PARIS — In 1949, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir published the landmark feminist book Le Deuxième Sexe (“The Second Sex”). The work is a challenge to anyone who chooses — or is assigned? — to read it, with almost 1,000 pages between two volumes. Revered for the clarity and force of its arguments, de Beauvoir’s masterpiece would launch the second wave of feminism that moved beyond the battle of basic voting and legal rights to begin to confront gender inequality across society.
Today, we find ourselves in the middle of the third wave. Since the early 1990s, feminist thinkers have been aiming to tackle more abstract and personal concepts such as the struggle to rid minds of those pesky biases that live inside all of us: “How can she work full time and raise three kids?” or “Well, did you see how she was dressed?”
But for today’s feminists, like those who came before, the question of how to communicate their arguments is crucial to actually managing to enact change. Though de Beauvoir provided the unique gift of connecting abstract concepts to concrete reality, a door-stopper of a philosophical volume can only take you so far.
New statue of a girl standing up to the iconic Wall Street bull — Photo: Gina d'Antonio via Instagram
Five years after the feminist icon’s death in Paris, another voice arrived that’s worth remembering: It was dubbed Marie Pas Claire, a multi-level word play that translates as “Marie Not Clear,” and spoofs the beauty magazine Marie Claire. Based in the French capital, the group challenged the restraining notions of femininity with cutting humor that it published in its own magazine. With articles, quizzes and jokes, the young women of this group showed the power that sexist remarks could have — but this time, to men.
How long can a man live without a brain?
— That depends, how old is your husband?
That’s one of the tamer jokes. Marie Pas Claire created a scandal in France, which was exactly what the magazine was hoping for. If you don’t laugh, they thought, you’ll cry.
It’s a strong contrast to the image of the militant, even angry, feminist. And it’s done that way on purpose: Anger may be justified, but it doesn’t always advance your cause. Whether or not this type of approach is the right one is still a point of debate today.
Today, March 8, is the annual International Women’s Day, an event celebrated around the world since that first wave of feminism early last century. For the occasion, another form of protest is being tested in the United States by the organizers of January’s massive Women’s March on Washington: A simple strike will take place — women doctors, lawyers, cashiers, CEOs, police officers, factory workers and engineers will not be showing up to work today. How long can an economy live without women?