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The third gender


There's a magazine that's been gathering dust for five years on my shelf. I forgot the content. Curious, I leaf through it. It is aimed at young women, students and mothers, judging by the letters from readers. It looks like 100 Ideas I read when I was eighteen, but classier, printed on recycled paper. There are decorative pages, cooking recipes, ideas for interior work and gardening pages. And what about those articles of which I have only read the headlines? Let's start with the testimonials. “Society has rules but some are not afraid to break them. Hmm, they're not wrong. It's true that society has rules… And then, those who broke the imposed rules, what did they dare to do?  N°1 is thirty and not ashamed to live with his parents. The next one (the only him in the whole article) didn't go to college, which didn't stop him from landing his dream job. N°3 has never passed his driver's license but that's no problem for him. No. 4 had a child when she was still very young, but she was able to continue her studies online. N°5 asked her fiancé to marry her without waiting for him to make the first move. Awesome rule breakers! I wonder if they are representative of the new generation… If they are, I tell myself that there is still concern for the future. Let's move on... Serials... I learn further that making preserves, taking care of your house, being a fairy of the house, wearing an apron like your grandmother's with little flowers, it's cool. There is no shame in wanting to be like before. Above all, don't blame yourself. Because guilt is not good for personal growth. Reading these articles, I say to myself: Hey, hey! I heard that song quite a while ago… almost fifty years ago.

To cut my teeth on a nostalgic magazine that doesn't hide it is petty, isn't it? Would I have become cynical, I who had sworn to myself never to become one? Maybe. Let's see… I remember reading what was called “the women's press” a very long time ago. I liked to immerse myself in this parallel world as I have often seen women do, swallowing the pages of Elle or Marie-Claire with jubilation. Curiously, I took refuge there when I felt bad. Such reading allowed me to "escape" as they said. There were wonderful photos of shoes or coats that made me dream, but that I never had the means to buy myself. Every spring, we were advised to find the line to be beautiful in our bikini. Summer was approaching. It was time to start a diet. Every winter, they tried to sell us something else: creams for cellulite, cashmere sweaters, trips to warm countries, magnificent sofas to curl up by the fireside. Reading this, it seemed to me that all the dreams I carried within me could be fulfilled. I could have children, get a dream job, sail around the world, climb Everest, cook good meals for my husband, lose weight to look beautiful on the beach in my bikini, have a nice house , canapés, perfumed soaps, going on vacation to Egypt, buying a house in a beautiful village, making my jams, buying cashmere sweaters and indulging myself from time to time if I was bored in my relationship. Fifty years later, what am I being sung to? Basically the same song. A woman can be pretty and fulfilled and work and sail around the world and have children and everything else, be a housewife, she can do everything and have everything. A woman can also break established rules. You have to accept it because accepting your difference is proof of a strong character. Long live difference !

As soon as I had closed the magazine, the illusion dissipated like a mirage. My life was picking up where I left off. I was a student. I didn't have any money and I didn't always have enough to eat. At university, I rubbed shoulders with those who came from good bourgeois backgrounds. My difference jumped out at me. She was hurting me. She made me ashamed. Because my life was not the one that was sold to me in Marie-Claire. There reigned in existence the “tyranny of the group” as Hannah Arendt called it. Society, family, the horde, the others - this vast group that surrounds us and exerts its pressure and influence without having to say a single word - made me understand that it was better to stay in line instead of wanting to get out. It was good for a young girl not to be noticed too much. Break the established rules and brandish your difference? Come to think of it, it was better to take it easy and stay in line. The pressure was such that after a while, all the women gave in to it by getting married. Those who had begun studies abandoned them to found a family. For the yoke of tradition weighed more heavily on us. The women.

Shortly after getting married, my cousins got pregnant. Shortly after giving birth, they came to visit us to present their last born to us. They were beaming, happy to finally be mothers. My grandmother used to tell me: “Your cousins exude health and you, look at yourself! I don't understand why you're always tired. Yes, I looked drawn. I pursued long studies and I wrote, which required an enormous amount of work from me. I watched my cousins' children babble in their cribs, indifferent to these bits of pink flesh.

My difference? She jumped out at me when I too got pregnant at nineteen. I quickly understood what I was exposing myself to. On the one hand, I was not going to be able to continue my studies and on the other hand, I would not have time to write. I knew that writing and being a mother were fundamentally incompatible. Help ? It was not to be counted on. My family with whom I had broken bridges made me pay dearly for my rebellion. My mother had cut me off. My partner, who became my husband, was a traditional man who had no desire to take care of a child. I desperately looked for a clinic where I could have an abortion because the limit of eight legal weeks of pregnancy had been exceeded. We were in 1975. The law on the right to abortion had just been passed in 1974. My doctor, a little lost, directed me towards the brand new Family Planning. A very nice woman took out her diary: she was sorry. I would have to wait almost two weeks before being admitted to a clinic. Bordeaux is a big city, but only one doctor agreed to perform abortions at that time. All my savings were swallowed up in this intervention which turned into a double intervention. On the evening of the first day in the hospital, all the young women were sent home except me, who had to remain under observation. Three days after returning home, I was rushed to the clinic after going into labor. No one had explained to me in clear and precise terms that I would have to go back to the operating table in order to finish a job that could not be completed the first time. This is what abortion was like in 1975 when the legal deadlines had been greatly exceeded. A difficult obstacle course and a very vague idea, and which remained so, of what had happened inside my body. The anesthetist gave me a humiliating moral lesson just before sticking his needle in my arm. And all the religions in the world will never make me consider this abortion a crime, and I'm not an atheist. No one around me knew anything about this episode. I went to the clinic on the sly. I came out on the sly.

My difference? She annoyed me when I twisted my ankles trying to wear heels that were too high to do like the other girls. My difference? It weighed on me when the men stared at me from head to toe, exposed to what is now called "male gaze": this emphatic way of looking at you or "undressing you with their gaze" another expression of the time . The worst humiliation, I suffered it during the first book fairs where I was invited. I would have liked people to see me as a writer and not as a woman-object. I would have liked it to be addressed to my brain and not to my body. My difference? I saw her everywhere, always. Whatever I did, it all came back to two things that weighed on me: my status as a woman, and my social condition.

What else does the magazine tell me? Well, he tells me that going to school isn't important to getting a “dream job”. To mitigate the stupidity of the subject, these words are placed in the mouth of a young man. He landed his “dream job” by becoming a screenwriter. And he lives! Not given to everyone. He must be very clever… So, nowadays, one can advise a young girl – or a young man – not to go to school? Let's see, serials and find out what are the dream jobs (here, nothing is specified on the need to study!)? Well, it's a craft in creation. I made a short list here. Your choice: you can be a singer in a rock band, be an artist-designer, photographer, fashion designer or pastry chef. And of course, this kind of activity will give you the financial autonomy that every woman needs to exist and pay her bills. Really ? Yes, because the ambitions we carry within us always come true if they are really close to our hearts. Really ? Let's see, let's take a look at the situation. Dreams ? They are embedded and made possible by the socio-economic environment in which we live. It's not if I want to, but if I can, as sociology has shown us: always a bit depressing, sociology, but effective in dispelling illusions. And I can, depending on what people think around me, if the socio-economic factors that determine my situation are favorable to me and if equal opportunities and higher education - for a girl - are valued or not. We carry dreams, yes, and yet their realization requires a lot of favorable factors including fierce self-confidence or a serious "killer's instinct" as one of our English teachers called it when baring his teeth at us, "killer's instinct" instilled by parents, mothers as well as fathers.

Conclusion: it is essential to study and if possible, higher education, especially for a girl. Shall I quote my grandmother here? While I was going through a difficult period in which I had run away from home and abandoned my studies, that's her, a woman aged ninety, born in 1897, yes, at the end of the 19th century , it was she who only had her school certificate who begged me to go back to university and continue until I won my competition. A piece of advice that I followed and that saved my day. 

I no longer remember the first name of this woman with whom I had sympathized when she worked in the Salvation Army in my village. She was funny, sensitive. We often talked. She said to me one day: “My mother used to tell me: You can become anything you want in life if you want to. My father was a singer, always on the road. He didn't take care of us. And me, look at me. Did my mother realize what she was telling me? I have been married and divorced. That's the job! I work here, two days a week, at the Salvation Army. Talk about a success! She says that laughing, because she knows she's right and there's nothing to be done against fate and it's better to laugh about it.

I had a good laugh today, a little sad laugh, I admit. Because it was very slowly that I became aware of the manipulation of which I was the object. As long as I stayed in my backyard, I was altogether happy with my lot. It was when I ran away from the meadow, when I started wanting to break the rules of the game and assume my difference that the group showed their teeth and pulled out their knives. We build ourselves empirically, that is to say through experience, and awareness is not given to us by magic one fine morning. Getting out of Plato's cave, the one in which we are all locked up, toys of our illusions is the process of a lifetime and it is done slowly. Very slowly. It was the readings that opened my eyes. Anne-Marie Lugan Gardignan's essay on the women's press: Woman-women on glossy paper, originally published by Maspero in 1974, made me take a step back from magazines and their lies. Elizabeth Badinter's work L'Amour en plus published in 1981 was a shock. I only discovered it a few years later thanks to a friend. Yes, it was a real cold shower and a revelation. Based on a documented historical study, the author demonstrated that the maternal instinct did not exist in itself. This so-called innate instinct in women that pushes them to want children is a myth. From the 18th century, for economic and demographic reasons, pressure was put on women by valuing their role as mothers. Society needed hands for work, and soldiers for war. The idea of maternal instinct was taken up and supported by Freud. Few dispute it today. Consequently, the woman who refuses to have children is regarded by society as "wicked" or "mentally ill." " Yes, I know. Thanks to the reading of La Domination masculin by Pierre Bourdieu, I learned how the strategy of male domination over women worked. There were various types of heritage: a financial heritage but also an intellectual one. Grandes écoles reserved for wealthy elites breed wealthy elites. Financial and intellectual assets are transmitted from generation to generation and those who have no assets, neither financial nor intellectual, find themselves with nothing. The nose in the stream. And it's not always Rousseau's fault! I would add that girls inherit another type of heritage made up of experience and freedom. Similar to intellectual heritage, it is made up of the set of values passed on to us by our mothers: it is often an impalpable whole, a family atmosphere, because the principles are not always verbally explained by great speeches. And among these principles, there are those that reflect feminist values embodied in the life choices of our mothers and grandmothers. The daughters of free mothers - that is, those who have been intellectually independent, those who have never financially depended on either a father or a husband, those who have torn themselves from the shackles of a marriage unhappy in divorcing, those who refused the traditional culture of their country of origin, those who were not afraid to abort regardless of the legal consequences of their choices - have a better chance of being released.

But it was the day when I hit head-on the glass ceiling of the Parisian literary milieu, macho and proud of it, that I really experienced my difference. Until then, the glass ceiling was a myth. A legend, who knows? And then one day, I wanted to cross it. There, I understood that it existed and that it was as hard as concrete. Did you know that only twelve women have received the Goncourt Prize since its creation in 1892? The same goes for the other prizes, which are awarded overwhelmingly (what an understatement!) to men. Renaudot jurors are appointed for life. It is a world of men where jealousies, pettiness and conflicts of interest reign. A friend saw fit to explain to me one day that men published more than women, which justified such a disparity. Fake. Publishers receive as many manuscripts from men as from women. Men sell better, that's all. Especially when it comes to a literary prize. The New York Times is one of the few newspapers to denounce the sleight of hand orchestrated within the French literary prizes. To counter this system, new prices have been implemented in recent years, lists in which parity is respected. But there is a risk of falling back into the same trap: positive discrimination will give a crown of laurels to women. It's good, very good, I'm delighted, but once again, the beauty of the text and the quality of the work of the writer (whether male or female) will fall by the wayside and the label written by a woman runs the risk of being picked up for pure marketing reasons. The costs. Paris. I will not dwell on this sad episode of my life. I won't dwell on it because thinking about it still pains me, even though the years have passed. For any author who played the joker in this odious game of poker, the wound never heals. Paris is a world in itself. We quickly pass for paranoid, resentful, envious or downright crazy in the eyes of ordinary mortals when we begin to want to explain this imbroglio. How long will such a scandal last, which can be seen not only in the contempt for female writers but also in the distribution of major prizes between a few houses? Always the same.

No one chooses their destiny. The truth is that we are trying to escape the worst. From Noam Chomsky's famous essay The Factory of Conformism, a formula borrowed from Walter Lippmann, I will borrow the formula to designate the factory of woman. It is a tyranny of the group which is exercised by social pressure. Do we see it, this pressure? No. Are we always aware of it? No. But she is there. She hovers, she quietly condemns any deviation from behavior. She compares, she judges, she excludes. She's laughing about. A certain model of woman persists thanks to the women's press, advertisers, television, social networks. Do we always have the perspective necessary to counter the danger represented by such readings or such images? No, because the message often reaches us in a moment of vulnerability, therefore of credulity. Rereading a 2008 issue of Manière de voir titled: La Fabrique du conformisme, I rediscovered with pleasure many thinkers forgotten by the march of history. I am also appalled by the way this factory of conformism has developed so many new tools in the space of fourteen years to colonize us. "Standardization of products, homogenization of behavior, leveling of values, impoverishment of thought" wrote the father of the Frankfurt school, Theodor Adorno who already denounced "media culture" and the alienation of consciences in 1944. it today by noting that the new methods to create a new form of conformism have subtly multiplied? No brutality, no brainwashing or re-education camp, no prison, no deportation, but a slow alienation of being by a soft persuasion, exercised from within, constant, repetitive, made of stereotype images, messages cliches, simple, easily assimilated, easily reproducible, an alienation of each and everyone from their Smart Phone where they are watered by a constant flow which makes them dependent on virtual food like the drug addict is addicted to powder, it is that is to say that his thought time is colonized from morning to evening, preventing him from thinking – or even doing – anything else.

I had idols when I was fifteen. There was Joan Baez who sang of love and peace. There were Françoise Hardy and Jane Birkin, long androgynous girls who were the beautiful fruits of the May 1968 revolution which had allowed the emergence of another type of woman far from the traditional canons of the beautiful, voluptuous blonde. And that's who we wanted to be like, who were so different from our mothers. They who were so modern. So cool. There was Jane Fonda who introduced us to aerobics. One evening, I awkwardly assumed my difference: during my first literary evening in Paris in the Latin Quarter, an outing that marked my debut as a writer and my first publication, I dressed in a costume -tie. I met my peers that evening. The room was dark with people. We were just two female writers in that crowd. But I had my tie because, as I understood that evening, I would have liked to have been born of another sex. Not a man, no. Woman, yes, but I felt like I belonged to a third sex, between man and woman. Simone de Beauvoir had talked about the second sex, and I felt that I belonged to the third sex. The sex of those who have never played with dolls, of those who do not like high heels or dresses, of those who have never wanted to be a mother. I had the ambitions of a man. I wanted to live like a man. I wanted to be a writer like a man - there were still few women writers, real writers, at that time. But to be a woman, to have children, to make jams, to be a household fairy, I didn't want to. I was of the third sex. So. It was so at that time. We were either a man with big ambitions or a woman with small dreams. Yet there was an in-between that no one talked about, a third sex, and I continued to live in this in-between with the unpleasant impression of wearing a mask all my life._cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_

The great voices of feminism have fallen silent. They have aged and given way to others, younger, more dynamic. Young voices who struggle to be heard, often clumsy, voices whose words are distorted in the media, young women who are victims of degrading insults on social networks. The woman of today is a woman to whom we continue to say that she has still not found her place, between a nice little girl and a fake rebel who-does-what-she-wants-with-her -body, but who will continue to believe hard as iron that it is necessary to have the line, to harpoon a husband before having passed flower and to make a child to achieve its destiny of woman and to be happy. In a nutshell, feminism is seen as an outdated struggle. There are more serious things on earth, wars or economic crisis. Feminism is no longer on the agenda.

On the beach, a child is building a sandcastle. The tide is rising. The child fidgets, digs the sand around the castle. But the tide rises and the castle collapses. Despite all the efforts of the child, the construction on which she worked so hard for hours disappears. This is how I imagine the struggle of women. On the scale of the history of humanity, the conquest of new rights for women is very recent. It only dates from yesterday, here is why it must continue to exist. Feminism is not a backward-looking, selfish, aggressive, vindictive struggle. It is not a war against men. It is a humanist ideal, a struggle for more social justice, more equality, more understanding and emotional and intellectual sharing between men and women. Each generation must redo the course, because the laws are made and undone. Nothing is set in stone, as American tennis champion Billie Jean King, now 79, reminds us in a brilliantly humorous and intelligent interview she recently gave to the BBC. Billie Jean King was the only woman in the world who played against a man, and won the match. It was in 1973. She knows what she is talking about. She who didn't want to be noticed for her “good look” but for her performance. Its performance only. History is always to be told and redone. “Knowing your story is knowing yourself,” says Billie Jean King. And what do you need to know? All. You have to know everything about the past. The story of women's first struggles for the right to vote. The long struggle for the right to abortion, a right that risks being canceled in half of the United States. The slow progress in the fight against domestic violence, visible and invisible. The fight for equal pay, equality that Billie Jean King imposed by force of will in the world of women's tennis.

How many women have I seen whose life changed? They enthusiastically entered the mold without knowing that he was going to break them, grind them, hollow them out. Their creativity was crushed. Their time has been stolen from them. Their body has been colonized. They were assigned to raise the children and take care of the parents. They were forced to stop their studies. They never went back to university. Once pregnant, they were driven out of their village or their family, taxed with the nasty name of "daughter-mother". They were forced to have the children they didn't want, guilty for not having children, guilty for not being good mothers, guilty for not having a maternal instinct, silently guilty for wanting to leave their spouses, silently unhappy not to be happy. And once divorced, they were still the ones who took care of the young children who became teenagers, and the teenagers who became adults. And the fathers? Where are the fathers these children needed to grow well? Their mothers had, however, given them the recipes for domestic happiness. Be beautiful my daughter, please your husband and shut up. But life sold them wind.

Shall I quote here a publisher whose name I will not mention: he is seated opposite me. He eliminates in broad strokes "feminist" pages from one of my manuscripts and points out to me, seeing my anger growl, that these pages are useless. "But we already know all that," he tells me. All these things have already been said elsewhere. »? I didn't have the last word. The pages to which I was attached, because they spoke of experiences, that of my mother, my grandmother and mine, of our struggles and our alienations, have indeed been eliminated.

I dream of seeing the birth of new Germaine Tillion, new Isabelle Eberhardt, Alexandra David-Néel, Rosa Luxembourg, Susan Sontag, Flora Tristan, Louise Michel, Doris Lessing, Gisèle Halimi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I thank all those who helped me think about my condition to shed light on what was going on behind my back, starting with the founder of Editions des Femmes Antoine Fouque, as well as Françoise Héritier, Michèle Perrot, Germaine Greer, Naomi Woolf , Mona Chollet, Elizabeth Badinter, Gisèle Halimi, Benoîte Groult, Yvette Roudy, and so many others. So many others.

I dream that one day, there won't be any more editors who say to us haughtily: “But we already know all that. All these things have already been said elsewhere. Because we have to say and say again, again and again. Society forgets, men forget, especially those who have power and who are not ready to share it. And those who know that the dominant needs a dominated to exist, are the first to want to forget.




a story that is always to be redone and completed because without knowledge of women's history, without understanding the functioning of patriarchy, that is to say a tyrant's ideology, we understand nothing.

And yet, reading feminists should have woken us up, right? I use here the sulphurous word feminist, a decried word, connoted, dangerous, moreover we must not speak of feminism in general but of the waves of feminism: the first second and now, the third._cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ Finally, these are healthy and useful readings.

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