Eléonore Pourriat’s ‘Oppressed Majority’: why we need more feminist films like this

There is so much more we must show about what life is like for women


Like a lot of women, I’ve been sexually harassed more than once. A man squeezed my buttock in a lift in a Tube station; a drunk man clutched the back of my head and tried to force me to kiss him outside a club; and my driving instructor “accidentally” touched my knee and breasts on several occasions (I was 17).

There are incidents where men who were known to me attempted to coax me to have sex with them using what I considered to be persistent and aggressive verbal persuasion, as well as non-consensual touching.

And then there’s the time when I was a young teenager that I heard, through the wall that separated my brother’s bedroom from mine, a friend of his describing how a mutual acquaintance had raped her. She said she wouldn’t take it to court because she didn’t want her sexual history scrutinised. I was not the victim, but it broke my heart all the same.

So, naturally, I was gripped by Eléonore Pourriat’s short film of 2010, Oppressed Majority, which attracted interest in the national press after it went viral this week. The film follows Pierre, a vulnerable man in a woman’s world. He’s objectified by lascivious women, who comment on his bum and openly piss in the street. He expresses concern to a friend whose wife has asked him to wear a balaclava, because God wills him to be modest.

Humorous at first due to the novelty of the role reversals, the film shifts into more serious territory as Pierre is held at knife-point and raped by a gang of women, one of whom threatens to bite off his penis. Pierre is then confronted by a female police officer who treats his complaint with scepticism, before being picked up by his wife who accuses him of dressing in too provocative a way. “I dress the way I want,” protests poor Pierre.

My immediate response was that some parts of the film rang brilliantly true – the disgust invoked by the woman urinating in the alleyway (why should anybody be allowed to do this?), the odd double standard exposed by the topless woman runner (in real life, men can whip out their nipples without any particular reason, but women are sometimes made to feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding in public). But I also felt that some parts strayed into the arena of unlikelihood or unrepresentativeness.

In reality, most rapes of women are committed not by strangers but by men known to the victim (this fact is important since the idea that only violent rape by a stranger “counts” causes some rape victims to blame themselves). And it perhaps isn’t true that a majority of women are daily subjected to the kind of intense and relentless sexual comment that Pierre attracts in the film. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just that it is not my experience or an experience that has been expressed to me by friends. I encounter a lot of men in my daily life who do not objectify or demean me.

Pourriat herself explained in an interview that she doesn’t intend the film to be altogether realistic; but I still wasn’t sure how I felt about what I perceived to be an exaggeration. The truth to me is that sexism against women is normalised, entrenched, insidious; and, crucially, is not always performed loudly in the streets under the cold light of day. At least we have laws in place to attempt to tackle incidents of physical or verbal harassment, even if they are sometimes unenforced.

What worries me just as much is the silent, accepted, subtle, totally legal kind of portrayal of women that is played out every day in every part of Europe. The media is a particular culprit, and very difficult to tackle. According to studies, we see at least 247 marketing images every single day – meaning females are pretty constantly and silently spoken to by adverts depicting them as glossy collections of sexy limbs, avid buyers of clothes, and voracious consumers of chocolate – the ones who need a whole lot of washing powder and a weekly shop at Iceland to be complete. I’m talking about the casual objectification of Page 3 models. The unthinking airbrushing of women’s mag front covers. The Daily Mail sidebar of shame.

It’s hard to talk back to a condescending advert or an article that compares the dress sense of party leaders’ wives. It’s hard to explain that I think many supposedly “feminine” qualities and interests are learned from society, not inherent. And that “female” skills (caring and communication, for example) are consistently and silently undervalued and underpaid. This stuff I find almost as distressing as the loud, obvious stuff depicted in the film (the stuff I have personally experienced, too), because they seem to be two sides of the same ugly coin – one a symptom, and one an environment that allows the symptoms to become manifest.

But there aren’t many highly successful, well-viewed feminist films that are as striking in concept or ambitious in scope as Pourriat’s. I don’t think it’s a perfect piece of work, but it is still a good and thought-provoking contribution. I was struck by how much I invested in her film – how I expected for a short time after viewing it that it ought to be able to say everything. “What about the gender pay gap? What about Twitter trolling and online misogyny? Wife-beaters? Anorexia and fat issues? Access to abortion?”

It was then that I realised this nine-minute clip – this breath of fresh air – could not possibly do all these things for me. The fact that I wanted it to just says that there aren’t enough films like it making it big in the public sphere. I’d like to see more.

Watch the film here

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent