“One is not born a woman, one becomes one”. The famous sentence by Simone de Beauvoir has become over the years the “must-use” sentence when writing an article about feminism. Although the book was written in 1949 and the woman condition has somehow improved in western societies, the feminist ideas have outlived De Beauvoir and are still vivid today.

I have actually witnessed a surge in feminist ideas for the last 6 months in France. I can’t tell when it exactly started; I can just tell the national dispute over the ban of the Islamic veil in French public spaces has made people start to think about what is the place of the women in society today. The recent alleged sexual assault of the former IMF president on a hotel maid then fuelled the debate, as some reactions from famous French intellectuals were considered as pure machismo. The society also became aware that many women victims of sexual abuse do not sue their aggressor, as they feel their testimony as woman is not as considered as valuable as men’s one, and the police is not supportive enough. It kept on with the slutwalks, and I keep reading articles everyday on the Internet or in newspapers about the place and position of women today in the society.

The debate over feminism is the most visible in the critics from several influential female bloggers on products tailored to fit specifically a female audience: women magazines and chick lit (including comics) mostly. The critics are focusing on several points:
  • The superficiality of these products:  although not focusing specifically on fashion, appearance, cosmetics and sex, they always end up dealing with these themes
  • The image of women in these works: it appears superficial, vain, limited only to the aforementioned themes and only focused on pleasing men esthetically.
  • The quality of the works. Tailored to address a specifically feminine target audience, the production is focused only on “looking pretty” and does not want to increase the global intellectual level of its readers. Instead, it leaves them in their “comfort zone” with poor intellectual content.

Although these critics seem sound, I think the revival of the debate on feminism can be explained by 2 factors:
  • The use of very segmenting marketing methods in books and magazine publishing to face the press crisis
  • The coming of age of the Nintendo generation
For many years, France was a place where hypersegmenting marketing, i.e. designing a product only for a very specific audience, was not in use. It’s been only 10 years that mainstream books are starting to have pictures on their covers, do not have a white background or the title font may be “girly”. Magazines have followed the same evolution, the titles targeting women are pinker and pinker. In the same way, the content of the books and magazine has been adjusted to fit the target of the potential reader, in order to leave her in her “comfort zone”: no disturbing/shocking content, reassuring messages, etc… The global press crisis has accelerated this movement.

The coming of age of the Nintendo generation is interesting: now, the main generation of the children of the Baby-boomers is reaching its thirties, and is starting to make kids. Suddenly, the women of that age are realizing that it is difficult to face both a successful professional career and have a family life. They realize that there is still inequality between men and women, and although they had the same education as men had, they will never be given the same chances. The fact that most of the time they will have to take care of the kids, meaning that they will have a double day of work (once in the office, once at home) is more than enough for a revival of the feminism in the intellectual space.

In my own opinion, it’s a good thing. I believe in equality between men and women, and I deeply despise companies who pay women less because they are women, or who deter them from having longer baby holidays (yes, it exists in France in the 21st century). The French society is a bit racist, a bit macho and managed by a bunch of guys who don’t know the meaning of teamwork and who only think about the next election. The French model does not have only drawbacks, but the consequences of its flaws must be exposed and fought. Social progress can only be reached through this collective intellectual work, and I do hope some politicians less stupid than the other will carry on this movement and vote laws that will really make things change. Next year is presidential and general election. Let’s hope for the best!
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