We live in a democracy. There is freedom of speech, but not all debates are equal.
Any woman who asserts herself or puts herself forward, runs the risk of being called a "tart". If she is successful, she is suspected of having played couch politics. Every woman in the public eye is judged on her appearance and labelled "motherly", "the maid", a "dyke", a "bimbo" etc.…
… ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!
We, members of SHE-WATCH, have decided to bare our teeth.
Sexist remarks about a woman in the public eye insult all women.
We undertake to show our support to women in public life who are insulted as women.
We contend that all women must be free in both action and choice.
SHE-WATCH defends something of great value: the dignity of women.
We intend to place the debate on a higher plane!
Here is a list of our first actions :
— On March 8th, 1999, the International Day of Women, some of us defended Dominique Voynet, the "Green" Minister insulted because she was a woman.
— On September 6th, 1999, SHE-WATCH demanded a public apology from the French trade-union Force Ouvrière, the Radio France branch of which had published a tract with sexist insults against Laure Adler, the Director of the radio station France Culture. We also asked Marc Blondel, the General Secretary of the union, to place the combat against sexism on the agenda of the union's next National Assembly. He has until October 17th 1999 to reply.
— On September the 26th, 1999, we wrote to Le Monde, which published without critical analysis serious accusations by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangla Desh, against the feminist writer Taslima Nasreen, who, like Salman Rusdhie, lives under the constant threat of death from an Islamic fundamentalist fatwa. Le Monde published our text on October 1st, 1999.
— On October 6th, 1999, we reacted to a CEO's sexist remarks about Martine Aubry (Minster of Employment) with an open letter to Ernest-Antoine Seillière, president of MEDEF (French Federation of Employers), requesting a public disavowal of these comments and for the MEDEF to take a clear stand against sexism, including it as part of the platform at their next General Assembly. Le Monde published excerpts of this letter on Oct. 6.
This is what our network does: when we learn that a woman in the public eye has received sexist insults in public, we intervene, by releasing a communiqué in support of the woman. It is sent to the Agence France Presse and other media. We also use other methods of dissemination and highly visible demonstrations.
Sign the Manifesto ! Join our organisation ! Men welcome.
NO MORE SEXIST VIOLENCE!
More explanations (March 8th 1999)
Every woman in French politics today has received sexist insults, such as "stupid cow", "slag", "bitch" etc., scrawled on their campaign posters, shouted in public or over the telephone: insults In a country which is proud of its tradition of gallantry (which could be viewed as the polite face of sexism) any woman taking an initiative is likely to be treated in this way (the word prostitute originally meant "exposed"). When Simone Veil defended a French law on abortion, the key to women's freedom, in 1974, she was insulted; then other women in the public eye, such as Yvette Roudy in 1983 when she wanted to pass an anti-sexist law; Edith Cresson, who was Prime Minister in 1991 and, more recently, Nicole Notat, the general secretary of one of France's largest trade unions, were all subjected to sexist attacks whose violence was directed at their femininity. Recently, machos made sneering remarks such as "vaginal verbosity" when Roselyne Bachelot, a member of Parliament, stood up to make a speech, and others told the "Green" minister Dominique Voynet to "take her knickers off". Women politicians - and indeed most other women - are not judged on their capabilities, but too often on their physical appearance alone (adjectives such as "sultry", "charming", "portly", "sensible" etc. are bandied about) and assimilated with a sexual function : ("motherly", "big sister", "dyke", "slag" etc.)
The very rare women in politics before 1974 were not treated with such violence. Most of those in politics shortly after the War had been active in the Resistance, which probably contributed to the respect they received. The feminism of the seventies, with slogans such as "our bodies ourselves" and "the personal is political" caused a backlash in the anti-feminist current, which has always been virulent in France. Now, as in the past, and in France, as elsewhere (Algeria, Afghanistan etc.), those who cannot accept the legitimacy of female participation in decisions on a par with men use violence as a method of reducing all women to invisibility and silence.
In other developed countries, women politicians are not attacked with such machismo. Why is France an exception? Is it because women were originally excluded from the French Republic? It was only on April 21st 1944 that French women obtained the vote, 96 years after the French Republic declared so-called "universal suffrage". Unlike in neighbouring countries, the number of women elected to parliament is still ridiculously small.
The Caillaux case in 1914 and the suicide of Roger Salengro in 1936 are two examples of how violent insults and public mud-slinging between male politicians could, in the past, be used to gun down enemies. Evolving attitudes and a growing trend towards lawsuits encouraged a measure of self control in democratic debate amongst men in politics. But what about women? Well, from 1981 to 1986, the then Minister of Women's rights, Yvette Roudy, accomplished great work, but failed to obtain an anti-sexist law, along the lines of the anti-racist law of 1972. Today, it is up to us, women and men, to make our voices heard in the name of liberté, égalité, fraternité… and tolerance. We demand a law against sexism. We demand an in-depth analysis, educational resources and preventive measures. We want to live in a society in which we can act freely, respecting others and being respected by them.
It would probably be wiser to "être économe de son mépris, en raison du si grand nombre de nécessiteux" ("be thrifty with contempt, for there are so many in need of it"), but is it reasonable to hope that mentalities will change uniquely of their own accord, under the beneficial influence of civilisation? What if we gave civilisation a helping hand?
A sexist insult to a public woman insults all women.
It is time we said no and bared our teeth.
Together! For there is strength in unity.