“My generation doesn't need feminism...There are pioneers who opened the breach...I'm not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I'm a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day." Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in an interview with French Vogue.
Dear Carla Bruni,
I love doing the same thing everyday too. Have you read the news recently? You might have been too busy working on your album. Or maybe you've lost interest since your husband failed to win the presidential election. These days, it seems that his name mostly pops up in relation to Bettencourt donations scandal. It must be difficult to watch tv. And now you sound like a contemporary Marie-Antoinette who would exclaim: “Let them eat cake!” when the people are starving for lack of bread.
Well, let me inform you that feminism is having a really big moment in France right now. The 2011 New York arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn – once Parti Socialiste presidential hopeful – over charges of alleged attempted rape (that have been dropped since) unleashed a public outpouring of sexism and harrassment issues in France. People started to talk. Where were you then?
Then, after your husband lost the election, François Hollande who, inexplicably, didn't seem to think that feminism was over, created a Ministry for Women's Rights led by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. The first thing they did was reinstate a sexual harrassment law. And you know why? Because the previous law had been scrapped by France's constitutional council when a deputy mayor who had been convicted of harassing three employees complained the law was too vague. Ongoing cases were immediately thrown out of the courts and women who had been seeking justice were left knowing that the person who had harassed them would never be judged. You could have written a song about it, maybe?
Then on 11 October, a lenient verdict in a gang-rape case (known as “the Créteil verdict”) shocked France and sparked outrage over the justice system. Following the verdict, women, including some who don't necessarily call themselves feminists, took to the streets to protest the fact that rape is not taken seriously in France. They called for rape victims to be protected and for all judiciary and police professionals to be trained to deal with rape.
Oh and Carla, did you have a nice weekend? What did you do last Sunday? You can't have missed the fact that thousands were protesting violence against women in the streets of Paris. Yes, violence against women exists. In fact, 122 women died last year because they were beaten by their partners or ex-partners.
Maybe you saw the Manifesto of the 313 launched by Clémentine Autain in Le Nouvel Observateur magazine on 21 November. In it, this politician from the Front de Gauche declared she had been raped, along with 312 women, including Marie-Laure de Villepin, previous wife of the ex-Prime Minister. Their intent was both to reveal how common rape is and to transfer the shame from victim to perpetrator. “While sitting at a dinner party”, says Autain in a video, “you can say that your house was burgled, that you have cancer or that one of your parents is dead, but not that you have been raped. It's not proper.” More than 75,000 women are raped in France every year but only one out of eight or nine presses charges, says Autain. In the light of all this, it's nice to be reminded that your generation doesn't need feminism. (Who makes up your generation? Are they not women too?)
“There are pioneers who opened the breach,” you say. Then maybe, Autain's manifest will remind you of the Manifesto of the 343 launched in 1973, also in Le Nouvel Observateur, and signed by 343 women who stated they had had an abortion when abortion was still illegal in France. These feminist “pioneers”, as you call them, were instrumental in making abortion legal, which happened in 1975. What makes their struggle legitimate and contemporary feminist struggle superfluous? What makes you think feminism has reached its final destination? Are women and men equal yet?
I am not the only one who thinks you need advice, Carla. In response to the invite of Osez le féminisme (“Dare Feminism”) feminist organisation on Twitter, many decided to tell you why feminism is still badly needed in France (and elsewhere), using the hashtag #ChereCarlaBruni (“ #dearcarlabruni”). Feminism, they said, is needed as long as women are paid 27 per cent less than men, as long as 80 per cent of experts in the media are men, “as long as women are not believed when they intend to press charges for rape”, as long as sexist marketing and sexist advertising exists, as long as “people laugh at my son when he says he wants to be a midwife”, as long as “bad magazines” publish articles stating that “blowjobs are what makes a relationship hold”. Feminism is still needed, Carla, when you are made to look 22 on a Vogue cover when you're actually 44. And when ignorant people like you, deny that there is still any need for feminism. If you were to read all these tweets, you would get a pretty good picture of why you're wrong.
“I'm not an active feminist”, you said, making it clear that you are no scary passionaria. When it appeared that too much bling was making your husband unpopular you started presenting to the world the image of a perfect housewife. The pressure that you must have experienced while being France's first lady, the constant comments on your wardrobe and your looks – the urge to resort to plastic surgery to retain your place – all of this happens because we live in a world where men and women are not equal.
In the presentation statement of the Carla Bruni-Sarkozy Foundation, a charity that focuses on giving education to all, one can read these lofty words: “Fame is a tool that enables redirection of the light thrown upon oneself to the people who really need it.” Come on, Carla, use the light, before it turns you into a foolish Marie-Antoinette or a rambling Brigitte Bardot.