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Sexism in humour remains major problem in society - French equality council

Marlène Schiappa speaking at the National Assembly, May 2018.
Marlène Schiappa speaking at the National Assembly, May 2018. CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP

Thursday, 24 January, France held its second National “Together against against Sexism” Day with a spotlight on digital media and its relationship to sexism as well as sexist humour in the media, still extremely prevalent in modern French society.


Organised by an alliance of advocacy groups under the banner “Collective: Together against Sexism” (“Le Collectif Ensemble Contre le Sexisme ») Thursday’s round table discussions were attended by France’s minister for Equality and the fight against Discrimination, Marlène Schiappa and the leaders of numerous other advocacy organisations.

The three main themes covered were sexism in the digital realm, sexism in the public space and education around sexism.

It comes just one week after the publication of the country’s first ever report on sexism conducted by a special council known as the HCE – the High Council of Equality between Women and Men (in French).

The HCE concludes that “sexism is the source of all the inequalities between women and men known today.”

For the advisory body, sexism is a dangerous ideology and leads to a lot of damage. Women feel under-valued, or have to modify behavior so as to avoid conflictual situations. Then there are the cases of physical and psychological abuse.

Number of convictions for sexist insults very low

Among the alarming statistics gathered in the report, the institution notes that four out of ten women were victims of injustice or humiliation just because they were women, often seen in the form of sexist insults.

In 2017, 1.2 million women were victims of a sexist insult, that’s one in every 20 women.

The report found that in 2017, only one woman in 35 sought legal assistance to report a sexist act.

Despite there being the threat of a one year prison sentence and 45,000 euro fine if convicted, only three percent of sexist insults were reported. In 2017, there were only four convictions for sexist insults.

In 2018, 76 percent victims of sexual violence were women. They also represent the majority when it comes to victims of domestic abuse (72 percent).

However, three out of four women end up not filing a formal complaint.

To rectify the problems, the HCE has put forward 24 recommendations for the government to help tackle sexism on five levels which include tracking sexism in society, public information campaigns, training for professionals in security and legal sectors, financing and improved help for victims.

French radios and sexism

One of the main points focused on in the report, which covered a period of 2017, was sexism in mainstream humour.

The report analysed 28 comedy routines on major morning radios in France including France Inter, RTL and Europe 1. 20 out of 28 skits were considered sexist. It also pointed out that five out of six Youtube videos made by popular comic duo Cyprien and Norman were found to be sexist and insulting to women.

Cyprien later told French media that this was not representative of his work because they only looked at six out of hundreds of videos making fun of many different subjects.

Since then, his name has appeared on social media to lend support to an organization for helping women victims of violence called Women Safe, based in the suburbs of Paris.

Spokesperson for Women safe and founder of France’s first feminist ad agency Mad & Women, Christelle Delarue told RFI that there is a “hostile” climate out there for women.

She stresses that Women Safe prides itself on being one of the only agencies which addresses all forms of violence against women whether it be physical, economical, cultural or psychological.

Their objective is to accompany women and children with all aspects of their difficulties, be it legal assistance, counselling, accommodation and ways to re-engage in society with confidence.

Technology and sexism?

“Yes,of course” she responds, stressing that online abuse can lead to increased violence against women.

“Sexist comments are even more dangerous today because there are so many ways to broadcast that kind of content.”

“Even if sexist jokes are considered as humour, it’s vital to condemn them as much as possible because they are usually followed by sexist comments, with the possibility of becoming sexual acts.”

Christelle Delarue_Women Safe_24 jan 2019

Understanding that humour is used to communicate sexist jokes, they are also using it as a tool to garner support for their fundraising campaigns and raise awareness, especially among youth.

Acording to the figures published by this organization, 71 percent of child victims of violence received by the organization are girls.

Humour is easily accessible to younger generations

“We think humour, when nicely done is a brilliant way to inform, reassure and connect people. It helps to express some hidden feelings.”

Their mascot is Florence Forresti, a stand up comedian who is popular on the French circuit and is known for her outspoken, sharp repartee.

But the men are there too, supporting and speaking up, albeit slowly.

Christelle Delarue says this is very important. There is not enough data, she says, but men are more responsive now.

She points out the high turnout of men at the international day for the elimination of violence against women march in November 2018 for example.

“I think men can make mistakes and it’s time for them to talk about that.”

“Never the less, the situation in France is terrible. Six women have been killed by their husbands since the start of 2019.”

“We don’t need for men to support us against violence, we need them to stop being violent and I mean violence of all sorts.”

French laws around street harrassment

Christelle Delarue says the new laws brought in by France in August 2018 against street harassment are encouraging in the bid to punish perpetrators, but more work needs to go into the prevention of sexist and violent behavior and awareness campaigns across the board.

“In September a man was convicted for street harassment under the new (Schiappa) law and fined €300. But repression is not a viable solution, prevention is, from my point of view."

"Even if legislative adjustments are essential to guarantee everyone’s safety, the main problem is a mentality issue that needs to be solved through education and communication.”

“It’s important to understand that sexist insults are a form of violence and women should know they have a right to be helped” she concludes.

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