Tag Archives: France

The French art of war

“About time such a book was brought to the forefront!” I have not read it (yet) but that’s the first thing that came to my mind when I read this about Alex Jenni’s “reflection on France’s colonial history in Indochina and Algeria”. Now I need to dig it! 


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Women as defined by the French

The discrepancy between women’s civil status on documents and men’s is today highlighted in an article by France 24:

Is that Madame… or Mademoiselle?” It’s a question often asked in France, whether you’re opening a bank account, voting, or even booking a train ticket. French feminists argue that France needs to get with it, and stop defining women by their marital status.

Married French women are not only defined by their marital status but are often defined and identified through their husbands: official mail such as bank or tax letters are often addressed to women through their husbands’ name. For example, if Marie Dupont is married to Jacques Dupont, letters meant for her will be sent to Madame Jacques Dupont.

This habit inscribed in every day institutions reflects a wider problem: women are still not seen as independent and capable people. According to the article, France was ranked “a poor 46th in global gender equality at the World Economic Forum last year” and in a country where women are still paid 30% less than men (French link), this is not surprising.

“Small” steps such as revising women’s civil status would not change anything for administrations but would do a lot to ensure that women’s image in society is re-evaluated and more positive.

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Respect our women!

I just found a post about “The Adventures of Salwa” on “Stop Street Harassment“!

“The Adventures of Salwa” was created by Lebanese feminist group Nasawiya  as a campaign against sexual harassment in Lebanon.  I first discovered Salwa at a Lebanese cinema and was pleased that clips of Salwa were broadcast before the beginning of films.

I have witnessed sexual harassment in both Lebanon and France; sexual harassment is not flattering nor pleasing, it is offensive and makes women feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I wish an initiative similar to “The Adventures of Salwa” was taken in France to replace the deprecating and sexist advertisements we see every day on television and elsewhere.  Here are a few that I remember seeing recently – unfortunately they are only a micro-sample of  the kind of sexism that is too widely visible and accepted over here.

This ad is for an online shopping website:

[Translation of the dialogue:
– Your dress is very nice.
– Thank you – order on Zalando, they have a good choice of  clothes and shoes. We all order there. See Julie’s dress (the woman on the chair)? It’s from Zalando. Isn’t it great?
– Quiet! Stay on the floor!]

“Hurlez de plaisir” meaning  “scream out of pleasure”…

A car ad:

[Vous voulez? Vous pouvez. = You want? You can.]

In these advertisements women are depicted as downright stupid and artificial. You might also notice the implicit sexual connotation of each of the slogans. These slogans are associated with distorted images of women and repeated to viewers regularly. Women are not only about appearances and these ads encourage street harassment; they project the idea that women are commodities or objects one may have fun with.

“Stop Street Harassment” has a “harassment map” where people can tag a location and describe how they have been harassed (unsurprisingly we are talking mostly about women here…). The location tags are not representative of the countries where there is the most harassment (users connect to the website and tag themselves randomly) but it is obvious that the phenomenon is spread worldwide. Another interesting feature of the website is the emphasis on collaboration with men (“male allies“). If men are not the only perpetrators of sexism, working on respecting women more needs to be done with them and not against them.

Let us all respect our women!

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Sarkozy & the Israel-Palestine peace process

Today at the U.N. General Assembly, Sarkozy announced he was in favour of scheduling the Israel-Palestine peace process and reaching a deal in a year’s time. Sarkozy’s interest in the resolution of the conflict seems to coincide with France’s involvement with Libya’s new government; this probably testifies of France’s wish to consolidate its relations with the Middle East, in particular in these times of change.

Green politician Noël Mamère also pointed out the electoral stakes of Sarkozy’s position*: supporting Palestinians in some way or other is a way of remaining politically neutral with respect to a highly controversial issue. Foreign relations will not be a point of contestation from opponents when election time comes next year.

Also, the Palestinian cause is massively supported by France’s Muslim community and Sarkozy’s new move may serve to camouflage the controversial ban on the niqab that became effective in France in April 2011 . Is Sarkozy trying to appeal to France’s Muslim community while remaining attractive to far-right voters?

[* I will update this post with a link as soon as possible]

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Decolonisation in school books

In relation to my post about Paris’ Museum for Immigration, I would like to mention a young comedian I discovered last weekend on a French comedy show. “Rire Contre le Racisme” (Laughing Against Racism) is a stand-up show with various comedians supposed to make people aware of racism and fight against it. Most of the comedians were boring – if not racist themselves – but fourteen year-old Stephane Bak stuck out and made some smart points about contemporary problems that young people from migrant backgrounds are sometimes faced with; for example he pointed out that the teenage black boy he is could not relate to his school history books as he could not find his own history inside them. I quote him: “the only time I see a black person he is wearing underpants and is being whipped!”. History books would therefore only depict the indigenous populations of the former colonies as “Exotic” figures subjected to the Frenchman.

This reminded me of how French school books are very backwards in how they explain colonisation and decolonisation. I myself remember studying decolonisation as a list: 1956 independence of Tunisia and Morocco, 1958 independence of Guinea etc. Algeria got a little more attention but only because the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale, the Algerian independence movement) was deemed violent enough to be mentioned as it led a series of attacks in France. No mention was made of what France did to Algerians and of its illegitimate presence in Algeria. This approach to France’s recent history goes back to 2005 (43 years after the independence of Algeria!) and I doubt the contents of school books have changed much today…

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French socialists en avant-première

Although the French presidential elections will only be taking place next year, the French media is already buzzing and fussing. About political alliances. About potential candidates. And mostly, about who will be elected within the French Socialist party to represent it. French presidential elections take place every five years, with a large panel of parties. In 2007, twelve candidates were running. Whether this large number of candidates illustrates democracy or confusion is debatable; maybe there is a bit of both.

To summarise the French electoral system very briefly: there are two ballots; during the first round the two candidates with the most votes go through while during the second, one of the two remaining candidates needs to collect more than 50% of the votes to be elected president. Democracy translates into the diversity of opinions represented but confusion prevails when you realise that the smaller parties – in particular left-wing parties – never really have a chance of winning; the French Left is divided into different factions instead of constituting one block of opposition and this enables larger right-wing parties to go through.

To give an example, in 2002, the extreme- right National Front (FN) went through to the second ballot along with the equivalent of the French conservative party (at the time “RPR”, now “UMP”)  as all left-wing votes were spread between different parties. Because of this, no left-wing party was numerically important enough to go to the second round. The 2002 election was unexpected as the two most influential parties of the country are the French Socialist Party and Sarkozy’s conservative UMP . It ended with massive votes against the National Front which reflected panic rather than actual support to former President Jacques Chirac.

My post started with the interest of the media in the Socialist Party’s internal elections; it will soon be choosing who will be its candidate for the presidential elections. These internal elections have been widely covered by the media since Spring although they will only take place in October of this year. A debate between these candidates (there are six of them) will take place tonight on national television. Here is the party’s presentation page for all the candidates – I’m afraid it is only available in French but it still gives an idea of the set-up.

Unfortunately, while the party seems to think that this is a sign of greater democracy – other parties do not expose their internal elections as openly – these elections, or “primaires socialistes” as they are called, are detrimental to its image. They denote internal divisions instead of the idea of a strong unit that will be running for presidency in a few months’ time. It will be difficult for French voters to trust them completely if they are fighting among their own ranks, especially when most of the candidates lack charisma.

Without being a big supporter of the Socialist Party in itself, it is problematic that the only “left-wing” party with enough weight might not be able to oppose right-wing parties such as the UMP which encompasses more and more discriminatory ideologies, or maybe even the FN. In the meantime, Sarkozy is travelling around France (his latest appearance was where new trains were being built: “le train, c’est la France”, “the train is France” – no comment); he was also very patriotic the last national day before the elections (14 July) by defending French soldiers in Afghanistan, and his wife is now pregnant. Nice PR, cliché, but probably efficient in comparison…

So far, so bad?

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Immigration in a museum

This time, no Louvre, no Notre-Dame. I’ve heard of the Museum for Immigration (Cité de l’Immigration) and I want to see it. I can’t quite recall how I found out about it but during a recent stay in Paris I knew I would feel disappointed if I left without visiting. Being of Mauritian-Indian descent and having studied migration to the UK for more than a year for my dissertation, I felt curious about how migration would be presented in a French museum. The museum is relatively new, from 2007; it is also far-off – you have to change a good number of lines to get there – though it is easy to find. I expected to find information about the different waves of migration to France, the Poles, Portuguese, Italians, North Africans, how they arrived and worked and maybe, integrated. I did not know what else I would see, and hoped the museum would surprise me with an interesting take on multiculturalism or racism for instance.

To my disappointment, I found only what I had expected. The museum is divided into three parts (as explained by the guide provided inside): the first deals with migration in itself, the countries from which people left and how they arrived in France. The second explains how migrants found work, went to school and depicts their every day life in French society including sports. The third part is dedicated to objects and words from other countries, some of which have now been adopted by French culture and language.

What struck me was that the museum dealt with all these themes quite superficially, and in a very neutral manner. The link between North Africans/ Africans and France through the former empire is only mentioned in passing when I believe that more context should be given to better understand the ties that exist between France and those countries today. Discrimination was depicted in old posters and caricatures but nearly only there. It was interesting to read about the evolution of laws with regards to migrants but it would have been nice to find more information about far-right movements and anti-racism organisations (such as SOS Racisme). Also, the themes of integration and mixing lacked body and needed to be dealt with more extensively.

What about the National Front? What about neo-colonialism *inside* France? What about food? Why not say out loud and clear that France is still a discriminatory state with right-wing parties while couscous is now part of French cuisine?

Practically speaking, the museum also lacked a few basics such as couches in front of the tv screens instead of just the one stool.

Despite these drawbacks, the museum is still a great initiative and the website is a good introduction to anything to do with immigration in France. The staff was also very helpful and friendly so the museum has a lot of potential on top of being modern. I did not visit it myself but I heard their library was good.

In any case, any initiative to contribute to better understanding other cultures is not to be undermined and this is certainly not my purpose here. I rather like to think that we should endeavour to develop them and make them better. Immigration cannot be dealt with superficially in terms of figures and maps. We have to be more open about it and make sure that all the issues it encompasses are not taboo!

[The papers read: “work permit”, “residence permit”, “identity card”, “passport”, “orange card” (transport card) and “breathing authorization”.]

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