The French feminist literary revolution – POLITICO

Alice Kantor is a French journalist who grew up in Paris.

The #MeToo movement never really took off in France like it did in other Western democracies. Politics, academia and other institutions across the country have refused to heed the sexual assault testimonies.

But a revolution is preparing in the field of literature.

Long the preserve of white writers and a male-centric worldview, over the past five years the literary industry has flourished with a wealth of original feminist content, attracting a wide range of readers suddenly captivated by the topic of women’s empowerment.

“Feminist authors have started to appear everywhere in literature, with essays, novels, social science articles, graphic novels, science fiction books dealing with the subject,” said Stéphanie Chevrier, editor at Editions La Discovery. “In the past, feminist books appeared only through specialized publishing houses. Now every major publishing house and bookstore has a feminist section.

Combined with the launch of a growing number of specialist bookstores and a new feminist book festival, this increase in interest and readership for feminist authors has not only led to an increase in the number of books on the subject, but it fueled a change in previous notions of gender in France.

Publishing agent Ariane Geffard is among those who have noticed the change. Just a few years ago, when she pitched feminist titles to publishers in France, publishers thought of it as a “niche” topic without an audience, she said. Now they’re jumping at the business opportunity, publishing feminist titles and specialized series left and right.

“For a very long time people were afraid of the word ‘feminist’, they associated it with radicalism and angry women,” she said. “Now that has changed. A young generation of women is deeply interested in these issues, and the topic itself has most often become the focus of public debate.

And in what seems a sign of institutional recognition, last year the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to French author Annie Ernaux, while the Angoulême International Comics Festival – historically focused on the works men – awarded the Grand Prize to a woman for the third time in its 50-year history.

This is a significant turnaround. Long reserved for older white men, the French literary industry has clung too long to old patriarchal traditions of storytelling, highlighting French notions of “chivalry” and the role of men in society.

Authors with a misogynistic or abusive view of women were often heralded as part of the sexually sophisticated intellectual elite, with titles like far-right politician Éric Zemmour’s “First Sex” – a macho retort to feminist Simone’s book de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” – having no problem finding a publisher.

Even changes to the French language – suggestions to make it less masculine – have been rebuffed by the French Academy, the official arbiter of what constitutes the French language, which has argued that such adjustments would put it in ” mortal danger”.

But feminist authors have seen their audiences grow despite this resistance.

According to the analyst firm Livres Hebdo, between 2017 and 2020 there was a whopping 72% increase in feminist books sold in the wellness and health genre, a 44% increase in feminist children’s books and an increase 15% of feminist non-fiction. books.

More and more feminist titles are bestsellers in France too, with “Titiou Lecoq”The Couple and the Money(2022), “Mona Chollet”Reinventing Love(2021) and the “by Virginie DespentesDear asshole(2022) topped the nation’s charts for consecutive weeks for the past two years.

At the same time, specialized bookstores have sprung up in Lyon, Paris, Toulouse, Nantes, Nice and Lille, and a feminist book festival — Feminist book fair — launched in 2021 was held for the second time last October, bringing together 3,000 daily visitors in Paris.

“It’s great to see women – young and old – and men reading about feminism and educating themselves,” said Juliette Debrix, who opened a feminist bookstore called A book, a cup of tea (A book, a cup of tea) in Paris at the end of 2020. “There is a real buzz going around. More and more people are calling themselves feminists and are pushing gender equality issues.

Among these names is Chollet, a journalist and now one of the most widely read feminists in France, who has also noticed the growing enthusiasm of young women, eager to write about their experiences and to support each other in their quest for ‘equality.

The #MeToo movement helped Chollet, who felt encouraged by it while writing her book and received strong support during her essay “witcheswas published in 2018 – it sold 350,000 copies and was subsequently translated into a dozen languages. Buoyed by the growing audience and media attention, Chollet was able to take a break from her journalism career to focus on her books, which she says would have been impossible a few years ago.

“#MeToo has changed my life, professionally. It allowed me to devote myself to this important work and to be financially independent,” she said.

And books on feminist issues and abuses related to #MeToo have shaken powerful institutions in France, often becoming the center of public debate, their impact slowly rising through the political and media echelons to change perceptions around the equality in the country.

For example, published in 2020, Pauline Harmange’s “I Hate Men” became the epicenter of attention when a member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s government tried to censor it.

Released in 2019, “The consentin which she revealed how lauded author Gabriel Matzneff attacked her when she was 14 and he was 50, led the self-admitted pedophile to face criminal charges, and publishers stopped publishing. print his books.

Meanwhile, Camille KouchnerLarge Family”, which came out in 2021, revealed the rape and abuse of his brother by his stepfather and prominent lawyer Olivier Duhamel. This led him and another powerful intellectual to lose their jobs and become persona non grata in cultural spheres.

“Books can open people’s minds and change things. There is hope that all of this work can have an impact on the political world and that institutions will begin to correct the gross gender inequality in the country,” Geffard said.

And feminist books have also helped launch political careers.

The book by lesbian activist and politician Alice Coffin “The Lesbian Genie” helped raise his profile; and the 2019 press release by eco-feminist Sandrine RousseauSpeaking,” a book about sexual violence, helped bolster his female electorate during his presidential campaign last year.

Despite all this progress, however, one problem remains: feminist books about minorities and race are still considered fringe or sectarian by many publishers in France.

Laura Nsafou, a The black French novelist who puts black women and girls at the heart of her stories, says the country’s publishers and mainstream media have been quick to criticize her work as ‘niche’ or ‘anti-universalist’ , while other countries have adopted its production .

Nsafou said she was lucky to receive support from independent publishers and the popularity of her biggest hit, “Like a million black butterflies” – which sold 30,000 copies – shows the need for such stories to be told. Another of her graphic novels, ‘Fadya and the Song of the River’, was also translated into English and published by the Tate Britain art gallery last year, where she was invited to read excerpts – a level of institutional recognition that she said she had never met in France.

“At the end of the day, what matters is that readers finally find stories that put black women first,” she noted. “It’s great to see feminist stories growing in popularity. I hope there will be a similar appetite for anti-racist feminist books [in France] in the years to come.”


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