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Feminism & French Women in History: A Resource Guide

Contemporary French Feminism

Derrière le niqab. By Agnès de Féo. (Malakoff : Armand Colin, 2020). Library of Congress General Collections.

There has been an awakening in the first two decades of the 21st century to the significance of the French overseas empire. The affects of the French empire on colonized peoples has come under increased scrutiny by modern scholars. Historian Jennifer Boittin focuses on the contact between continental France and colonial spaces in West Africa, the Caribbean, North Africa and French Indochina. In her recent work, Undesirable : passionate mobility and women's defiance of French colonial policing, 1919-1952, she has expanded her study to include how feminists play into these already complicated relationships when addressing the issue of the hijab, for example. In 2007 France banned the headscarves worn by many Muslim women as it was seen to be contrary to the cultural mores of metropolitan France. As in past centuries, women's choice on how to dress themselves came under attack. The task before France today is complex as it attempts to grapple with how their color-blind notion of universalism fails to account for differences of religion, culture, and race. Scholar and filmaker Mame-Fatou Niang co-authored a study with Julien Suaudeau aptly titled, Universalisme as well as the study, Identités françaises : banlieues, féminités et universalisme. Journalist, filmmaker and self-described anti-racist advocate, Rokhaya Diallo explored these issues with co-author Grace Ly in the 2022 book, Kiffe ta race : explorer les questions raciales sans tabou. In this book, the title of which uses the popular word kiffe for "to like," the authors discuss a variety of race issues in France and in particular the way France recognizes — or fails to recognize — those with hyphenated identities and the minority Asian population. In her 2019 book La France, tu l'aimes ou tu la fermes?, Diallo confronts sexism, racism, the legacy of colonialism, French identity, and the misuse of secularism (laïcité) in France. She also discusses cultural and political topics in America, with chapters on the Black Lives Matter movement, the American series "Mad Men", and the Oscars among other topics. Diallo is also a regular contributor the Washington Post Global Opinions.

The past twenty years have also seen the slow introduction of women’s studies and gender studies courses into French universities. French academics and researchers studying issues of gender and sexuality have organized since the 1990s in collaborative research groups and consortia. Consortia such as the Centre d'Enseignement, de Documentation et de Recherche pour les Etudes Féministes. External or CEDRIF (Center for Teaching, Research and Documentation for Feminist Studies) and Marché du travail et genre External or MAGE, work on the history of gender and sexuality as well as on new issues at the forefront of French feminist activism and intersectionality in a French as well as an international context. Les Cahiers du CEDREF External is a multidisciplinary feminist journal published annually. The journal is attached to the Center for Teaching, Documentation and Research for Feminist Studies of the University of Paris Diderot. It is specially oriented towards cutting-edge research (postcolonial and transnational feminism) and the translation of founding texts in the field, as well as new research in feminist studies.

 

Le combat féministe se gagne devant le panier de linge sale: "The feminist fight is won in front of the dirty laundry basket" -Titou Lecoq, Liberées!

 

Outside of academia, the growing accessibility of digital media has transformed the methods of communication and organization among French feminists from a primarily physical print culture to a born-digital culture of feminist communications. Along with the rise of social media in the mid-2000s, contemporary feminist activists and educators in France have access to a wider audience. Feminist issues have become more widely supported in France than at any other point in history, and feminism as an area of study and discourse has expanded to engage with other disciplines intersectionally. Today’s feminists engage with disability studies, antiracist activism, queer theory, and cultural inclusivity in a wide variety of forums. LGBT rights in France External have made strides in the past decades, granting not only recognition of same-sex marriage, but also winning gains in the area of adoption and family planning. In 2020 the Senate approved a bill granting lesbian couples access to assisted reproductive technology (procréation médicalement assistée, PMA) and this bill took effect in 2021. A new generation of feminists that have come of age around the mouvement #metoo External is more conscious of the choices and power that they have. A significant part of women’s studies in France has turned towards studying these parallel feminist movements. French activism and political work have focused on amplifying the unique and intersectional feminist issues faced by formerly colonized populations as well as their diasporic communities in France.

Le génie lesbien. By Alice Coffin. (Paris: Grasset, 2020). Library of Congress General Collections.

The sources for studying French feminist culture have expanded exponentially since the 1990s, both in terms of new media and in terms of increased access to historical documents through digitization. While feminist thought, scholarship, and activism still circulate in the form of print books, journals, conference papers, and newspapers rooted in French feminist culture, they can increasingly be found on websites, blogs, in graphic novels, comics and through street art and podcasts. Comic designers such as Pénélope Bagieu grapple with feminist issues through her various characters in print and film. Titiou Lecoq uses her blog (Girlsandgeeks) as a forum to discuss life's trials and collaborates with Slate.fr to take on serious issues such as féminicides and outlines her views in her book Libérées. Accounts on Instagram, such as that of Fannyvella, can be a way for women to communicate about issues they encounter. Marion Pillas, founder of the 2021 magazine La Déferlante External (Breaking Wave), points to a new feminist media that is beginning to emerge in France. Podcasts such as Les coquilles sur la table External (Balls on the table) later became a book by Victoire Tuaillon discussing masculine identity in the 21st century. Concepts such as "Ecofeminism" and "Mom Power" are discussed in podcasts such as Un podcast à soi External. Feminist activist Lauren Bastide hosts the popular La Poudre External where she interviews important figures. Online magazines such as Les Glorieuses External and ChEEk Magazine External are making their presence known with popular followings and a new tone and approach to feminism. Meanwhile mainstream magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue are making changes in the images they promote and the content they publish.  Featuring writers from Africa, Asia and North America is helping to make the feminist movement global in scope. It is important to point out that though the Second Wave had reached the end of its peak by the 1990s, women’s rights and the wider acceptance of feminism that was growing in France took root in different ways across the French-speaking world, often as a direct result of French imperialism and its consequences.

Fadela Amara's call to action decades ago with the movement Ni Putes Ni Soumises External, and her book Taking French Feminism to the Streets, underscores the complicated work of reconciling the inequities that face the predominantly Muslim minorities in France's banlieues. Her book aims at inclusivity of women of the quartiers (neighborhoods) and her manifesto is devoted to passionate but peaceful protest. Still, the message has come under criticism as a means for hijacking feminism in order to justify prejudiced policies in France such as making the veil illegal. An issue that affects all women in France is that of femicide, the murder of a woman on account of her gender. One of the most effective campaigns in France, Collage féministe External, involves collages that are put up on walls in French cities to draw attention to violence against women External. To many feminists in France, the need for awareness and visibility is paramount. Feminist activist and lesbian Alice Coffin argues in her book, Le génie lesbien External, that lesbians in France through the ages have practiced a sort of "discretion" that prevented the "coming out" process seen more in the United States. She cites the separation between private and public life in France as being at fault, adding that it was both inspiring and disheartening to find that most of her female role models from French history were lesbians, and yet that was not mentioned as part of their identity. Coffin was influenced by the LGBTQ movement in America and her book has been pivotal in opening the discussion yet again around the fact that community-based ideologies are often viewed as potentially problematic for the French nation. She's not the only French thinker to find the United States to be a more receptive proving ground. Radical French writer Monique Wittig found a teaching position not in France — but at the University of Arizona — and was published in the United States 20 years before being published in France. Other contemporary scholars have found themselves in the same situation; securing jobs in a variety of departments in American Universities. France seems slower to embrace some of these movements and authors such as Jean Gabard discuss the place of men in this philosophy he calls néo-feminism External. These debates continue to play out in the French media and in communities throughout France.

Kiffe ta race. By Rokhaya Diallo and Grace Ly. (Paris: First Editions, 2021). Library of Congress General Collections.

Below is a timeline of some of the major developments in French feminism and women’s studies over the past 30 years, as well as trends in contemporary feminist scholarship and search terms that may help in locating French sources on these topics.

Notable Dates:

  • 1990: The Gayssot Law is passed allowing judges to impose penalties on those convicted of racist crimes and instituting an annual National Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) report on racism
  • 1991: Edith Cresson becomes France’s first woman Prime Minister
  • 1992: Francoise Gaspard, Claude Servan-Schreiber and Anne le Gall publish Au Pouvoir Citoyennes (Women Citizens to Power), arguing for 50/50 parity in political representation
  • 1992: workplace sexual harassment is subject to legal consequences
  • 1993: “Manifesto of the 577” published in Le Monde shows support for gender parity in government
  • 1994: Marital rape is criminalized
  • 1995: World Conference on Women in Beijing; beginning of the “third wave” of feminism in the West
  • 1996: “Manifesto of the ten for parity” published in L’Express, signed by prominent women figures including Simone Veil and Edith Cresson
  • 1998: Prime Minister Jospin and President Jacques Chirac jointly sponsor an amendment to Article 3 of the Constitution: ‘Statutes shall promote equal access by women and men to elective office and positions’
  • 1999: Civil solidarity pacts (Pacte civil de solidarite or PACS) extended to LGBTQ+ couples
  • 2000: The Parity Law is passed, requiring parties to endorse an equal number of men and women candidates in municipal, legislative and European elections
  • 2010s: Beginning of the “fourth wave” of feminism, growing use of social media for feminist causes and information
  • 2011: France bans face coverings, including the burqa and niqab, in public spaces
  • 2013: Mariage pour tous marriage equality for same-sex couples is passed
  • 2016: Muslim woman in Nice forced by French police to remove her burkini External following the ban of full-body swimsuits in 15 towns across France
  • 2018: Law against outrages sexistes (‘street harassment’) introduced by Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa is passed by the Senate
  • 2019: Tous égaux, tous alliés (All equal, all allied) campaign launched by the Ministry of Education to combat anti-LGBT bullying in school
  • 2021: Lesbian couples granted legal access to procréation médicalement assistée, PMA, assisted reproductive technology.
  • March 8: La Journée internationale des droits des femmes External (International Women's Rights Day)
Notre colère sur vos murs. Photos by Tay Calenda and Léa Michaëlis. (Paris: Denoël, 2021). Library of Congress General Collections.

Search Terms & Phrases

  • Communautarisme: Identity politics
  • L’emancipation: Empowerment
  • Interdisciplinarité: refers to the communication between two or more disciplines (in academia), for example the interactions between critical race theory and feminist theory
  • Féminicide: Femicide refers to violence against women
  • La liberté d'importuner: The freedom to bother is an expression from an early 2018 manifesto written by women who were concerned that the #Balance ton porc movement would prevent men from hitting on women
  • La charge mentale: The mental load is a current French and American feminist issue that often alludes to the disparity between men and women in the amount of invisible labor involved in managing a household and family. It was brought into the limelight in May 2017 by a blog-post-turned-graphic-novel entitled Fallait Demander (‘You should have asked’), by the blogger Emma

Social Media

  • #MoiAussi: #MeToo External
  • #Moiaussifemmesnoires
  • #MoiAussiTheatre
  • #MoiAussiIncest
  • #Noustoutes
  • #NousToutesHarcelement

For further information see the book, French feminisms 1975 and after : new readings, new texts by Margaret Atack, Alison S. Fell, Diana Holmes and Imogen Long.

The collections of the Library of Congress tell the rich and diverse story of LGBTQ+ life in America and around the world. For more information on resources on LGBTQIA+ Studies, see the LGBTQIA+ Studies: A Resource Guide and Library Resources on LGBTQ+.

Print Resources

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Finding Additional Materials in the Library's Online Catalog

The Library of Congress Online Catalog represents a collection of over 18 million catalog records for books, serials, manuscripts, maps, music, recordings, images, and electronic resources in the Library of Congress collections. To find additional materials about Women in the French Revolution it is useful to browse by authorized subject heading. The following Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) will reveal the most relevant materials in the Library's collections.

There will be some overlap, and these subject headings are not always entirely comprehensive. For example, Women revolutionaries--France--Biography will not bring you every biography on revolutionary women in France. You will find additional works under Women intellectuals--France--Biography.