While there's a strong temptation to romanticize a social movement in France that inspired others in Europe and beyond, the country has consistently disappointed progressive sectors across the world. With Marine Le Pen's far-right party supported by a third of voters — over 10 million people — and the state of emergency indefinitely prolonged since the terror attacks in November 2017, social movements have little hope of making a difference during the presidency of former bank executive Emmanuel Macron, including countering his neoliberal labor reform.
One could argue that governments across the world have been weakening labor rights, not only in France. But particularly striking is the situation of women's rights in the country that gave birth to Simone de Beauvoir: from the conservative feminists justifying Dominique Strauss Kahn's rape of a hotel maid with the fake idea of a 'French exception' in 'seduction,' to the policemen forcing Muslim women to strip off on the beach, or more recently the open letter signed by 100 artistic and intellectual figures railing against the #MeToo movement and pleading for a "right to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom."
In a bid to better understand this alarming trend, teleSUR interviewed Pascale Tournier, who studies in depth France's new neo-conservative groups in the the freshly released 'Le Vieux Monde est de retour. Enquête sur les nouveaux conservateurs' (The Old World is back. Survey of new conservatives.'
teleSUR: Studying neo-conservative groups in France, did you observe that they were explicitely referring to May 1968? To what extent can we say they are the heirs of May '68? For instance, former President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a strong campaign against May '68, yet he benefitted from the liberalization of sexuality: he was the first French president to get divorced, and that during his presidential term!
Pascale Tournier: This generation hates May '68. Many of them participated in the protests against the 'marriage for all,'' which represented some kind of 'reversed May '68,'according to various analysts. They are keen on reversing old slogans like 'It is forbidden to forbid' or 'Enjoy without hindrance.' While they want to restore authority and public order and to limit access to equal rights, they believe that 50 years ago the student protests contributed to the moral decline of society; the weakening of the teacher at school, the dilution of the social link.
As for conservative feminist groups, how did they emerge? What are their cultural references? What are they fighting against?
The neocons have warmed up their techniques during the protests against the marriage for all in 2012 and 2013. Many are Catholic and supported Francois Fillon in the right-wing party's primary elections, and again supported his candidacy in the presidential elections. They came under the spotlight because they mobilized against the major bill modifying the structure of society, making visible their anthropological views — founded on a 'natural order' that could be summed up as 'a man is a man, a woman is a woman and a child is born from a father and a mother.'
They all protest today against the dangers of transhumanism and against the idea that lesbian couples could be allowed to Medically Assisted Procreation, or MAP, which they see as paving the way for surrogacy and the commercialization of bodies. But these social characteristics that misrepresent them as a model for a new social order in the eyes of their opponents is only the emerged tip of the iceberg. They demand limitations for everything: globalization, technological advances... They read Charles Peguy, Georges Bernanos (considered as belonging to the conservative centrist-right), but also Maurice Barres and Charles Maurras (far-right nationalism). They stole a few philosophers or writers from the left, such as Simone Weil. They can also occasionally enjoy listening to Michel Onfray, Régis Debray or Alain Finkielkraut. Since they lost in the political arena, they mean to lead the battle on the cultural front and in the media.
Simone de Beauvoir and the Left
The conservative neo-feminists say they value as much nature as culture: they criticize the idea that men and women could be interchangeable, as historical figures of feminism have argued, but on the contrary, they want to value what they believe is naturally women-specific, like motherhood. This leads them to promote the return of women to households. They support contraception only because they support the conservation of the planet, and they reject technological advances, which they find alienate women. They don't feel like they owe anything to the feminist struggles led by previous generations of women.
One of their main struggles is the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which they think has become too much of a formalized procedure. But they also fight access to MAP for all female couples, and of course surrogacy. The most prominent figures representing this movement are Eugénie Bastié, Marianne Durano— both journalists at 'Limite,' a magazine on 'integral ecology' — and Therese Hargot. Part of this movement is also the 'Antigones' group.
More than a generational factor, could it be a social or racial factor, in the sense that these 'conservative feminists' or 'anti-feminists' belong to privileged backgrounds and lack intersectionality? Catherine Deneuve is 75 years old, Eugenie Bastie is 27, yet they both signed the pamphlet against the #MeToo movement. What do they have in common?
Most of them are in their early 30s, well-educated, with a strong background in university, especially in philosophy, which allows them to reinterpret the concepts elaborated by their predecessors.
Eugenie Bastie and Catherine Deneuve don't have much in common. They just happen to have raised concerns about the #MeToo movement for the same reasons: they are worried the movement could turn into puritanism and become a mere witch-hunt against men. Bastie later reconsidered her position and acknowledged that women could really be victims of harassment. I think her position before was greatly informed by her Christian faith. Important to recall that puritanism and transparency are U.K. protestant values, not Catholic, so the journalist also took it as a cultural battle.