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Rewriting Academia

The Development of the Anglicist Women’s and Gender Studies of Continental Europe

Edited By Renate Haas

From a historical perspective, the full academic establishment of Women’s and Gender Studies is a radical and far-reaching innovation. Decisive impulses have come from the United States, the European unification and globalization. European Women’s and Gender Studies are therefore intimately linked to the English language and Anglophone cultures, as the near untranslatability of «gender» shows. In this volume 25 experts present surveys for their countries with a historical and European contextualization and offer fundamental insights not only for English Studies but also various other disciplines.
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Beyond Invisibility and Bias: English Women’s and Gender Studies in France

Florence Binard

Beyond Invisibility and Bias: English Women’s and Gender Studies in France1

1.  Women’s and Gender Studies in France: A General Overview

As in most other Western countries, the history of women’s and gender studies in France has its roots in the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s and is marked by its closeness to feminism.

However, in France this history should also be viewed in the context of its relationship with the protests of students and intellectuals in May 1968, which brought about a substantial transformation of the university system that had existed since the end of the 19th century. This system was strongly structured along traditional disciplines anchored in the prestigious Sorbonne University, which attracted the best professors and students. The teaching of these disciplines was – and still is – based on passing the ‘agrégation’, a national competitive exam, followed by a PhD thesis, which on average required about ten years of research work.2 Bearing in mind this constrained structure, specific to France, the difficulties encountered by women’s and gender studies – characterised by their pluridisciplinary approach – can be better understood. It must be added that French universities were entirely dependent for their funding on the Ministry of National Education and on the Ministry of Research. As a consequence, contrary to what was happening, for example, in the United States or Germany, where ← 105 | 106 → universities could rely on private or regional funding to develop such an innovative field as women’s and gender studies, French universities could not.3

Nevertheless, this did not mean that women’s and gender studies were absent from the French academic scene. Indeed, a few months after the events of May 1968, on November 12th, Edgar Faure’s framework law on higher education was voted on. It led to the fragmentation of the Sorbonne into nine, and then thirteen, autonomous universities. Two among these, Paris 7, now called Paris Diderot-Sorbonne Paris Cité, and Paris 8, previously at Vincennes, adopted teaching as well as research policies that were breaking with the tradition, notably in the field of women’s and gender studies. The University Paris 8-Vincennes, which opened its doors on December 8th 1968, soon distinguished itself by its intellectual effervescence. Two of its internationally most renowned professors were Michel Foucault and Hélène Cixous, but others such as Luce Irigaray, Michel Serres or Gilles Deleuze should also be mentioned. The pluridisciplinary University Paris 7 was founded on January 1st 1971 and counted in its ranks Michelle Perrot, Julia Kristeva, Rita Thalmann and Françoise Barret-Ducrocq. It was in these new universities, which attracted individuals keen on developing new scientific approaches, that women’s studies emerged in the early 1970s. These female scholars, who had been recruited following the institutional procedure (‘agrégation’ plus PhD), introduced courses on women and feminism within the official syllabuses but, more importantly, they organised non-official research groups. Indeed, their respectable status in the eyes of the university authorities gave them the freedom to organise women-only meetings, to which female academics and researchers, co-opted on the basis of their feminist commitment, were invited. These groups pioneered women’s studies in France and, in most cases, established themselves in the left-leaning universities.

In an article written in 1995, Dominique Fougeyrollas noted that whereas feminists of previous generations had fought against any kind of imprisonment in the so-called ‘woman’s question’, the feminists of the 1970s were claiming the right to exclude men from their groups. This, she ← 106 | 107 → explained, would have a marked impact on future strategies, notably on the necessity to distinguish research and teaching from the feminist movement whilst acknowledging the permeability between the two (Fougeyrollas 1995: 121–30).

The first courses were organised by women who were both academics and feminist activists, many of whom were taking part in the demonstrations of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the early 1970s, and the courses were, at first, for the most part, extra-curricular and attended almost exclusively by female students eager to learn about women. According to historian Michelle Perrot, it took great courage for male students to sit on these courses where patriarchy was attacked from all sides, and although male researchers were not and could not be excluded by law, very few ventured into the field, either because they felt they were unwelcome or most commonly because they thought the subject did not concern them (Perrot 2001: 13–21).

In their early stages, women’s studies in France were thus the realm of women. But dissension within feminist ranks was rife. As underlined by Françoise Barret-Ducrocq, the debates surrounding research on women were heated ones. They opposed those who thought that feminist studies had their place within academic institutions (universities and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique / CNRS4) to those who feared a dilution of feminism within a male-dominated and sexist environment: ‘Many were of the opinion that carrying out research and discoursing on women in as phallocratic places as universities was bound to irrevocably compromise the cause of women’ (Barret-Ducrocq 2001: 33). To a certain extent, both sides had a point, as the first female lecturers and professors teaching women’s studies had to fight on two fronts. Claude Zaidman remembered how they had to struggle within academic institutions to try and convince the authorities as well as their peers of the legitimacy of theoretical work on women and feminism, and how, on the other hand, they had to deal with internal conflicts regarding the development of their field of research whilst at the same time having to face antagonistic feminist groups (Zaidman 2001: 78). ← 107 | 108 →

As academics, they were confronted with the paradoxical difficulty of defending the scientific value and validity of their research and of feminist studies within institutions which they strongly criticised and condemned on account of their claims to objectivity.

Although, from their standpoint, these claims to objectivity were clearly biased and, despite working in rather hostile environments where they were accused of producing militant and therefore non-academic work, they were convinced that not only did they have their place in universities and research centres but that, on a political and pragmatic level, it was crucial that they fight the system from within. Françoise Picq recalls that they were discussing their roles in relation to institutions and that they would conclude: ‘You cannot escape institutions, you fight and you debate within them!’ (Picq 2001: 23).

During the 1970s several non-official research groups were established in universities throughout France. The first one was the Centre d’Etudes Féminines de l’Université de Provence / CEFUP at Aix-Marseille in 1972, which organised the first women’s studies conference entitled ‘Les femmes et les sciences humaines’ in 1975. That same year, thanks to the pragmatic approach of Michelle Perrot and Françoise Basch, the Groupe d’Etudes Féministes / GEF was created at Paris 7. It was a research group which excluded men.5 By the early 1980s there existed similar groups in most major French cities: Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse, and Tours (Picq 2005: 4–5). The names given to the different groups testify to the diversity of the approaches and to their various standpoints. Some focussed on women and femininity, others on feminism; some adopted a pluridisciplinary approach, while others centred on a single discipline (women and history, women and anthropology, women and mathematics etc.)

The first feminist national conference, held at the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail in 1982 and entitled ‘Femmes, féminisme et recherches’ marked a turning point and is regarded as the first step towards the institutionalisation of women’s studies in France. The conference benefitted from the support of the newly elected left-wing government. It was subsidised by the Minister of Research Jean-Pierre Chevènement and the Minister of ← 108 | 109 → Women’s Rights Yvette Roudy, and supported by the French anthropologist Maurice Godelier, then director of the first department of human and social sciences in the CNRS. The conference met with great success, as it gathered over 800 participants; 144 papers were presented and published in an 1100-page document (AFFER 2004). Yet, despite these achievements, the aftermath of the Toulouse conference did not meet the expectations of a number of feminist researchers, who were disappointed with the pace of development. It must be underlined that the French university system was, and still is, to a large extent, highly centralised and dependent on the Ministry of Higher Education, which means that it is extremely difficult for universities to implement new measures without the approval of the government. This includes the creation of new courses, which require the accreditation of the ministry, but also the establishment of new disciplines.

In the wake of the conference, the Ministry of Women’s Rights and the CNRS financed an ATP (Action Thématique Programmée) dedicated to research on women and feminism for a four-year period. As underlined by Hélène Rouch, this ATP was a major step forward and testified to a strong theoretical stance in a context when most female academics had only been able to do feminist research by disguising the titles of their projects – the only way to be tolerated by their institutions – and when a great number of female researchers worked outside of universities and official research centres (Rouch 2001: 102). Maurice Godelier, the director of the department of human and social sciences declared:

Such a programme signifies […] firstly, to acknowledge the scientific importance of this domain, secondly, to assert the legitimacy from a militant point of view, from a feminist point of view, from a point of view which does not simply consist of accumulating analyses of the reality for the sole sake of knowing it, but which stresses its refusal to accept this reality as it is in order to transform it.6

The scientific committee set up a call for projects along three axes: axis A was concerned with the ‘Critical Analysis of the Conceptualisation of the Sexes’; axis B with ‘Women, the State, Law and Society’; and axis C with the ‘Women’s Movement, Women’s Practices’. Out of 130 proposals received, 68 projects were selected and all were completed with very few exceptions. ← 109 | 110 → The vast majority of the projects were carried out within the field of the humanities and social sciences – only two dealt with experimental science, one in anthropological physics and the other in biology. This paucity of French feminist production in the hard sciences as compared with that of the United States or other European countries could be explained, according to Hélène Rouch (herself a biologist), by the rampant misogyny in the field of hard sciences in France (Rouch 2001: 110). Another point of interest concerning this ATP was that although the aim of the scientific committee was to develop multidisciplinarity, only six projects comprised researchers working in clearly distinct disciplines. And when the programme came to an end, despite its enormous success, contrary to what had been hoped, no cross-disciplinary commission allowing the visibility of the field was set up, no feminist research post was created within the CNRS (Picq 2005: 10). In 1984, however, Yvette Roudy’s Ministry of Women’s Rights negotiated the creation of four university posts in feminist studies with the Ministry of National Education. Only three of the four posts were created: one in private law at the University of Rennes, one in sociology at the University Paris 7, and one in history at the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail. The fourth one in political science at the University of Nantes met with such opposition from the recruiting committee that it remained vacant (Picq 2005: 11). Claude Zaidman7 remarked that the institutional decision to create posts in feminist studies within specific disciplines8 led to the prioritisation of their research fields by feminist researchers. For instance, the Centre d’Enseignement, d’Etudes et de Recherches pour les Etudes Féministes / CEDREF at Paris-Diderot / Paris 7, headed by a professor of sociology was – and to some extent still is – composed of members whose main discipline varied and whose main research laboratory was not the CEDREF. As a consequence, they considered themselves as historians, linguists, philosophers etc., and only secondarily as specialists of women’s / feminist / ← 110 | 111 → gender studies (Zaidman 1995: 131–37). As these researchers had not been recruited on account of their interest in feminism or gender studies, they were not replaced in the CEDREF when they retired. The recruitment of CEDREF members was – and still is – entirely dependent on the personal involvement of individual researchers. On the whole, because feminist or gender studies departments did not exist in French universities, these fields remained institutionally weak, even though they generated interest among students and researchers. According to Marie-Jo Bonnet,9 the failure to develop women’s studies departments in France largely lay with established female professors who were eager to safeguard the recognition of their peers and who, consequently, vetoed the creation of such departments on the grounds that they would result in a ‘feminist ghetto’ within French academia (Bonnet 2001: 51).

In September 1988, a resolution of the European Parliament on ‘woman and research’ stipulating that member States created chairs and developed women’s studies gave a new impetus to the institutionalisation of this field of research in France. The resolution was an incentive for the development of European networks, which required national umbrella associations. In this perspective, several French regional feminist organisations founded in the wake of the Toulouse conference decided to join together organising a national co-ordinating body. The Association Nationale des Etudes Féministes / ANEF was thus created in 1989. ‘Its aim is to develop and promote feminist studies in all the disciplines. It gathers together lecturers, researchers, students and anyone involved in feminist studies on women, gender and gender issues’ (ANEF 2014: 14).

In the mid-1990s, once again spurred on by international pressure, in this instance by the Fourth World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing, the French Ministry of Women’s Rights decided to subsidise a survey of research on ‘women and relations between the sexes’ in France. Thus, under the scientific leadership of Danièle Senotier and Nathalie Cattanéo, ← 111 | 112 → the GEDISST-CNRS10 compiled the first directory of researchers employed in France and working on gender issues, on ‘rapports sociaux de sexe’ (Cattanéo 1996).11 Three hundred and sixty-eight, mostly female, researchers were listed. They had defined their disciplines and fields of research themselves so that the index of disciplines and fields comprised as many as a hundred and five different entries. Unsurprisingly, all, bar a few exceptions (in biology, epidemiology or mathematics), belonged to the humanities, and mostly to three disciplines: in first position came sociology, closely followed by history, and in third position, somewhat behind the other two, was English studies. It is interesting to note that ‘gender’ as a discipline or research field did not appear at all in this index. It did appear in the index of keywords; however, in view of the extremely small number of entries, it is clear that French researchers rarely used the word ‘gender’ at that time.

In 2000, the Association Nationale des Etudes Féministes / ANEF published their first directory. To a large extent, the presentation of the members was similar to that of the GEDISST-CNRS directory except that instead of ‘relations between the sexes’, the research fields and courses were clearly labelled as feminist. Twenty-three disciplines were listed as well as twenty research fields12 and, in sharp contrast with the previous census, the research field entitled ‘Gender Issues’ gathered the highest number of entries. ← 112 | 113 →

For scientific as well as strategic reasons, the 1990s marked a shift in the use of the term ‘gender’ in France. Women’s and feminist studies were often stigmatised and regarded as incompatible with a scientific approach, when they were not accused of excluding men. As underlined in the ANEF Livre blanc, the term gender may be used as a pertinent conceptual tool; however, in most cases, it is used to conceal such words as ‘feminist’, ‘women’ or ‘sexes’. In some instances it is even used in a way that is devoid of any feminist perspective. However, from an institutional point of view, the term gender had been adopted by European institutions and had become a ‘buzzword’ that was required to obtain, notably, European funding (ANEF 2014: 28–29). In addition, it must be noted that although the concept remained (and still is) incomprehensible to many outside the field, it had, nonetheless, become a category of analysis for a new generation of researchers. As a matter of fact, developments in gender theories led to a broadening of the field of women’s and feminist issues. Thus, in 2000, the national inter-university and cross-disciplinary network on gender, Réseau Interuniversitaire et interdisciplinaire National sur le Genre / RING was created. This network brought together research groups around scientific exchange programmes and / or the organisation of conferences and workshops. The creation of this network marked a step forward in the institutionalisation of gender studies in France, all the more so as in 2009, on the advice of the Ministry for Higher Education and Research, it became a federation whose aim was to coordinate teaching, research teams, but also isolated teachers or researchers (ANEF 2014: 23).

In the same period, in 2004, Jean Paul Huchon, President of the Conseil Régional d’Île de France appointed Marc Lipinski as Vice-President in charge of higher education, research, scientific and technological innovation. Open to feminist concerns, Marc Lipinsky conferred upon literature professor Eliane Viennot the task of developing, at regional level, research on women, sex and gender. After several months of consultation with gender specialists from Île de France universities, this mission led to the creation of the first French institute on women, sex and gender, the Institut Emilie du Châtelet / IEC,13 of which Françoise Barret-Ducrocq became the first ← 113 | 114 → President. The inauguration took place at the Collège de France under the patronage of the anthropologist Françoise Héritier, the historian Michelle Perrot and the literature Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Since then the IEC has been structured into a research federation that gathers together seventeen research institutions including all Parisian universities. Every year it awards doctoral and postdoctoral grants to young researchers, it organises monthly conferences as well as yearly international conferences, and it also funds the translations into French of major foreign writings on gender.

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, there has been a sharp increase in the interest shown for women’s and gender studies in France. Several censuses have been carried out by the ANEF (2002, 2008) and by the CNRS (2011). The latter served as a data basis for the creation in 2012 of a GIS (Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique) Institut du genre, which brings together most French labs and research teams working on gender and sexualities and which organised the first French congress on gender studies in Lyon in September 2014.

The government acknowledges the social and political relevance of gender studies:

The bulk of the work that has been produced in France since the 1960s in the field of feminist and gender studies has contributed to political awareness and public action by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research in matters of equality, deconstruction of stereotypes and fight against discriminations. (ANEF 2014: 10 / F.B.)

Under the 2013 law pertaining to higher education and research, universities are required to set up commissions to fight against gender stereotypes and to promote gender equality at all levels. Parity is required on electoral lists of candidates, and a gender-balanced distribution of nominations to governing bodies must be applied. But similar top-down political measures regarding the creation of gender posts and courses would confer stronger legitimacy to gender studies. Indeed, although courses and research on gender studies in France are increasingly numerous, they often rely on the academic choices of individual lecturers and researchers and they often remain ill-identified and ill-identifiable.

The recognition that the development of feminist and gender studies concerns not just academia but society at large is beyond doubt, but it does not mean that all approve. Opposition to gender studies by the advocates ← 114 | 115 → of the so-called ‘differences between the sexes’ or ‘complementarity of the sexes’ is not negligible, as shown, for example, by the campaign – backed by many right-wing politicians – against the ‘ABCD de l’égalité’, a primary school program aimed at fighting sexism and gender stereotypes (ABCD). A greater institutionalisation of feminist and gender studies in France may therefore be crucial to their long-term survival. In order to do so, however, the tensions between a mainstream approach and a gender-specific, albeit cross-disciplinary one, remain to be addressed. The example of English studies in France is an illustration of this question.

2.  English Women’s and Gender Studies in France: Past and Present14

If sociology and history have, for obvious reasons, constituted by far the largest pool of researchers on women and gender in France since the 1970s, English studies have come in third position and French scholars of English have played a significant role in their development. This is due to two main factors. English as a discipline is by nature pluridisciplinary, as it encompasses the fields of literature, history / culture and linguistics, which allows academics a greater freedom of choice concerning their fields of research. Secondly, their knowledge of the English language has proven a great asset for accessing the wealth of feminist and gender literature produced by American, British and other Anglophone scholars and has facilitated international exchanges and collaborations.

Undoubtedly the internationally most renowned French scholar of English, Hélène Cixous, who is now emeritus professor of literature at the University of Paris 8, was instrumental in the development and institutionalisation of feminist / feminine studies in France. In 1974, she founded the Centre de recherches en études féminines at the University of Vincennes, ← 115 | 116 → the first of its kind in Europe (EGS). Now called Centre d’études féminines et d’études de genre, it remains one of the very few places in France entitled to award postgraduate degrees in the field. It offers a master’s degree in ‘Gender(s), theories of sex differences, and relations between the sexes’ and is the only doctoral programme in gender studies available in France.

In the same period, however, several other scholars of English also played an important part in fostering women’s studies. As early as 1970 a group of French feminist scholars attended the first National Women’s Liberation Conference, which took place at Ruskin College, Oxford, possibly the biggest landmark in the British Women’s Lib Movement. For the French feminists and researchers, the conference was a wonderful eye-opener. For the first time, they were witnessing a massive mobilisation of women. They met there feminist researchers they had known since 1968 and consolidated friendships as well as working relationships, which have lasted up to the present. Among them was Françoise Barret-Ducrocq,15 who seized this opportunity to lay the foundations for several decades of cross-Channel relations with British scholars. Together with Antoinette Fouque, who created the publishing house ‘Les éditions des femmes’ in 1972, she contributed to the introduction of major works on women and gender in France. Françoise Barret-Ducrocq has translated into French Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974); Madmen and Medusas: Reclaiming Hysteria and the Effects of Sibling Relations on the Human Condition (2000); Sheila Rowbotham’s Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World (1974)16 and on several occasions invited renowned British feminist academics such as Ann Oakley, Juliet Mitchell, Sheila Rowbotham or Pat Thane.

At the end of the 1970s, another English scholar, Françoise Basch17 took an important step in establishing cross-Atlantic relations. Together with ← 116 | 117 → Carol Smith-Rosenberg and Claudia Koons, she launched a large feminist project subsidised by the Rockefeller Center Foundation, which enabled them to organise, between 1978 and 1982, three seminars, during which different workshops took place. Two were held in 1978 and 1979 at the Moulin d’Andé in Normandy and one, in 1982, at Shaker Mill Farm (New York). Many of the women present at these seminars were to become prominent women and gender academics in France and the United States.18 The immediate outcome of these seminars was two books, Stratégies des femmes (1984) and Women in Culture and Politics: A Century of Change (1986). In 2001, in an article revisiting these events, Françoise Basch underlined both the scientific character of the event and its social aspect. She concluded that the experience had led to long-term collaborations regarding both research and teaching in feminist studies (Basch 2001: 37–40). The series of seminars entitled ‘40 ans de recherche sur les femmes, le sexe et le genre’ and organised by the Institut Emilie du Châtelet / IEC since 2008 is testimony of these collaborations. Françoise Barret-Ducroq has invited such guest speakers as Carol Smith-Rosenberg, Yasmine Ergas and Catharine R. Stimpson.

The 1980s and 1990s saw the creation of other research groups on women and gender in which scholars of English played a significant role. For example, the Equipe de Recherche Créativité et Imaginaire des Femmes / ERCIF was founded at the University of Bordeaux 3 in 1984 by two Americanists, Elisabeth Béranger and Ginette Castro.19 From the start, the ERCIF had a pluridisciplinary policy and welcomed members of other disciplines, mainly French literature, drama and art. In 1987–88, it was granted a CNRS ATP, in order to take an inventory of publications on women’s ← 117 | 118 → literature as well as of forgotten works written by women. In the words of Elisabeth Béranger, this led to exchanges with other researchers in Europe and the United States. The ERCIF benefitted from a good reputation and, thanks to the support of two successive presidents at Bordeaux 3, it became a laboratory attached to the doctoral school. This meant that it enjoyed a large autonomy regarding its scientific choices and the recruitment of its members, but more importantly, it was allocated an annual budget to finance its research. Although the quality of its work had been recognised by the Ministry of Higher Education and despite its achievements, the team lost its laboratory status in 2004 and was invited to join forces with another bigger laboratory (Béranger 2003: 21). It is now one of the six centres that compose the laboratory entitled CLARE / Cultures, Littératures, Arts, Représentations, Esthétiques. Contrary to research groups such as the GEF at Paris 7, the ERCIF claimed a feminine rather than a feminist approach. In 2003 Nicole Ollier, who was then director of the Master’s in Anglophone studies, declared that

Passion, commitment and social awareness never meant vehemence for these calm, collected and courteous women. The aggressiveness, the excess and sometimes the paranoia that characterised the attitude of some feminists across the Atlantic did not in the least contaminate the researchers at Bordeaux 3 (Ollier 2003: 17 / F.B.).

She even argued that caution was required regarding the application of the ERCIF research at BA degree level where ‘any kind of gender bias might seem tendentious’ (Ollier 2003: 17 / F.B.).

At Paris 8, several members of the English department were involved in women’s and gender studies and research. In 1989, Martine Spensky20 and Alisa Del Re from the University of Padua (Italy) created a bi-national research group on the State and gender issues and, in 1991, Martine Spensky edited a special issue of Les cahiers d’encrages,21 entitled ‘Etat et ← 118 | 119 → rapports sociaux de sexe’. The following year, another Cahiers d’encrages issue on war and social changes was mainly dedicated to women and war. It contained three contributions by British and American feminist scholars – Penny Summerfield, Margaret Higonnet and Janet Thumin – testifying to close collaborations with Anglo-Saxon researchers on women and gender.

Still at Paris 8, on the initiative of female students of English and of feminine and gender studies, Claude Cohen-Safir22 founded, in 1989, Résonances- femmes, an association whose main interest lies in the interactions between gender and art and which publishes its own review entitled Résonances. Until 2012 it was hosted and subsidised by Paris 8, but sadly, when Claude Cohen-Safir retired, it was no longer institutionally possible and Résonances-femmes had to migrate to a new site. This state of affairs is one of the many instances illustrating the weaknesses of women’s and gender studies that are not institutionally grounded, but instead rely on individual researchers to exist; when these retire, it frequently happens that, for lack of successors within their laboratories, their research groups cease to exist.

In the early 2000s, other groups were created. Among them was Femmes Auteurs Anglo-AMéricaines / FAAAM, co-founded in 2001 by Claire Bazin and Marie-Claude Perrin-Chenour. Initially centred on Anglo-Saxon literature, the group has widened its scope of interests to Western literature:

With a special focus on women’s writing strategies within and without the dominant literary currents in their home countries, this research group examines the practices of rewriting the canon of Western literature. At the beginning of the 21st century, it throws a new light on the question of the elaboration of a literary tradition specific to women writers, as Elaine Showalter or Ellen Moers have done for the feminine literature of the 19th century. (FAAAM)

The group organises monthly seminars and an international conference in June every year. Master’s and doctoral courses are also linked to their activities.

Another notable example is Voix et voies de femmes. In 2002, Guyonne Leduc, whose professorial thesis (Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches / HDR) dealt with women’s education in eighteenth-century England, in ← 119 | 120 → particular in Henry Fielding’s works, was invited by the scientific board of her university (Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3) and by the director of her laboratory to set up a research group on women and gender. The initial impetus had come from the Government, whose wish was to develop such groups within French universities, without imposing (on them) stringent measures. Indeed, this ‘soft’ top-down approach meant that the Ministry of Higher Education did not have to create posts that were not deemed a priority by most universities. Voix et voies de femmes was thus formed in 2002. In 2009, ‘Etudes sur les femmes, le sexe et le genre’ was added to the name of that research team. It is a very successful pluridisplinary group that gathers a dozen researchers, half of whom are scholars of English. Since its creation, it has organised numerous workshops, seminars, conferences on a variety of subjects dealing with women and gender. A fair number of these scientific events have resulted in publications in the Harmattan book series ‘Des idées et des femmes’. This (i.e. 30 volumes to date) has been edited by Guyonne Leduc since 1979, when she was asked by L’Harmattan to create it as a complementary series to ‘La bibliothèque du féminisme’. The first volume was dedicated to the acts of an interdisciplinary conference that took place at Lille 3 in 1996 about women’s education in Europe and North America between the Renaissance and 1848. Courses and seminars (Master’s degree) started at Lille 3 as early as 1994, when Guyonne Leduc was appointed professor. In 2009, the first post of ‘Maître de conférences’ of ‘Etudes sur les femmes, le sexe et le genre’ in French English studies was created at Lille 3.

Most French universities host pluridisciplinary research groups on women and gender in which there are scholars of English. In some cases these researchers are prominent members who are able to influence research directions; in other cases they constitute a very small minority whose voice is consequently limited. The visibility of these research groups varies greatly, but most are invisible to students, who, at the very best, know of the existing groups within their own universities.

The Société Anglophone sur le Genre et les Femmes / SAGEF has sought to improve this situation. Founded in 2011 at the initiative of Françoise Barret-Ducrocq, Florence Binard and Guyonne Leduc, the SAGEF is an official association affiliated to the Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur / SAES, itself a member of the European Society for the Study of ← 120 | 121 → English / ESSE. Its aims are to provide a platform for French researchers in English studies, to develop and promote their research within French academia, and to foster cooperation between women and gender specialists in France and abroad. Since its creation, the SAGEF has regularly organised seminars at the SAES and ESSE congresses and has also run workshops at Lille 3 and Paris Diderot. It publishes the proceedings of its SAES seminars in the collection ‘Des idées et des femmes’.23 The SAGEF has a blog and a mailing list, which allows members to keep updated of its activities as well as to exchange information. This is particularly useful in a context where not only research groups are barely visible but specialists of women’s and gender studies too.

The Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur / SAES is the largest association of English studies academics in France. In December 2013 it could boast a membership of 2,305 (SAES 2013: 3). Out of these, only about 20 members mentioned women and / or gender as one of their research fields. Interestingly, even researchers who were (in some instances, still are) directors of research groups mainly dealing with women or gender studies had not mentioned ‘women’s studies’ as part of their research fields. Yet, SAES members can mention up to five specialities on their membership form: three out of a list of 66 specialities in which ‘gender studies’ is included, plus another two of their choice. A computer generated search showed that there was not a single entry for either ‘feminism/s’ or ‘sexuality/ies’ and that ‘feminine poetry’ was the only specific field regarding ‘women’s studies’ that was actually mentioned. This invisibility of women’s and gender studies is revealing of the status (or the understanding of the status) of this research field within English studies. In reply to the question why they did not include ‘women’s and / or gender studies’ as part of their specialities, SAES members offered several answers. Some explained that they had completed their membership forms at a time when it had not been possible to enter as many specialities as is now the case, and that out of negligence they had not updated their forms. Others contended that it had been a deliberate choice because they ← 121 | 122 → felt that presenting themselves as specialists of ‘American literature’ or ‘history of ideas’ carried more prestige than ‘women and gender’. Among these, some acknowledged that they were aware of the reticence of some colleagues regarding gender studies and therefore deemed it safer not to ‘flaunt’ this side of their research. It is interesting to note that this echoes the standpoint of researchers in other disciplines, who tend to consider themselves as historians, linguists, philosophers etc. and only secondarily as specialists of women’s / feminist / gender studies. Still others admitted they had not even thought of it, without explaining why, but expressed the wish to remedy this omission. Finally, some explained that although a part of their research was dedicated to women and gender, they did not feel entitled to advertise this aspect of their work.

On account of their pluridisciplinary nature, compared to other disciplines, English studies are a privileged field to study gender issues. However, because of the perception of gender studies amongst English studies researchers, including a fair number of those working on women and gender, those specialising solely in feminist, gender or sexuality studies may find this choice to be an obstacle to their promotion.

At the end of the 1980s an assistant lecturer in English at a French university applying to have her post transformed into a senior lecturer job saw her application rejected because her work was seen as too narrowly centred on women’s issues. The first scientific expert appointed by the Ministry of Higher Education wrote: ‘Mrs X attached to her dossier twelve articles dealing with women’s relations to money, work, motherhood, the State. These publications are quite uniform and somewhat too exclusively focussed on the feminine condition’.24 The author probably did not see the irony of his enumeration, nor did he realise, in his poor knowledge of gender studies, that the term ‘feminine condition’ was rather dated from a feminist studies point of view. The second expert was even more openly dismissive and denigrating of women’s studies in his report: ‘The published articles build upon and further develop what seems to be Mrs X’s main preoccupation, that is to say the feminine condition and its ← 122 | 123 → twists and turns’.25 The candidate obtained her promotion on re-applying the following year, but a decade later she was confronted with similar opposition when applying for a chair in an English studies department. The referee praised her for her numerous publications and collaborations with various research groups, but asked the following questions: ‘Does it suffice for audiences studying English to treat the history of Great Britain solely through the lens of single mothers, or to consider the relations between men and women only from the angle of power, or even to only regard women as victims of capitalism, patriarchy etc.?26 The reproaches levelled at Ms X are barely implicit. Because of her subjective feminist stance and the supposedly narrow specialisation attached to it, it was assumed that Ms X was not suited to supervise research nor to deliver courses on British history and institutions. Interestingly, in their appraisal of Ms X’s work, a CNRS director, specialising in gender studies, was laudatory and they concluded their report by saying: ‘Her work opens up a multiplicity of bridges and ladders between disciplines, between objects of research and between countries’.27 Ms X got a professorship, has since successfully delivered courses on British history and cultural studies, including ‘agrégation’ courses, and supervised PhD students.

If English studies are truly pluridisciplinary in France, the Langue, Littérature, Civilisation Etrangère en anglais / LLCE stream – which trains students specialising in English studies – has nonetheless been ‘corseted’ by the national system of competitive exams put in place to recruit teachers. As a matter of fact, teachers are civil servants employed by the Ministry of Education and must pass the CAPES (Certificat d’aptitude au professorat du second degré) or the more prestigious ‘agrégation’ in order to become fully qualified teachers. Each year the Ministry of National Education determines ← 123 | 124 → the number of candidates who will be allowed to pass these exams and until recently,28 the syllabus changed on a yearly / two-yearly basis. The subjects studied in the curriculum were the same for both exams, except that for the ‘agrégation’ there were more and the required level of expertise was higher. But, basically, whether they were CAPES or ‘agrégation’ candidates, the students were asked to demonstrate a broad knowledge of Anglophone literature, history and culture as well as an excellent mastery of the English language and grammar. This led to the division of English studies in France into three main domains: literature, ‘civilisation’ (history, culture and institutions) and linguistics; literature and ‘civilisation’ being each subdivided into two narrower specialities: American and British. Although these three main domains are theoretically equal, they may be rated in a conservative hierarchical manner. It is perceived as more erudite to teach British literature than British civilisation or linguistics, but also more distinguished to teach Shakespeare than contemporary sci-fi. Similarly, within British civilisation it can be considered more prestigious to teach about History than contemporary culture, just as working on corpus or applied linguistics can be regarded as less impressive than theoretical linguistics.

This is probably rooted in the fact that, historically, studying English in France was mainly synonymous with studying Anglophone literature. The English ‘agrégation’ has existed since 1948, but linguistics as a speciality was introduced in 1970, and it was only in the mid-1970s that, thanks to Monica Charlot, ‘American and British civilisation studies’ were developed and introduced into the syllabuses of the CAPES and ‘agrégation’ competitive exams (D’Hellencourt 2005: 255–56).

On the whole, the syllabuses for the ‘agrégation’ testify to a rather conservative approach to English studies. The vast majority of the works studied in the literature option come under the category of ‘great classics’29 and over three quarters of these have been written by male authors. The years 2014 and 2015 have been exceptional (and maybe a sign that things are changing?), since three female authors have been selected: Frances Burney, Edith Wharton and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). The topics on the syllabuses ← 124 | 125 → for the ‘civilisation’ option tend to focus on History with a capital H, but culture has its place, especially regarding American ‘civilisation’ with such questions as ‘Organised Crime on the Screen (1929–1951)’ or ‘The American Counterculture in the 1960s’.30 In this context, it is hardly surprising that subjects pertaining to women’s and gender studies are rarely chosen for the ‘agrégation’ syllabuses. At best, questions on women and gender are introduced in a mainstreaming approach, for instance, in 2001, the topic for British ‘civilisation’ was ‘Poverty and Inequalities in Great Britain from 1942 to 1990’ and one of the six themes to be studied included the sociological variables of ‘gender, race, age etc.’. Nevertheless, there have been a few notable exceptions with ‘Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ in 1987; ‘Feminism in the United States from 1848 to 1875: the Debate within the Movement’ in 1995.

If the LLCE stream with its focus on the CAPES and ‘agrégation’ exams is often regarded as the most prestigious among academics of English and the one which recruits the vast majority of professors, there exist two other channels delivering courses in English studies and employing lecturers, senior lecturers and sometimes professors in English: Langues Etrangères Appliquées / LEA (mainly in commercial and translation studies) and LANgues pour Spécialistes d’Autres Disciplines / LANSAD, i.e. teaching English to students whose main discipline is not English. These two streams, LANSAD even more so than LEA, provide an environment in which lecturers may carry out research that has no direct link to the content of the courses they teach. As a matter of fact, for example, a lecturer teaching English to hard science or law students rarely conducts his or her research in these domains. This situation presents the disadvantage of not being able to teach one’s research subject, but the advantage of having the freedom to pursue research in a more marginal domain than would be the case in an LLCE setting. However, as professorships in LEA and LANSAD are far less numerous than in LLCE, LEA or LANSAD senior lecturers seeking promotion are often obliged to apply for chairs in LLCE, where their teaching experience and non-conventional research may prove to put them at a disadvantage. The following conclusion to a report on an application ← 125 | 126 → for a professorship in British ‘civilisation’ by a gender specialist is an illustration of this state of affairs:

Remarkable research dossier in the field covered, highly specialised. Lecturing experience in LANSAD / LEA hardly prepares for the teaching of the general curriculum required for the ‘agrégation’ in a provincial university where there is only one professor of British ‘civilisation’. Excellent profile for a university well-staffed with professors who supervise research in narrow domains, but unsuited for the English institute of the University of X. For these reasons, the vote is unfortunately unfavourable’.31

The adjectives ‘remarkable’ and ‘excellent’ are quite laudatory of the quality of the research, and the adverb ‘unfortunately’ indicates that the referee deplores this situation. However, they justify their unfavourable judgement by underlining the fact that the candidate’s teaching experience has been in LANSAD and LEA and not in LLCE, implying that the candidate is ill-equipped to train students for the ‘agrégation’. Even if this were true (which is highly questionable), claiming that the main teaching duty of a professor at a ‘provincial’ university is to prepare students for the ‘agrégation’ is an admission that the system is conservative and elitist. In 2013 there were 167 posts for a total of 1024 candidates at the ‘agrégation’.32 On average, ‘provincial’ universities can boast a dozen ‘agrégation’ students; the vast majority choose to study in metropolitan universities where, indeed, there are more professors and, consequently, where they are more likely to be taught by specialists of the syllabus questions. A focus on the ‘agrégation’ by ‘provincial’ universities means that they are willing to fit in with the syllabus requirements imposed at a national level and that these teaching needs dictate their recruitment strategy more than research. Interestingly, the report does not mention explicitly the field of research – this might be interpreted ← 126 | 127 → as a sign that things are improving, that it is no longer possible to openly reject a candidature on the grounds of research on women and gender – but the adjectives ‘highly specialised’ and ‘narrow’ are somewhat surprising at this level of expertise, where professors are meant to be specialists.

If prejudices against women’s and gender studies are on the decline, the field continues to suffer from an unconscious bias regarding its scientific worth. Because women’s studies were born from the Women’s Liberation Movement, which was a social protest movement, they are often considered ideological in nature and therefore perceived as lacking objectivity. At the heart of the matter lies the question of the opposition between the ‘doxa’ defined by Pierre Bourdieu as ‘a specific point of view, that of the dominant, which presents and imposes itself as universal’ (Bourdieu 1994: 129) and a ‘minority’ point of view. Critical feminist thinkers and scholars have shown that there is no such thing as objectivity in science. One always observes from a given standpoint and, indeed, some standpoints may offer better views than others, but the crux of the matter is to identify and acknowledge one’s subjectivities. Pierre Nora may have been overoptimistic when he declared: ‘No-one ignores that acknowledging one’s personal involvement with one’s research offers a better protection than vain protests about objectivity’.33 The confusion between a scientific approach and objectivity has not yet completely disappeared when it comes to women’s and gender studies.

Recent changes in the format of the CAPES are likely to modify the contents of degree courses in LLCE. Instead of a syllabus based on that of the ‘agrégation’, the new CAPES questions are now linked to the national curriculum of secondary schools and concern two ‘notions’ and two literary ‘themes’ rather than specific topics. For the 2015 session, the two ‘notions’ are ‘Modernity and Tradition’ and ‘Spaces and Exchanges’, and the two ‘themes’ are ‘The I of the Writer and the Playing-Game of Writing’ (Je de l’écrivain et jeu de l’écriture) and ‘The Imaginary’. The fact that the format of the competitive exams for prospective teachers needed to be improved is undeniable, but whether the changes brought about in recent years are for the better is questionable. However, the main point is that ← 127 | 128 → these modifications will de facto generate new course contents and possibly make room for the inclusion of a women’s and gender studies point of view within the study of the ‘notions’ and ‘themes’.

3.  Conclusion

To a large extent, women’s and gender studies in French academia owe their existence to the constant struggle of feminists who, by their individual and collective will, (have) succeeded in making a place for themselves within the CNRS and within universities and (have) developed the type of research they (have) deemed necessary to the advance of thought and society. In their early stages women’s and gender studies developed ‘bottom-up’, from the Women’s Liberation Movement. The limitations met by the pioneers of this field soon made them realise that without the support of the institutions they would be unable to ensure its future and make it a permanent feature across the existing disciplines. However, the choice of ‘gender chairs’ in various disciplines as opposed to the creation of specific women’s and gender studies departments in French universities has meant that, to this day, there are only a few token women’s and gender studies professors across France. If it is obvious that the feminist bottom-up pressure has been crucial in convincing the government to act in favour of gender equality, it is also clear that further top-down measures that would institutionalise gender studies in the long term are needed. In matters of gender equality, feminist lobbies throughout the world have contributed to the promotion of international institutional guidance at European and United Nations levels. This has encouraged the French government to promote gender studies and take measures in favour of greater gender equality within academic decision-making bodies and institutions. But more needs to be achieved in order to strengthen the field. The ANEF Livre blanc published in 2014 has made the following recommendations:

  1. 1.      Provide reliable and sustainable data collection on gender courses in France.
  2. 2.      Develop gender studies by encouraging the creation of new courses and degrees; by including gender questions in the syllabuses of competitive exams, by making permanent the existing chairs in women’s and gender studies whilst creating more. Finally, the ANEF advocates the idea of ← 128 | 129 → a debate on the creation of a CNU gender studies section (the creation of gender studies as a discipline on its own)34 that would complement gender courses and research carried out within other disciplines (ANEF 2014: 86 / F.B.).

The fact that there is no CNU section for gender studies means that PhD students have to complete their research in another existing discipline, if they wish their research to be institutionally recognised at CNU level. As a matter of fact, this institutional qualification is required to apply for a post as a senior lecturer or professor at a French university.

The development of women’s and gender studies in French English studies has benefitted from the latter’s pluridisciplinary nature, but it has relied more on individual than on institutional goodwill. It therefore remains largely up to such scholars to find ways of promoting the long-term institutionalisation of women’s and gender studies within English departments. A lot of work is being done in this field, but more work needs to be done to further its development and to make it more visible in order to demonstrate the validity and pertinence of gender research and teaching within the discipline of English, so that this field be assessed on scientific grounds rather than on (un)acknowledged or (un)conscious biases.

References

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[Received February 9, 2015] ← 132 | 133 →


1 I would like to thank all the colleagues who kindly replied to my emails and questionnaires about their experiences of women’s and gender studies within English studies. My special thanks go to Françoise Barret-Ducrocq for her helpful comments, additions and insightful criticism of this chapter. I am also grateful to Martine Spensky, who gave me valuable documents, and to Clare Doyle and Michel Prum for their proofreading.

2 Since the Savary law of 1984, the length of the research period has been reduced to three years in order to comply with the PhD requirements in other Western countries.

3 Private funding, mainly dedicated to medical and scientific research, appeared in France in the 1980s, and regional funding was made possible by the Decentralisation Law of 1982.

4 CNRS is the largest governmental research organisation in France.

5 Vingt-cinq ans (2001), 191–96.

6 Godelier quoted in Picq 2005, transl. F. Binard. All translations from French in this chapter are my own, unless otherwise indicated.

7 Claude Zaidman (1943–2005) held the first chair of feminist studies in sociology at the University of Paris 7.

8 The French university system is organised along strong disciplinary lines. In order to apply for a job within a given university, researchers must first be qualified by one of the 87 sections of the Conseil National des Universités / CNU, which correspond to 87 disciplines (cp. CNU). Women’s, feminist or gender studies are not on the list and therefore do not form a distinct discipline.

9 Marie-Jo Bonnet is the author of over ten books, among which Les relations amoureuses entre les femmes du XVIe au XXe siècle (1995) and her latest, Plus forte que la mort: l’amitié féminine dans les camps (2015).

10 GEDISST-CNRS / Groupe d’Études sur le Division Sociale et Sexuelle du Travail. Arising from the research team Division sexuelle et sociale du travail, created in 1978, the GEDISST became a research laboratory in 1982. It was transformed and re-named as GERS (Genre et rapports sociaux) and is now part of the GTM (Genre, Travail, Mobilités) team of the CRESPPA (Centre de Recherches Sociologiques et Politiques de Paris).

11 This directory was re-edited two years later by the Ministry of Work and Solidarity.

12 Disciplines: Anthropology, Biology, Demography, Law, Economy, English Studies, Spanish Studies, French Studies, German Studies, History, History of Arts, Linguistics, Literature, Comparative Literature, Mathematics, Philosophy, Photography, Psychoanalysis, Psychology, Social Psychology, Educational Sciences, Political Sciences, Sociology.

Fields of research: Art, Development, Law, Education / Training, Spaces, Ethnicity, Family, Women’s History, Language / Writing / Literature, Women’s Movements, Philosophy, Power and Politics, Psychology / Psychoanalysis, Gender Issues, Religion, Sciences and Technology, Sexuality, Societies, Feminist Theories, Work and Employment.

13 Emilie du Châtelet was a renowned physicist and philosopher of the Enlightenment. The site of the IEC can be found in the bibliography as can those of the following centres, organisations etc.

14 The following presentation is only an initial insight into the development of English women’s and gender studies in France. Other teams, groups or even individual researchers, not mentioned in this chapter, (have) no doubt played a significant role in promoting the field. Therefore, the chapter does not pretend to cover the whole spectrum. In fact, most of the history of English women’s and gender studies in France remains to be traced, and the present chapter will hopefully inspire further research into this component of English studies.

15 Françoise Barret-Ducrocq is emeritus professor of British history and feminist studies at Paris 7. From 2006 to 2010, she was the first President of the Institut Émilie du Châtelet. She is the author of many books and articles, among which Love in the Time of Victoria (1991) and Le mouvement féministe anglais d’hier à aujourd’hui (2000).

16 Psychanalyse et féminisme (1975); Frères et soeurs: sur la piste de l’hystérie masculine (2008); Conscience des femmes, monde de l’homme (1976).

17 Françoise Basch (1930-) was professor of American civilisation and feminist studies at Paris 7 (now University Paris Diderot-Sorbonne Paris Cité). She was a co-founder of the Groupe d’Études Féministes / GEF at Paris 7. She is the author of Femmes victoriennes, roman et société 1837–1867 (1979) and of Rebelles américaines (1990).

18 On the American side one must add to the names of Smith-Rosenberg and Koons, those of Judith Friedlander, Rayna Rapp, Gayle Rubin, Martha Vicinus, Alice Kessler-Harris, Catharine R. Stimpson, and Yasmine Ergas. On the French side one may mention in addition to Basch, Françoise Barret-Ducrocq, Marie-Claire Pasquier, Michelle Perrot, Liliane Kandel, Françoise Picq, Geneviève Fraisse, Christine Fauré, and Marie-Jo Bonnet.

19 Ginette Castro is emeritus professor of American and women’s studies at Bordeaux 3. She is the author of Radioscopie du féminisme américain (1984) and Les femmes dans l’histoire américaine (1988).

20 Martine Spensky is emeritus professor of British ‘civilisation’ and women’s studies. She edited Les femmes à la conquête du pouvoir politique: Royaume-Uni, Irlande, Inde (2001).

21 Les cahiers d’encrages was a journal published by the Department of English at Paris 8 between 1988 and 1993. Its focus was the world of work in Anglophone countries.

22 Claude Safir is professor emeritus of American literature and gender studies at Paris 8. She is the author of Cartographie du féminin dans l’utopie: de l’Europe à l’Amérique (2000).

23 Three volumes have been published so far: Comment l’égalité vient aux femmes (2012); Littérature anglo-saxonne au féminin: (Re)naissance(s) et horizons XVIIIe siècle – XXe siècle (2012); Genre(s) et transparence (2014).

24 ‘Madame X joint à son dossier douze articles traitant des femmes à l’argent, au travail, à la maternité, à l’Etat, publications très uniformes et un peu trop exclusivement centrés sur la condition féminine.’

25 ‘Les articles publiés prolongent et approfondissent ce qui semble être la préoccupation dominante de Mrs X: la condition féminine et ses péripéties’.

26 ‘Est-il suffisant pour les publics anglicistes que nous avons de ne traiter de l’histoire de la Grande-Bretagne qu’à travers le prisme de la situation des femmes mères célibataires, ou de ne considérer même les rapports hommes / femmes que sous l’angle du pouvoir ou même de ne voir les femmes que comme victimes du capitalisme, du patriarcat etc.?’

27 ‘[…] c’est une multiplicité de ponts, de passerelles, que le travail de Ms X ouvre, entre les disciplines, entre les objets de recherche, entre les pays’.

28 In 2009, under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the type of syllabus for the CAPES changed.

29 All ‘agrégation’ syllabuses include a play by Shakespeare.

30 The ‘agrégation’ syllabuses for 2001–2015 are available on the site of e-Anglais and the list of works studied between 1946 and 1997 with AnglaisFacile.

31 ‘Dossier de recherche remarquable dans le champ couvert, extrêmement spécialisé. L’enseignement en LANSAD / LEA ne prépare guère à l’enseignement généraliste pour l’agrégation qu’on attend dans une université de province de la part d’un professeur de civilisation britannique, où il est le seul. Profil excellent pour une université riche en professeurs qui encadrent la recherche dans des domaines étroits, mais inadapté à l’institut d’anglais de l’Université de X’. Pour ces raisons, l’avis est malheureusement défavorable.’

32 Official ‘agrégation’ statistics on the web site of the Ministère de l’éducation nationale.

33 ‘Nul n’ignore plus qu’un intérêt avoué et élucidé offre un abri plus sûr que de vaines protestations d’objectivité.’ (Nora 1987: 6).

34 Cp. CNU.