Dispatches from Paris: Women’s Fashion of Protest

by on July 27, 2011 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, Women's Rights, World News

French women in protest from November, 2010.

Editor:  Please welcome our new stringer from Paris, France, R. Erickson, originally from San Diego.

By R. Erickson / Special to the OB Rag / July 27, 2011

PARIS, FRANCE: Americans who manage to avoid «American Idol» and see some films from France, see some photos or commercials of Paris, or even travel there, might have the image of women in flowing spring skirts or dresses, or in professional skirt suits.

Those images are true for central Paris, but don’t reflect another reality: that of the poorer and often immigrant suburbs which would be known as housing projects, or just the projects in New York . There is a type of sexist discrimination in these areas. High school girls and young women are obliged to wear pants and not skirts or dresses or they are likely to be treated as loose women. Some women from these neighborhoods have created an association «Ni Putes, ni Soumise»(neither whores nor submissive), NPNS, that works against discrimination and abuse of women..

Its originality is in that it is a grassroots organization that adresses the specific problems faced by women in these areas. It was created a few years ago by two women, Samira Bell and Fadella Amara. The latter was given a post in the government of the very rightwing president, Sarkozy, as an attempt to co-opt people outside the usual political circle, but she was eventually fired for being too outspoken. Another one was a black woman, Rama Yadi, who was put in charge of human rights and actually spoke out for them to the consernation of the government. Though she was very popular, she too was shown the door.

You might ask me why I spoke of skirts at the beginning. One of NPNS’s actions is «the day of the skirt». They organize girls to go to school wearing skirts or dresses to protest against the machismo of males in the neighborhood. This may seem a frivolous issue, but in its way makes at least an important symbolic point of a woman’s right to choose her lifestyle. Wearing skirts has become a sign of protest.

The struggle of women to be as they want has thus taken a hundred and eighty degree turn. This, after it took about a hundred and fifty years for them to get the right and be accepted to wear pants in civil society. During the Second World War, when they worked as ambulance drivers or certain other jobs, they could wear pants. There is still a law on the books that dates from 1800 that requires women to get the permission of a local or regional authority to wear pants. In the 1920‘s a female car racing champion was famous for wearing pants and Coco Chanel made them a la mode, but to a limited extent.

The prejudice of some men against women wearing skirts today extends beyond the poorer suburbs to the national parliament, where incidentally women are still largely underrepresented. Women representatives complain that they often get disobliging, sexist, or suggestive remarks from male members when they wear skirts to the national assembly.

For those who read French NPNS has expanded its activities and is active in defending women’s rights in foreign countries including especially the cause of individuals who are persecuted and in danger. More information can be found at NPNS Wikipedia France .

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace July 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm

R- thanks for your post. I did a google search for slutwalk france and didn’t come up with anything. But I did find information that the French government has required Muslim women to stop covering their faces. There are certainly some mixed messages going on over there as well as here but the underlying message is that women are incapable of making decisions on their own behalf. I hope you keep us updated.


Frank Gormlie July 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Anna, I also thought of our slutwalk: http://obrag.org/?p=39598


RErickson July 28, 2011 at 1:59 am

annagrace, with the burka issue there really isn’t a mixed message nor even a big controversy. French women, in particular those of Islamic heritage and young, strongly support the ban. It is not a question of women’s rights, but the contrary. The burka issue is fabricated by small factions of misogynist and extremist Muslim men. It is an attempt to intimidate “westernized” women in neighborhoods populated in large part by people from Islamic countries. In other words, it is the thin edge of the wedge.

Most French citizens of Islamic origin are quite well integrated with the second and third generation. Of course there is still inadmissible discrimination. Many still go through the motions of the traditional rites, but you might be surprised to see the number of bars/restaurants run by people from North Africa, called Magrebins in French. It is a descriptive word, not at all derogatory.

This is a large subject, so I would have to write a whole article about it.


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