Last week I was on vacation in France, and in the window of a bar in the Parisian neighborhood of the Marais, I saw this poster.
Curious, I went to the website and I was thrilled to discover La Barbe (“the beard”), a French feminist activist group that aims to raise awareness about the lack of women in positions of power in a range of fields, from politics to the arts.
La Barbe takes its name from the cheeky assertion that in order to wield any power in France, it seems, you have to be man. Taking this message to heart, the women of La Barbe protest by showing up to events – meetings, conferences, and so on – wearing fake beards.
Once there, they pose as sexist men; in June of this year, a fake-bearded member of La Barbe stood up at a shareholders’ meeting of Veolia Environnement, which has only one woman on its corporate board, and asked, “is it really wise to allow women to define the strategy of a company, a task requiring intelligence, an ability to react, and coolheadedness?” Last November, members of the group attended a meeting of executives of a supermarket, and one of them stood up to congratulate the board for having only one woman. “Do not give in to feminization!” she encouraged them.
La Barbe’s website gives instructions – in French, but Google Translate is a useful tool! – for making your own beard, as well as how best to make one of these appearances. They encourage would-be Barbes to avoid using force to gain entry, to distribute literature and press releases about what they’re doing there and, of course, to film the whole thing as it goes down.