instrumentalization of feminism by state authorities (a "state feminism" ), of which "Ni Putes, ni soumises" is an example, with the nomination of Fadela Amara to the government by Nicolas Sarkozy - Bouteldja qualified the NGO as an Ideological State Apparatus (AIE) . They criticize the racist and Islamophobic stigmatization of immigrant populations, whose cultures are essentialized and depicted as inherently sexist, as if Islamic feminism were impossible . The debate among the French Left concerning the 2004 law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, mainly targeted against the "hijab", is to be seen under this light . These authors criticize the instrumentalization by the Right of feminist discourse, aimed against immigrant populations. They underline that, first, sexism is not a specificity of immigrant populations, as if French culture itself were devoid of sexism, and second, that the focus on mediaticclarifyme and violent acts (such as the burning of Sohane Benziane) passes under silence the precarization of women .

A "third wave" of the feminist movement arose around 2000, articulating together the issues of sexism and racism, with an interest towards movements such as Black feminism, in the United States (with the translation, in 2007, of the first anthology concerning English-speaking texts about this movement Elsa Dorlin (ed.) "Black Feminism - Anthologie du féminisme africain-américain, 1975-2000". Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007. [http://terra.rezo.net/article699.html Introduction on-line] fr icon] . In January 2007, the collective of the "Féministes indigènes" launched on the website of the "Indigènes de la République" (Indigenous People of the Republic) a manifesto in honour of the Mulatress Solitude, a heroin who fought with Louis Delgrès against the re-establishment of slavery (abolished during the French Revolution) by Napoleon [ Appel des Féministes Indigènes, [http://www.indigenes-republique.org/spip.php?article667 Sous le Haut Marrainage de Solitude, héroïne de la révolte des esclaves guadeloupéens contre le rétablissement de l’esclavage par Napoléon] fr icon] . The manifesto stated, in particular, that "Western Feminism did not have the monopoly of resistance against masculine domination," and supported a mild form of separatism, refusing to allow others (males and/or whites) to speak in their names [ French: "Le féminisme occidental n’a pas le monopole de la résistance à la domination masculine", Appel des Féministes Indigènes, [http://www.indigenes-republique.org/spip.php?article667 Sous le Haut Marrainage de Solitude, héroïne de la révolte des esclaves guadeloupéens contre le rétablissement de l’esclavage par Napoléon] fr icon] .

Contemporary French feminism, compared to Anglophone feminism, is distinguished by an approach which is at once more philosophical and more literary. Its texts are effusive, metaphorical, and conceptually rich, rather than pragmatic; they are not as concerned with pragmatism, immediate political doctrine, or a "materialism" which is not of the body. Some writers most commonly associated with the "French feminist" label include Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, and Catherine Clement. Simone de Beauvoir is a clear forerunner of French feminism, as is Marguerite Duras. Common themes of this work include at least some degree of anti-essentialism, critical feminism, and a critique of phallogocentrism informed by contemporary developments in Continental philosophy.

Ségolène Royal was the first female presidential candidate, chosen by the Socialist Party, to pass the first round in April 2007, confronting the conservative UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy (who won).


Further reading

*Marie Cerati, "Le club des citoyennes républicaines révolutionnaires", Paris, éd. sociales, 1966
*Marc de Villiers, "Histoire des clubs de femmes et des légions d’Amazones (1793-1848-1871)", Paris, Plon-Nourrit et cie, 1910
*Carolyn Eichner, "Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune", Indiana University Press, 2004
*Eric Fassin, Clarisse Fabre, "Liberté, égalité, sexualités", Belfond 2003.
*M. Jaspard, "Enquête sur les violences faites aux femmes", La documentation française, 2002.

See also

*History of the Left in France
*LGBT rights in France
*Protests of 1968

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