"From history to herstory": a new look at old galleries

Cécile Fara and Julie Marangé met on the first day of their Master’s degrees at Sciences Po. Together they founded Feminists of Paris, an organisation that offers walking tours and museum visits ‘through the lens of feminism and gender equality’ in Paris, Lyon, and Bordeaux. Cécile and Julie spoke to us about their entrepreneurial experiences with Feminists of Paris and how the history of feminism in France resonates today. 

Can you tell us about Feminists of Paris; what is it, and what are its principal objectives?  

Feminists of Paris offers 11 feminist walking tours in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux, in both English and French. Our goal is to address gender-related issues through art and culture and to cast light on the powerful and inspiring women who have been forgotten or erased from history. In a sense, we go from history to herstory, and develop a different narrative than the one we have been taught at school. 
Our walking tours allow curious locals and tourists to discover the empowering street art of the Butte-aux-cailles neighbourhood, to visit the Latin quarter whilst hearing about the witch hunt, or to learn about art history through a feminist lens at the Louvre.

What made you want to start up an initiative such as Feminists of Paris? 

Both of us spent some time in the United Kingdom: Julie did her undergraduate studies at the University of Bath and Cécile graduated from the dual degree between Sciences Po and University College London. We majored in gender studies, and were active in feminist societies at university. Meeting during the first week of our Master’s, we shared the feeling that it was more complex and taboo to talk about feminism in France than across the Channel. We thus decided to start our own project, which would address gender equality through the prism of art, history and culture, and allow for instructive and constructive conversations around this issue. 

When you meet people on your tours, do you feel positive about the state of feminism and feminist education in France?

Offering our walking tours in English has given us the opportunity to meet people of 39 nationalities. Many of them had an idealised vision of the French society, believing that gender equality was a reality in France. Through our two-hour tours, they get a more complex understanding of French society and history, whilst visiting the city in a novel and “off the beaten path” way. For example, at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, we tell the story of Rosa Bonheur, a 19th century animal painter, who had to ask for a cross-dressing permit so that she could wear trousers to the slaughterhouses where she found her inspiration. This gives a unique insight into the obstacles women had to overcome in order to fulfil their dreams. We put historical examples into perspective by drawing parallels with modern society: today, 60% of graduates from the Beaux-Arts are women, but only very few of them receive the same recognition as men. 

Feminists of Paris guided tour

For you as educators, what have been the greatest takeaways from these tours? What feedback have you received? What have you learned? 

Each day, through our research, we discover the stories of female scientists, writers, politicians, artists, whom we had never heard of before. It’s really fascinating. Their destinies are illustrations of gender inequalities and historical mechanisms, which cause the erasure of women. We intend to give them more room in history by telling their story during our tours. This empowers participants as it gives them real-life examples and all the more reasons to believe that they too can follow their dreams, regardless of their gender and societal pressures. Most of them tell us that, thanks to our tours, they see the urban space and visit museums differently. They are always on the lookout for engaged street art and look up the women lucky enough to have a street named after them. 

Could you give us an example of a work that takes on a different meaning when we view it through a “feminist lens” or which, conversely, has itself contributed to the feminist movement? 

During our feminist tour of the Louvre, we look at Mona Lisa through a feminist lens. This portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, from 1503, is the most famous in the world, but what does it tell us about women at the time? The feminine ideal was sobriety, modesty, aligning with representations of the Virgin Mary. The dark veil that covers Mona Lisa's hair can be considered a mourning veil, but such veils were commonly worn as a mark of virtue. She is also known as La Gioconda, which actually means “the wife of Francisco Giocondo”: it is striking that this woman, who entered art history, is still recalled by her husband’s name. 

Is there a message you hope for everybody to take away from your tours? What’s something you wish you could say to all women, or to everybody, who you aren’t able to reach directly through Feminists of Paris?

We wish for everyone, regardless of their gender, to see feminism, the movement for gender equality, as a necessity rather than a threat. We wish for women to be able to follow their aspirations and to inspire them with the stories of role models. This year, we are opening new tours in other French cities, so that even more people can join and enjoy them! 

This time of confinement is an opportunity to learn more about feminism and our feminist culture. We recommend essays and feminist novels, podcasts and online exhibitions that we then comment, critique and share on our social media (Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn) and on our feminist blog

Related links

More information

 

 

 

The Value of Diversity: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's 2009 Keynote Speech

The Value of Diversity: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's 2009 Keynote Speech

In July 2009, Sciences Po had the special honor of welcoming the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a keynote speaker of the Graduation Ceremony, held in our renowned Emile Boutmy lecture hall. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 to 2020, “RBG” as she is commonly referred to, was a fervent advocate for equality and became a cultural icon in the fight for women’s and minority rights.

More
Olivier Duhamel: “You will learn to think for yourselves”

Olivier Duhamel: “You will learn to think for yourselves”

On 10 September 2020, Olivier Duhamel, President of the FNSP (National Foundation of Political Sciences) gave - on many counts - a historic inaugural lecture for the Sciences Po Undergraduate College. Historic as it was the first ever to be delivered online, and it was for the first time addressed not only to all of Sciences Po’s undergraduate students, but also to a wider public audience through livestream on Youtube. “Argue, doubt, write, discover who you are, and make friendship”: The eminent constitutional law professor gave his most essential advice to incoming students and answered their pressing questions. Watch his ode to freedom of thought on replay below.

More
Sculptures For Our Future Campus: Meet the Artist

Sculptures For Our Future Campus: Meet the Artist

When it opens, the new site of the Paris campus located at 1 Saint Thomas will welcome students, professors, researchers, but also sculptures. Those of a young Colombian artist, Iván Argote, chosen by our jury to bring contemporary creations into a setting filled with history. With a group of students, Argote began creating a series of works, sometimes benches, sometimes sculptures, always rich in symbols and messages... Discover his career and his vision.

More
“Multilateralism: Modus Operandi For Progress”

“Multilateralism: Modus Operandi For Progress”

On 10 September 2020, the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who just a week prior made headlines for receiving sanctions by the United States government, addressed the new and returning graduate students of Sciences Po’s School of International Affairs (PSIA) for an inaugural lecture on multilateralism.

More
Dual Campus: 3 Questions on Hybrid Teaching

Dual Campus: 3 Questions on Hybrid Teaching

After a a swift transition online due to the Covid-19 crisis last spring semester, the fall semester is starting at Sciences Po on a new "dual campus" model, with courses reinvented and taking on new formats. A few days before the start of the academic year which is set for 14 September 2020, we interviewed Delphine Grouès, Dean of the Institute for Skills and Innovation, on the pedagogical innovations of this new dual campus.

More
Back-to-School 2020: Schedule of Inaugural Lectures

Back-to-School 2020: Schedule of Inaugural Lectures

Welcome new and welcome back, Sciences Po students! Despite an unprecedented and peculiar global context, our 2020 Back-to-School programme of inaugural lectures - which are, for many, open to the general public - promises to set you on the right track to begin an inspiring, fulfilling, and challenging academic year.

More
CIVICA: The Pulse of Europe

CIVICA: The Pulse of Europe

Aurélien Krejbich from Sciences Po is since 1 February 2020 the first Executive Director of CIVICA - The European University of Social Sciences. Krejbich has been involved in CIVICA since its early beginnings. In his previous role as Director of the Centre for Europe in Sciences Po’s International Affairs Division, he worked on consolidating bilateral ties with some of the future partners in the alliance. In this interview, he reflects on CIVICA’s journey and the next stage of growth.

More
Become the political photographer of the year

Become the political photographer of the year

As we launch the fourth annual Political Photograph Competition (FR), which is now open until the 15 September 2020 to all those wishing to enter, the judges remind us that taking a good political photograph is not a question of subject so much as one of seeing- a way of perceiving the often surprising world in which we live, one which goes beyond elections and street manifestations. Here are our three pieces of advice for those thinking of entering.

More
Paris Expansion: An Update on Our Future Campus

Paris Expansion: An Update on Our Future Campus

Once the former Hôtel de l'Artillerie will have completed its transformation, it will become the heart of our future Parisian campus. For the moment, the site is still under construction, but has made enormous progress thanks to state-of-the-art machines and the workers controlling them. Take a sneak-peek below through the lens of talented photographer, Martin Argyroglo.

More
“Studying Law Does Not Mean Sanctifying It”

“Studying Law Does Not Mean Sanctifying It”

Deputy Dean for the past year, Sébastien Pimont is now officially taking over from Christophe Jamin as Dean of the Law School at the start of the September 2020 academic year. This succession, although prepared over a long period of time, is occurring during an unprecedented educational context. However, that doesn’t scare this university professor who sees an even greater opportunity to pursue continuous educational innovation, a trademark of the Law School. Interview.

More