Why do we laugh at feminism? Why is it that so many of us say, ‘I am not a feminist’? How is it that we can we live in a country like France where men earn an estimated 27% more than women (1), and yet say that this fight does not concern us? How can we live in a country where no one is alarmed when young girls on housing estates tell us that they wear the veil to protect themselves from violence by men?
Why are we not frightened of being governed by a National Assembly whose blatant gender imbalance (87% male membership) has not even been affected by the voluntary parity law? Why is it accepted that there are people in the world who assert that women are ‘complementary’ and not man’s equal, and that a way of life straight out of the Middle Ages is forced upon them. Why do we not ask ourselves about our own responsibility, men and women, all of us who we think live in modern and enlightened societies? Why is it accepted that in traditional cultures and religions women are referred to as the ‘wild’ part of humanity whose bodies and spirit must be virtuously ‘put right’, thus forbidding women to fully enjoy their bodies, their charm, their rights?
Is it because of modern individualism and the end of the great battles for emancipation? Is it because of the feminists themselves who have become lost in coffee-house arguments, disputing Simone De Beauvoir’s heritage, turning their backs on the women who are victims of an increasing amount of violence in tough neighbourhoods. Is it because of radical feminist thought which, by excluding men from its sphere of action, has kept division alive and exacerbated the war of the sexes? Is it because of the men who still smile when confronted by ‘easy’ women or hysterical ones in discussions, all stereotyped and perceived as being all the same? Is it because of the Republican system and egalitarianism which have made law the supreme solution to inequality, injustice and problems of representation, even though it has been shown how incapable it is of reducing imbalance?
Which Saint should we revere?
Faced with the failure of feminist activism and the law as a form of protection and a guarantee of respect for women’s rights, what can women do to make themselves heard? Catherine Millet? Isabelle Alonzo? (2) The veil?
No. Catherine Millet’s literary talents are accepted; we can smile at and share in Isabelle Alonzo’s concerns in the media; we can understand the worries of young women in les banlieues who want to make people respect them by wearing the veil. But these signs of a fight by women are unfortunately too contextual, too personal, too provocative and too marginal to be an adequate response to such a serious problem.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, law and militancy remain the only pillars through which women’s rights can advance. They are the only two levers we can count on in a world where wait-and-see policies are applied for fundamental issues and hysteria over minor problems undermine the core work which must continue to be implemented without respite. Simply put, society as a whole must consider these two pillars differently and give them the attention and the respect that they deserve without compromising on the law and without smiling in the face of militancy.
Don’t watch The Bachelor
Firstly, the law must be applied and its very existence must not be a pretext for inaction. The dominated in this world no longer define themselves as such because a new ideology, legalistic, asserts that if anti-discrimination laws exist, discrimination disappears automatically. Punishments must be more numerous. They must discourage the acceptance of phenomenon which are only sustainable if observed passively with a shrug of the shoulders. The parity law must be applied; it must be applied in business and good practice must be developed, before discrimination erupts and a complaint is made by the injured party, a complaint which always comes far too late once the wrong has already been done and when punishments against the employer can no longer do much good. The Republic must refuse to install ‘communitarianism’, alibi of a clear conscience but which, in reality, hides the abandonment of young women to the law of their fathers, their brothers, their sons.
Feminists must make us want to believe in their actions again by refocusing on work ‘in the field’ and by taking back their legitimate place in the debate. Education and awareness must encourage everyone not to laugh at sexist behaviour, not to watch The Bachelor (3), not to keep quiet when confronted by chauvinism, whether in jest or not. All cultures can accept progress; statements can become actions; all violations can be punished. Every society can be educated through the law and through civil action, both of which must not be imposed unilaterally but created and developed under the positive influence of debate in the Republic.
(2) Catherine Millet is the author of ‘The Sexual Life of Catherine M.’ which concerns her unconventional sexual experiences as a 'free' woman. It caused something of a stir. Isabelle Alonso is the President of Chiennes de Garde (Female Guard Dogs), a group defending women’s rights. She appears regularly in the media.
(3) A television programme where a supposed millionaire chooses a partner from a group of 12 candidates.