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