1937: feminist "actions"

1937: feminist

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Title: Demonstration for the right to vote of French women, 1937

Creation date : 1937 -

Technique and other indications: International exhibition of arts and techniques, Paris 1937: demonstration for the right to vote of French women

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: National Library of France

Picture reference: Prints and Photography Department, EI-13

Demonstration for the right to vote of French women, 1937

© National Library of France

Publication date: March 2017

Historical context

Activism

The victory of the Popular Front in the legislative elections of April-May 1936 blows a wind of freedom and social progress on the country. For the first time, Léon Blum appoints three women under-secretaries of state: Cécile Brunschvicg (president of the French Union for Women's Suffrage, UFSF) to national education, Suzanne Lacore to public health and Irène Joliot-Curie in scientific research.

But while the Chamber of Deputies pronounced once again (and this time unanimously) in favor of the vote for women on July 30, 1936, the government abstained and did not force the Senate to include this text in its agenda. In addition, the influence of the three Under-Secretaries of State remains more than limited within a government that they leave quite quickly: Joliot-Curie (for health reasons) after three months, Brunschvicg and Lacore le June 21, 1937.

Within feminist and suffragist associations, the debate was then relaunched between the supporters of a "moderate" activism seeking the support of political parties (the UFSF and the French League for Women's Rights, LFDF) and those who , like Madeleine Pelletier or Louise Weiss (at the head of her association The new woman, created in 1934) denounce the “passivity” of the former, preferring to challenge institutions and take more “radical” paths inspired by Anglo-Saxon suffragettes.

During the period 1936-1937, several "actions" were organized in this way, intended to attract the attention of the press and mark public opinion.

Image Analysis

A suffragist demonstration at the Universal Exhibition.

From May 25 to November 25, 1937, the International Exhibition of "Arts and Techniques Applied to Modern Life" (or Exposition Universelle) was held in Paris, on the Champ-de-Mars and in the gardens of the Trocadéro. It is in this context that the scene of Demonstration for the right to vote of French women, 1937, which represents the holding of a suffragist demonstration.

Near a modern, glazed building (probably one of the pavilions of the Exhibition) and with the Eiffel Tower (modernized for the occasion) in the background, we can see Louise Weiss (visible in the center of the image, behind a micro) surrounded by twenty activists. Three of them are holding signs printed by The new woman (visible at the top of the sheet) which state in capital letters that "the French woman must vote".

Among those present are women of all ages, many of whom are smiling or looking at the lens (foreground, right; woman to Louise Weiss's right). We also note the presence of two men (on the left in the foreground, on the right in the second row), as well as the rather modern outfit (pants and printed top) of a young activist (just to the left of Louise Weiss).

The group that poses for the photographer of this press shot is captured as a whole that would form a body (to defend a common cause), distributed in an arc on either side of Louise Weiss, central figure (literally and figurative) of this purposefully organized gathering.

Interpretation

"Throwing feminism into the news arena"

This photo shows one of the "actions" carried out by Louise Weiss and the members of The new woman, as well as its terms. These are well-targeted disruptions in the public space during various events, intended to attract the press (this is the case here since this cliché will be picked up in the media and widely disseminated). In the words of Louise Weiss, it is indeed necessary to "throw feminism into the arena of current affairs" by original interventions (often ironic and provocative), without hesitating to disturb public order or disturb men. in their habits, in order to “shake up the inertia” of consciousness and practices.

And the process seems well established, since the posters and the microphone have been prepared. This is because the activists are not at their first attempt: they organize a release of red balloons weighted with leaflets in the stadium where the final of the Coupe de France football is being played (June 1936 ); distribute forget-me-not (flower symbolically meaning "Don't forget me") to deputies (June 1936); offer senators socks with the inscription "Even if you give us the right to vote, your socks will be mended" (June 1936); occupy the track of the Longchamp racetrack, during the Grand Prix, with placards bearing the inscription "La Française must vote" (June 1936); or even linked to each other to prevent traffic on rue Royale in Paris in July 1936.

In all of these precedents, as in the one represented by this photograph, the effect of surprise and gap (between the setting or the nature of the event on the one hand and the suffragist message on the other hand) sought gives more resonate with the message and the demands. Here, the setting is ideal, symbolic in more than one way: it is first of all Paris (capital, place of power and metonymy of France) which is a time the center of international attention (for the Exhibition); but also of a meeting precisely dedicated to (architectural) modernity to which the suffragists claim to denounce the archaism of those who oppose the vote for women. We understand then that the French woman (member of this modern country) must vote.

  • women vote
  • Universal suffrage
  • feminism
  • women
  • Weiss (Louise)
  • Universal Exhibition of 1937

Bibliography

BARD, Christine. The daughters of Marianne: history of feminisms 1914-1940. Paris: Fayard, 1995.

BARD, Christine. Women in French society in the 20th century, Paris, Armand Colin, 2001.

BOUGLE-MOALIC, Anne-Sarah. Le Vote des Françaises, one hundred years of debate, 1848-1944, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012.

BERSTEIN, Serge. France in the 1930s, Paris, Armand Colin, Cursus collection, 2003.

BERTIN, Célia. Louise weiss, Paris, Albin Michel, 1999

HUARD, Raymond. Universal Suffrage in France Paris, Aubier, 1991.

WEISS, Louise. What woman wants, Paris, Gallimard, 1946.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "1937: feminist" actions ""


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