"The hard-won rights of women are not set in stone"

News, Headline news

08/03/18

Obtaining civil rights, "Balance ton porc" and equal pay: Joëlle Magar-Braeuner, a sociologist and feminist studies researcher, analyses the major moments that have affected the history of women and will do so in the future.

Joëlle Magar-Braeuner has a bone to pick with those in France who call International Women's Day "La Journée de la Femme", and rightly so. "Why do we say "la femme" (woman) instead of "les femmes" (women)? "La femme" doesn't exist – we should be thinking about people, not an abstract essence. In the fight against anti-Semitism, it would be shocking to mention "La Journée du Juif" (literally "Day of the Jew")", says the researcher from the Quebec Network of Feminist Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, who is also a teaching fellow at the University of Strasbourg.

For the sociologist, who specialises in gender and education issues, there have always been women who have resisted over the course of history, such as the Beguines in the Middle Ages, who formed communities in order to escape from patriarchal control. Feminist movements date back to the nineteenth century. "We can talk about a feminist movement as a social movement as soon as there's an organisation in place.” At the time, women's concerns in the West revolved around obtaining civil rights, with the first victory being the right to vote.

"Balance ton porc" – a before and after moment

A second wave of feminism took off in the 60s/70s based on sexual and reproductive rights, with slogans including "Mon corps m’appartient" ("My body belongs to me") and "Le privé est politique" ("The private is political"). "We still had to wait until 1990 for marital rape to be recognised", notes Joëlle Magar-Braeuner. A third wave began in the 2000s, marked by the development of individual power to act, access to positions of power, political representation and professional equality.

A new chapter in women's history is currently being written with the Weinstein case, the hashtag #MeToo and its French equivalent #BalanceTonPorc ("expose your pig"). "The movement is huge and global. And maybe at some point we'll talk about it as a historic moment, with a before and after", says the sociologist. For her, the movement raises the question of how effective legal proceedings are when it comes to violence against women. "These hashtags spread so fast because of the impasse that women find themselves in when they are victims.”

The United States takes a step backwards

This movement lifts the curtain and calls for real change in terms of representation, the transformation of societal gender relations and the need to implement political means to remedy the issue. Joëlle Magar-Braeuner emphasises, however, that this is not an organised movement, simply women telling the story of their experiences. "It becomes feminist when we bring the issue of sexual violence into the public and political debate.”

Another big debate right now is the issue of professional equality. "In Canada, a budget of $3 billion over 5 years has been allocated to ensure equal pay. These changes, again, require changes to established standards: the amount on a payslip is simply the result of assumptions that drive society. "Underpinning this inequality, there is always a belief that a woman going out to work is less valid and that the work done by women is less valuable than the work done by men.”

In the United States, we are seeing regression when it comes to certain rights such as abortion, with the closure of centres in several states", says Joëlle Magar-Braeuner. For those affected, the battles to come will be fought to keep the rights they already have. "We're still a long way from a relationship in which structural domination is eradicated. Equality would be a situation where being a man or a woman no longer dictates your role in society." Something to think about...