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French feminism is being corrupted American activism has seeped into our culture


December 21, 2023   7 mins

Five summers ago, in June 2018, a short clip from Arrêt Sur Images, a French talk show, went viral after a balding, bearded male reprimanded the host for calling him a man. “Je ne suis pas un homme, monsieur,” Arnaud Gauthier-Fawas insisted. “I don’t know what made you say this.” When the host explained that it was due to Gauthier-Fawas’s appearance, he replied: “Really? You should not mistake my gender identity and my gender expression or we’ll get off to a bad start!” The LGBT activist then clarified that he was “non-binaire”.

The exchange became a famous WTF? moment in France. Very few took it seriously. No one realised back then that Gauthier-Fawas was the future.

Last October, I was invited onto a TV show called Quelle Époque to debate Marie Cau, France’s first transgender woman mayor. I say “debate”; I wasn’t listened to. I was described as “hysterical” by one guest for saying that I didn’t believe that Cau was a woman and my rhetoric was described as fascistic. Not one of the eight-strong panel agreed with me, and the studio audience applauded every time someone mocked me.

When I did get the chance to speak, I said: “For me, Marie Cau is a man. A transfeminine man — a person who is biologically a male but who has tastes that match with what people call ‘the woman gender’.” For this, I was branded a transphobe and I am currently being sued by Cau and three LGBT lobby groups for “hate speech”.

After the show was broadcast, the French politicians weighed in. Isabelle Rome, the minister for gender equality, diversity and equal opportunities, shared a clip of my debate on Twitter, saying: “These words are very violent. Every person needs to be respected for their gender identity or for their sexual orientation. It’s not others who have to define the contours. To use the words of Amin Maalouf: ‘It’s our gaze who liberates.’” She then invited Cau to meet her, and posted a photo of the two saying: “We need to build a fraternal society where each person is respected beyond his gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Having raged for years in the UK and US, the transgender debate has finally hit France. And you might say we deserve it; even that we are partly to blame. Back in the Sixties, a group of postmodern French philosophers introduced “French theory” to the world. It was a challenge to the idea that there is a single innate meaning in anything: we should, they assert, deconstruct language, science, even our human nature. We’ve got Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to thank for the idea that there is no objective truth.

So far, so interesting. In France, we are philosophers. We enjoy ideas for their own sake and have no problem with letting a concept stay as it is – conceptual. But Americans are different. Their activists like to apply theory to the real world. So when Americans, such as Judith Butler, got hold of “French theory”, they applied it to American culture and political activism, which gave birth to post-colonial theory, gender theory and, inevitably, transgender ideology: the idea that language and biological sex can be deconstructed so that women become “menstruating people” and men can be mothers.

Then, the Americans threw it back at us. And that language and ideology is seeping into French culture and taking hold of young imaginations.

Only last year, Le Planning Familial (PF), a state-funded network of organisations providing sex education and reproductive services, launched a campaign with an illustration of a “pregnant man”. The poster read: “At Planning, we know that men can get pregnant, too.” The PF also stated that sex is a social construct, a gay man can have a vulva, a penis is not a male organ, and the use of the words “female and male” should be banned. This is an organisation that is providing sex education in schools across France.

French children are no different from those the world over: curious, vulnerable, easily influenced. And the more they absorb, the more they are choosing to reject the traditional gender binary and asserting their right to identify as trans or non-binary. Marry this with the move in medicine to champion a child’s right to self-determine, and we’re in dangerous waters. According to Jean Chambry, a child psychiatrist in charge of the CIAPA (Intersectoral Centre for Adolescents in Paris), a decade or so ago there were about 10 requests for gender reassignment per year; in 2020, it was 10 requests per month, in the Île-de-France region alone.

Chambry has spoken of a worrying acceleration of medical responses to these transition requests; that, as demand surges, barriers to treatment are being significantly weakened. It is currently possible for children and adolescents to be prescribed puberty blockers and hormones if their parents agree — though surgery isn’t supposed to take place before the age of 18. Yet, since last November, those wishing to commence the transitioning process no longer need a psychiatric follow-up. Medical insurance will also now cover the entire cost of a transition (including mastectomy and phalloplasty). And a new law against “conversion therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity” has made it incredibly hard for psychiatrists and psychologists to counsel gender-confused children or adults.

Today, in France, any criticism of this new orthodoxy is quickly shut down. Even our dictionary, Le Robert, has included “iel” — a gender-neutral pronoun, like “they” in English — in its online version. The word has yet to find favour with the general public.

Elsewhere, activists have also infiltrated anti-discrimination boards, which are now prioritising transphobia over racism. Consider Dilcrah, the Interministerial Delegation for the Fight Against Racism, Antisemitism and Anti-LGBT Hatred, a government body responsible for guiding public policy on discrimination. In January, it was quietly closed down. The party line is that it was dissolved because the team was inefficient. Certainly, it was inefficient when it came to finding common ground on gender ideology. Former president, Smaïn Laacher, is a member of L’Observatoire de la Petite Sirène an association set up by psychiatrists and researchers concerned about the number of children being given hormone treatment, and — despite its name: The Little Mermaid’s Observatory — absolutely not to be confused with the UK’s controversial child transgender group, Mermaids.

This proved problematic for the transactivist sociologist Karine Espineira, who dramatically resigned from Dilcrah last May to protest against Laacher’s membership. There then came a welter of accusations of transphobia against L’Observatoire, after which, in September, Dilcrah decided to file a complaint against the organisation for their recommendation of a cautious approach towards trans children — something deemed to be “conversion therapy”, now forbidden by French law. This complaint was rejected. But in January, Dilcrah was disbanded. Its dissolution arguably exemplifies the French government’s response to the current identity debate — having been captured, they fold.

Amid this growing scandal, in which any attempts at scientific discussion or any urging of caution against accepting the new status quo are shut down, where is the resistance? And where, with our grand tradition of feminist thought, are the feminists? In the UK, you have Julie Bindel, Kathleen Stock and J.K. Rowling. In France, it seems, we no longer have feminists in the traditional sense: we have neo-feminists and “queerists”. They aren’t worried about women’s spaces being kept safe, they don’t blink an eye at women’s sports being debauched, and they think it’s perfectly fine for lesbians to date women with penises. These feminists are, as Germaine Greer said, “being persuaded to deny their own existence”.

Since 2019, “Nous Toutes” — a group with the specific aim of stopping violence against women and girls — have organised feminist marches in towns across France. But their Instagram feed is now alive with anger and posts reading “Terfs out of our fights” and “You don’t need a vagina to be a woman”. It seems even they have lost sight of what our universalist feminism was about — a collective struggle, not an individual one. Such is the vehemence of their feeling against old-school feminist views that when Marguerite Stern, a prominent gender-critical activist and colleague of mine, marched with the sign “Female Sex Matters”, an egg was thrown in her face. This struggle is not a collective one.

How did French feminism become corrupted? Perhaps because of our obsession with Simone de Beauvoir. She believed that female biology was real, but also that it hampered women; she saw it as a constraint. She also believed that women are shaped by society and men into accepting a passive, subjugated position. In Le Deuxième Sexe (1949), she writes: “One is not born but, rather becomes, a woman.” She talked about how we are forced into becoming housewives or mothers. But neofeminists, led by Butler, have deconstructed this and now brandish the slogan as though de Beauvoir were talking about transwomen.

These neofeminists have also co-opted Monique Wittig, the French radical feminist and lesbian who wrote: “There is no sex. There is but sex that is oppressed, and sex that oppresses. It is the oppression that creates sex, and not the contrary.” The neofeminists parrot the handy Instagrammable statement “there is no sex” out of context and without understanding.

Resist these misreadings, though, and you will be tarred as a Terf. And it is dangerous to be a Terf in France. In March, on International Women’s Day, the walls of Paris were daubed with “Kill the Terfs” graffiti. A conference in Nantes was cancelled because transactivists threatened speakers with eggs and baseball bats, and cowardly local politicians bowed to that pressure. Last year, a class given at the prestigious Sciences Po school was shelved amid concerns over its topic: Darwinism, evolutive psychology and differences between the sexes. If our scientists have been captured, what hope is there?

At last, though, there are signs of a French resistance. In January — after three years of harassment, insults and cancellations – Marguerite Stern and I launched Femelliste, an online platform and NGO for “the female of the species”, a place where women can voice their concerns about transgenderism. Here we assert things such as: being a human female is neither a shame nor a weakness; it is not a feeling but a biological and sexual reality. We truly sympathise with those dealing with gender dysphoria, but see transgender activism, and its language, as an attempt to reduce women’s rights.

We are fighting for freedom of expression and pluralism of ideas. And for this, we are currently being sued, accused of “hate speech”. But we Femellistes are not transphobes. On the contrary, in our manifesto, we state explicitly that we recognise the suffering of dysphoric people, as well as the violence that trans people experience. We absolutely understand that.

But we also understand that, in France, feminism is dying. In France, today, if you dare to go on a feminist march and protest for women’s rights, you will be abused. In France, if you write or talk about women’s rights, you will be blacklisted. In France, the birthplace of philosophical feminism, the answer to the question “What is it to be a woman?” is no longer obvious to everyone. But in France, some women are finally daring to fight back.

 

This piece was first published in June, 2023.


Dora Moutot is the author of ‘Mâle Baisées’ and co-founder of feminist website, Femelliste (femelliste.com)

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Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
6 months ago

A big part of this is claiming children have agency to make decisions about gender, medical treatment, and other grave life choices. Foucault was a pedophile – this is well established. It’s not hard to imagine that as children are given greater credit for knowledge and understanding about themselves and the world, the endgame here is erasing the age of consent, which Foucault advocated for in France. This is some sick business. I recommend the amazing work of Genevieve Gluck at her Reduxx online magazine to see just how many of this men who claim to be women are actually predators.

Last edited 6 months ago by Samantha Stevens
Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
6 months ago

I have considerable sympathy for the writer’s position. Much of the behaviour of trans activists reflects the worst behaviour that is fairly associated with men; the aggression and violence, the ignoring of others’ rights and feelings.
The appropriation of the words of de Beavoir and Wittig strike me somewhat as chickens coming home to roost, particularly the later. The feminist movement has failed ever to recognise that, whatever time we live in, men and women mostly figure out how to live together in a mutually beneficial way. The idea of patriarchal oppression especially for centuries in the west is mostly a nonsense.
This doesn’t mean that there have not been gross injustices perpetrated by some men on some women. This doesn’t mean that it has not been a good thing for society that women do no longer have opportunities limited for stupid reasons. It doesn’t mean that their are not currently disgraceful behaviours inflicted on women by men. It means that academic, navel gazing feminism has largely brought this about whether it be Witting or Butler.

Last edited 6 months ago by Jonathan Andrews
David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

The appropriation of the words of de Beavoir and Wittig strike me somewhat as chickens coming home to roost, particularly the later

De Beauvoir and Sartre were both notoriously anti biology and de Beauvoir seeded anti biologism in the heart of Anglo Saxon feminism. Doubtless she had no idea where this would end up – but bad ideas have consequences, however ideologically useful they might seem in the short term.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
6 months ago

Your first paragraph is absolutely right on.

AC Harper
AC Harper
6 months ago

Ray Kurzban, writing in Aporia https://www.aporiamagazine.com/p/morality-and-other-weapons? claims that progressivism is about power and ‘morality’ is used as a weapon to exert power. And power is about justifying choosing sides.
I’m afraid that as long as people engage in choosing sides you are playing the Progressive game. How you step away from it – I don’t know.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
6 months ago

I have no sympathy at all with French feminists. Having suffered the loss of my son after years of unsuccessful court battles presided over by feminist judges who ignored every shred of evidence in order to find in favour of my ex-wife, I hope the entire French feminist movement sinks deeply into the morass of its own post-modernist making.
Women never had it worse than men – every meaningful statistic backs this up. And as much as gender dysphoric males are clearly mentally ill, at least they can claim back some of the cake miserable feminists have been enjoying for decades.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

You have my sympathy – men have no more rights in France that they have in the U.K.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
6 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

I understand your bitterness, but your pendulum has swung way too far. Women did have it worse than men and in Islamic cultures they still do.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I’m inclined to agree with Graham. I think it’s far from clear that women in the past had it worse than men of the same social class. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a need for change though. Votes for women and votes for working class men (achieved at roughly the same time) were both progress.

The situation Graham points to is in urgent need of being addressed. Way more important that pink taxes, tampon taxes and the rest. It affects a very large number of men and children.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

The corruption of French feminism by the American version has been going on for some time. And it is younger feminists who are being corrupted. In general, French feminists have never displayed either the man hatred or the Puritanism of their American sisters. Remember the outrage when French feminists refused to get on board with the metoo hysteria. French feminists have been writing for some time about this – way before the whole trans thing blew up. But once you open the door to American feminist ideas, including trans ideology, the whole lot pours in.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

Then, the Americans threw it back at us. And that language and ideology is seeping into French culture and taking hold of young imaginations.

Yes – French philosophy has moved on since then and this is seen rather as an American cult than part of French culture.

Part of its appeal in the States was that it seemed cool, and a new position from which to attack the biologism and scientism of Anglo culture. What the adopters didn’t get, but which people like Chomsky realised, is that French culture is in many ways pre Darwin and unscientific rather than post Darwin and post scientific.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
6 months ago

“Isabelle Rome, the minister for gender equality, diversity and equal opportunities”
Incredible! not even the Americans have this kind of role in government, though the HHS can certainly lean in that direction.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
6 months ago

Whatever else at least American hygiene has crept into French female culture over the past seventy years, to the benefit of us all, it must be said.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

Not sure what the downvotes are for. There are still areas of France where I have been brought close to retching by the smell of stale sweat. And that’s just in a queue!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
6 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

From memory it was the unshaven armpits of young waitresses on a hot July afternoon close to St Ouen that really “took the biscuit”. Once smelt never forgotten.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
6 months ago

On the topic of French stereotypes, I’m rather disappointed that their Rozzers resisted the temptation to put the boot in when confronted with threatening protesters. Looks like they’re following our lead on that.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
6 months ago

Ah yes the great days of the CRS!

Mind you the French are excellent at enforcing the law on FGM, unlike our feeble selves who will tolerate any level of barbarism in the name of ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusion’.

James Jenkin
James Jenkin
6 months ago

Sign the manifesto! What can anyone sane possibly argue with

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
6 months ago

Great piece. The French still have a little over the Anglos in being able to summarise pointedly the philosophical-cultural threat poses by the new gender revolutionaries.
With their distinctly Maoist flavour, they strike me as ging much further than the
mai 68er generation of Derrida, Lyotard, Althusser and Deleuze (though Foucault’s proto-Queer theory has been a great resource for Professor Butler in transhuman California).

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 months ago

This is everything and just as bad as all that the American Feminist/woke/Modern Progressive movement do.
France is nowhere near as bad as the anglosphere in this respect. The author has collated a bunch of extreme examples to make her point and relied on the readership not knowing any better.
Unlike American or Britain, the French press and literary world isn’t entirely subsumed by this fake debate. They are still very much concerned with real problems and real policy like pensions reform, attracting investment, (real and practical) immigration reform… I read a recent article in the Le Monde explaining exactly what “wokisme” is – anyone steeped in the media of the anglosphere will know all about it!
Why on earth is the lead photo a flattering picture of the author? What relevance does it have to anything…? We find out later on that the author’s proposed solution to this imagined environment is an online platform she has created. The same as all the other anti-woke grifters – inventing controversy to sell their articles, books, website, speaking tours etc. etc.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Upvote from me. There is a sense in France that woke is something alien, something American, to be looked at with suspicion as a foreign import. Very different to the U.K.