Rose Gilroy: What Exactly Is “French Feminism?” (Still trying to figure that out.)

sign that says "Espace des femmes" in front of trees

Hello fellow summer researchers! I’m Rosie Vacanti Gilroy, and my concentration intertwines women’s studies, long-form journalism, and French.

This summer I’m researching French feminism, —second wave, and contemporary—and I’m seeking to understand the connections, overlaps, conversations, and differences between American feminisms, and those practiced in France. Furthermore, I’m trying to grasp what exactly French feminism, well, is. Often in U.S. women’s studies classes, the same token texts are presented as all-encompassing examples of “French feminism,” and French feminist theory. However, just like the feminist movements in the U.S., the movements in France were/ are complex and varied—I want to understand what French feminists consider to be “French feminism,” and why American theorists chose the certain texts/ writers that make up “French feminism” in the U.S.

Espace des Femmes, a publishing house, bookstore, and event space at the forefront of the French women's movement.
Espace des Femmes, a publishing house, bookstore, and event space at the forefront of the French women’s movement.

I completed the majority of the hands-on research portion of my project with a trip to France in May. While in France, I visited archives, bookstores, publishing houses, and libraries, in Paris and Angers—just as I planned. However, the experiences that I found most informative were certainly those that were not on my original schedule.

Upon arriving in France, I was excited to find out that both of the feminist bookstores in Paris were holding lectures on topics tied to my project. The first lecture was a book talk with author Manon Labry at the feminist bookstore, Violette and Co. Labry recently published, Riot Grrls, the first book on the 1990s Riot Grrl movement written in French. At the event I was able to observe the feminist community in attendance, and learn about their interest in the American-based Riot Grrl movement. During the talk, a group of students performed a song they wrote about Riot Grrl, and there was Riot Grrl merchandise designed for the event. I’m currently reading Labry’s book, and am fascinated to find out why this decades-old American movement is suddenly interesting French feminists.

Violette and Co., feminist bookstore in Paris.
Violette and Co., feminist bookstore in Paris.

The other event I attended was a talk with writer Hélène Cixous, at the famed Espace des Femmes in Paris. I first read Cixous in French, while studying abroad in Paris; however, in the U.S. Cixous is often regarded as a preeminent “French feminist.” In France, on the other hand, Cixous’ involvement with feminism is controversial, marked by a 1970s rupture within the French women’s movement. I’m hoping to understand more about this divide after my research this summer.

Now that I’m back in New York, I’m reading as much as I can find about the construction of “French feminism” within American academia, as well as some of the texts that were suggested to me by French feminist scholars in France. More on that in the next post!

One thought on “Rose Gilroy: What Exactly Is “French Feminism?” (Still trying to figure that out.)

  1. Hey Rosie! This was a super interesting post to read for both your research topic and the way you are structuring your research. It is funny how we label French feminism as it is this one all encompassing “thing,” rather than perhaps many different feminisms. I’m interested to see how you relate the French feminisms to American feminisms and to see what the overarching themes and differences are. Sounds like a cool trip!

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