With two incisive and clearly written books published in the last few years, Eugénie Bastié, a young journalist, has earned herself a permanent place in France’s media landscape as the country’s foremost critic of the contemporary feminist movement and its underlying principles.
Until not long ago, Eugénie Bastié spent her time writing articles for a variety of publications and appearing semi-regularly on TV, disseminating a provocative synthesis of environmental, Catholic, and anti-liberal thought that earned her derision from the progressive press and admiration from intellectual circles skeptical of “progress” (or “réac” thinkers, as Leftist outlets call them). Regardless, in 2016, in the midst of an outpouring of feminist demands across France, Bastié published her essay Goodbye to Miss (Adieu mademoiselle), and overnight became a star of debate shows on local TV. The essay’s title is a reference to France’s recent decision to remove the word “miss” from all public spaces, along with any other word that “foments sexism and stereotypes”. Its publication put her in the ranks of France’s best-known anti-progressives (Zemmour, Levy, Finkielkraut, et al.) and earned her the permanent ire of the Left.
“The main thesis of Bastié’s book is that the feminism (or “neo-feminism”) we see today is not reasonable and does not strive for the equality or dignity of womankind. Instead, Bastié claims it is an ideology that suffers from serious theoretical misconceptions, and that its practical effects have been disastrous for women.”
The main thesis of Bastié’s book is that the feminism (or “neo-feminism”) we see today is not reasonable and does not strive for the equality or dignity of womankind. Instead, Bastié claims it is an ideology that suffers from serious theoretical misconceptions, and that its practical effects have been disastrous for women. With casual precision, Bastié shows that Third-wave feminism’s various demands are erratic and contradictory, and that the only way to make sense of them is to view it all as a chaotic smorgasbord of multicultural prejudices, opaque philosophical ideas (Butler, et. al.), and political grievances motivated by base emotions.
Examples of these incongruities are plentiful. The feminists in Femen fight against “the objectification of the female body” by stripping in public and arousing leery glances from men with their bare-breasted “happenings”. The organization Osez le Féminisme lobbies for greater respect of diversity and the “other”, and at the same time unthinkingly condemns all linguistic forms of gender differentiation (e.g. missus, miss) as a source of inequality and oppression. Feminist NGOs seek to liberate women so that they can take charge of their own lives, but are scandalized when a woman independently decides to become a housewife. Co-education is imposed, but in the end boys are excluded from many different activities or are required to wear skirts at “awareness events” (!). Feminist leaders promote a lifestyle “free of taboos” but are ready to direct inquisitions against any actress who shows a little too much cleavage. As Bastié shows, the “forbidden to forbid” feminists have become bitter puritans.
The problem of inconsistencies within the feminist movement are especially stark in France. Under the banner of “intersectionality”, French feminism has also taken up the cause of workers’ rights, LGBT rights, and anti-racism. In a country with a history of colonialism in Northern Africa, as is the case with France, this means, of course, a pro-hijab position as well. Since 2004, it has been illegal to wear a hijab in public (a result of the government’s laïcité or “secularism” principle), and the feminist movement considers this “racist”. The mere suggestion that any Maghreb custom might be demeaning to women is considered “racist” as well—though many of these customs would be characterized as degrading were they of non-Maghreb French origin. As such, many feminists are eager to classify the use of high-heels as “an internalization of male dominance”, but such assessments can not applied to the hijab.
Bastié aptly notes that it is at least a little strange the way feminists react to news about brutal beatings and honor killings of young Muslim women: more energy is spent criticizing the “eurocentric” prejudices in the reportings of the crime than is spent doing anything to protect the women who live in the kinds of situations that lead to the crimes themselves.
For the author, a true testament to feminism’s state of disarray was the silence of the movement’s leaders regarding the mass sexual assaults carried out by Arab immigrants in Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015—dubbed “a sexual Bataclan” by Bastié. By locking arms with “every struggle”, operating from a post-colonialist worldview (foreigners are “noble savages”), and cultivating an inferiority complex (the West as a global ill), feminists have stopped worrying about the wellbeing of real-life women and become tools of the very subjugation of women they claim to oppose.
Something similar has happened with abortion. In the 1970s, Simone Veil pushed for its legalization on the grounds that women should have access to it as a (hopefully avoidable) last resort. Since then, it has come to be viewed as a fundamental right.
Those who dare mention the psychological trauma abortions can cause in women are vilified. The same treatment is dished out to those who maintain that abortion does not benefit women, but instead perpetuates a vicious cycle of abuse and misery—who but a villain would oppose progress? Worse still, some are censored by government agencies for engaging in “unjust” speech that runs contrary to the speech officially sanctioned by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, head of the Ministry of Women’s Rights. On top of that, Vallaud-Belkacem also wants to fight against the “objectification of the female body” by making prostitution (a chauvinistic practice) illegal, yet simultaneously encourages the practice of surrogate motherhood (a philanthropic practice).
This last point is of utmost importance for Bastié. By the final chapters of her book, where the influence of Limite magazine is most apparent, Bastié is convinced that feminism cannot improve the lives of women because both that goal, and that of abolishing differences between men and women are ultimately tools of consumerism.
Paradoxically, this consumerism is marked by a number of decidedly male tendencies that—supposedly—feminism was going to free us from (e.g. competition, domination, “winner-take-all” attitudes).
The obsession with freeing women from domestic life and thrusting them into the world of work, the strive to integrate them into a world they were once forbidden from, has really just meant trading in male-female distinction for a uniform masculinity.
As such, female sexual liberation has ended up reworking femininity based on masculine concepts having to do with consumption—sex as “exchange” or “labor”. When all is said and done, the ideal of an emancipated woman—one who does what she wants, free of constraints—dovetails neatly with generic consumerist ideals, such as workaholism and hedonism.
In effect, control of your own life and your own fertility is what so many Silicon Valley companies offer their employees: “Freeze your eggs so that motherhood doesn’t interrupt your great job.” Bastié asks: if we let our enthusiasm for technocratic libertarianism take us back to slavery under the aegis of capital, might be the equivalent of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The Pig Under Seige
In 2018, after the success of Goodbye to Miss, Bastié published another essay, The Scapepig: Seige or Counterrevolution (Le porc émissaire. Terreur ou contre-révolution). As some readers may have realized, the title is a play on both the French version of #MeToo and anthropologist René Girard’s concept of the scapegoat mechanism.
The origins of the #MeToo phenomena can be traced to the allegations against Hollywood producer H. Weinstein, which, with the help of social media, re-energized the feminist movement worldwide. In France, it was adopted under the slogan #Balance ton porc—“denounce your pig”.
“Bastié aptly notes that it is at least a little strange the way feminists react to news about brutal beatings and honor killings of young Muslim women: more energy is spent criticizing the “eurocentric” prejudices in the reportings of the crime than is spent doing anything to protect the women who live in the kinds of situations that lead to the crimes themselves.”
“The pig” being oppressive and chauvinistic men, perpetrators of the heteropatriarchy and the continued indifference towards sexual misconduct—the latter ranging from chivalry and gendered language to rape and murder. “Scape” is in reference to Girard’s theory, according to which the human need for atoning violence is directed at a single person who is singled out as the cause of a particular social ill—the scapegoat.
That being said, Bastié’s book is not a study in anthropology. It is an essay about the blind spots of #MeToo and the differences between men and women when it comes to desire. Bastié analyzes the arrival of American feminism in France, with its culture of whistle blowing, its obsession with transparency, its tendency to adjudicate male-female relationships, and its fondness for the public lynching of “pigs”—real or imaginary. From there she analyzes Hollywood narratives, media talking heads, selections from the Western canon, and popular culture. In my opinion, Bastié successfully shows the contradictions and failures of a movement that confusedly leaps back and forth between libertinism and puritanism.
Why has neo-feminism, the child of the libertine feminism of the ‘60s and ‘70s, fallen into the rigid moralism it once abhorred? In France, today’s defenders of ‘70s feminism have opposed #MeToo’s victim mentality. During the media heyday of accusations, catharses, and allegations, a group of 100 women (Catherine Deneuve among them) wrote an open letter to the newspaper Le Monde repudiating neo-feminism’s inquisitorial fury and defending the sexual liberation of the ‘60s.
This group of women is concerned that the freedom and equality achieved only a few decades ago is being undone in a witch hunt that won’t even spare flattery, flirtation, or artwork—such as “The Rape of the Sabine Women” by Poussin. All the same, Bastié maintains that it’s worth asking if the pathologies of #MeToo (theories about a global male conspiracy, the denial of basic biology, the discovery of “rape culture” under every rock) aren’t symptoms of a broader and more profound philosophical problem that the older generation of feminists suffer from as well.
Moreover, the old libertine view, and the new puritanical one, share an understanding of sex that tends to separate the act itself from the effects it has on body and mind. This dissociation causes a number of problems, individual and social, (the culture of pornography, the loss of basic virtues that regulate sexual desire) which ironically foster the very sexual misconduct that hurts women. Nevertheless, these problems are ignored by the puritans, who instead channel their rage and their energies into battles that have already been won, such as women’s historical subjugation to men.
“For the author, a true testament to feminism’s state of disarray was the silence of the movement’s leaders regarding the mass sexual assaults carried out by Arab immigrants in Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015—dubbed “a sexual Bataclan” by Bastié.”
Finally, Bastié asserts that neo-feminism also fails in its attempt to abolish “toxic masculinity” and create a new man. Instead of the new man the neo-feminists dreamed of, the result has been an amorphous creature deprived of his tragic lust for women—the deconstruction of masculinity has produced an indolent, immature, and misogynistic being.
Bastié’s prose is agile. Her style is fast-paced, not lacking in rawness, and not only deploys excellent polemical paragraphs, but also subtly constructed ideas. In a way, she has inherited the style of the non-conformist intellectuals of our time (Zemmour, Finkielkraut, Michea), and also displays a marked influence from Chesterton and Péguy. While the first book is a work of sociological journalism, the second book approaches something more aesthetic and literary. Thank God France has not only “academic” intellectuals who periodically write for a wide audience, but also popular journalists. If you want to enjoy the next provocative analysis to make waves in France, you’d do well to keep up with Eugénie Bastié’s latest publications.