Celebrating Bastille Day, feminist style

Last weekend, France celebrated Bastille Day, the national holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison during the French Revolution in 1789. It was a big day here in Paris; When I stepped out of my front door on Saturday, it was to see tanks rolling down the street on their way to a military celebration.

One group of French feminist activists had a different way of celebrating the day. You may have heard of La Barbe, the group that interrupts male-dominated events – annual general meetings of large corporations, or the Cannes Film Festival – and asks why there aren’t more women present. The only way to wield real power in France is to have a beard, they reason, and so they show up these events… wearing fake beards. It’s a form of theatre and humour (less funny are the obvious essentialist overtones), and recently it’s gone global, with some barbues showing up at a meeting of the Melbourne Mining Club in Australia. Only 15% of jobs in Australia’s huge and lucrative mining sector are held by women. “La barbe!” means “a beard” in French, but it’s also a colloquial way of saying “enough!”

In the famous Place de la Concorde in Paris, there are eight statues that represent the country’s eight largest cities. The statues are of women; like the Republic itself, the cities are personified as beautiful, powerful women. But La Barbe doesn’t appreciate that for all the marble lip-service paid to women representing France, there are in fact very few women elected to represent the people of France – or women who are captains of industry, or being recognised at Cannes, or in many other positions of power and influence. La parité n’existe pas. And so, on Bastille Day, a group of barbues went to Place de la Concorde, climbed up the statues, and stuck fake beards on them. As it was a special occasion, the beards were blue, white, and red.

More fantastic photos after the jump.

There are even more photos at La Barbe’s Facebook page.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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