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 Marie-Victoire Louis

Introduction: "Actualité de la parité"

Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies
Volume 9. Summer 1997

date de rédaction : 01/08/1997
mise en ligne : 03/09/2006 (texte déjà présent sur la version précédente du site)
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Three years after the publication of the book : Au pouvoir, citoyennes: Liberté, Egalité, Parité by Françoise Gaspard, Anne Le Gall, and Claude Servan-Schreiber, the quest for parity bas become an inescapable element of the political debate. Several groups have adopted the goal of obtaining male-female parity in politics; there have been tickets reflecting parity in European elections; three bills have been proposed toward achieving parity, and there is talk of a referendum.

The seminar published herein was held during the 1994-95 academic year as one ofthe activities of the Maison des sciences humaines in Paris. Its objective was to bring questions and reflections circulating on the subject together in a forum including men and women who have doubts as to the soundness of parity along with others who are convinced of the necessity and/or inescapability of ibis movement. The goal was to avoid deepening the division between those who are "for" and those who are "against" parity, particularly as all of us - men and women alike -are grappling with the very same questions, and as each individual's position is, more often than not, ambivalent.

The goal of this seminar was also to continue previous discussions in order to get beyond the stalemate between the need for abstract reflection and the urgency of short-term political struggles (within associations, parties, and the State, in the process offorming electoral tickets, etc.).

As fertile as the coexistence of these two tendencies may have been, they often made it impossible to achieve the detachment necessary for sufficiently in-depth discussion of the protagonists' various arguments, given the numerous divergences in positions.

Among those who favor parity, these divergences relate to the following alternatives:
-Statutory reform or constitutional reform?
-Full parity or a "parity threshold"?
-Should requirements for parity address means or outcomes ?
-Conditional parity or non-negotiable parity ?

The people whom I contacted for this seminar have fought for parity, taken a stand on the issue, reflected on this theme. I excluded no one on the basis of political position; if no representatives of right-wing parties or of the communist party were present, that was not my fault.

The problem of the openness of this seminar bas been raised; as I did not consider myself qualified to "close" it, it was open to all, limited only by the available seating. This seminar was, naturally, "open" to men. I am indeed in favor of a voluntary position regarding their increased participation in debates concerning power structures between the sexes and therefore concerning democracy.
As long as men fail to take a position, individually and collectively, on the issues that confront women and feminists, the power structure will be slow to evolve, and the situation threatens to remain at a standstill. Still further, it must be said loudly and clearly that the debates profoundly concern men, for what we are engaged in is a critique of the appropriation by men of the management of society on the basis of their gender. As a result, their personal and political responsibility is implicit.

The debates turned out to be passionate; the talks opened up several paths for reflection between the seeming obviousness of the need for parity to certain individuals and theoretical upsets that shattered a good number of "theoretical assumptions," including some of those we believed to be the most solid. Thus, in the course of this seminar, parity was revealed to be a tool that can be used to analyze a number of concepts, such as concepts of "categories," of gender, of gender mixing, of universalism, of representative democracy, of human rights, and so on.

In any case, a thread running through the entire seminar wa the question raised at a colloquium organized by Eliane Viennot in 199 (La démocratie à la française ou les femmes indésirables) concerning th existence of a French specificity-a question that is now more pertiner than ever.

The discussions were structured around nine proposed themt (which themselves evolved over the course of the year). At each session, a number of participants were invited to make short presentations that would leave time for and foster a discussion among all those present.  

Summaries of the debates were systematically prepared and mailed the participants for each session; in this way everyone was able to follow the others' arguments throughout the year.
Numerous contributions we thus developed, nuanced, corrected, enhanced, even rewritten.
The stylistic diversity of the present document reflects this process. I have eliminated from this publication those remarks that, my judgment, did not relate directly to parity; on the other hand, I have retained certain digressions that seem to me to depart from the subject only superficially. This publication is thug the fruit of a collective undertaking

[ . .. ]

The seminar fulfilled my expectation that it would have positive effects for me - as I hope it has for its participants: it allowed to reflect more cogently upon, and to see more clearly to the heart of a number of key questions. ln particular, it helped me to better isolate current political weaknesses of the movement for parity, which to mind exist on two levels:

- a reflection on the political means for reaching parity and on the strategies to implement it cannot finesse a critical anal of contemporary feminisms as intellectual, social, and political movements

- a reflection on the demand for parity cannot take place in the absence of reflection on other political demands that posit the analysis of gendered power structures as a fundamental ment of the political debate.

That is, concretely: parity, res-but "how?" and "why?"

How the demand for parity can contribute to building a more democratic society that is non-sexist and more fundamentally just is not a secondary question.

The debates mugi be continued, so that critiques can be heard and commitments to action can be as effective as possible.

Translated from : "Présentation," Projets féministes 4-5 (1996): 3-6 and published here by permission of Projets féministes.

Marie-Victoire Louis, one of the members of Women for Parity, is a sociologist at the Centre national de recherches scientifiques (CNRS). She is also affiliated with the Centre d'analyse et d'intervention sociologique (CADIS). Her most recent book is Le Droit de cuissage: France 1860-1930 (Editions de l'Atelier, 1994).

Works Cited
Gaspard, Françoise, Claude Servan-Schreiber, and Anne Le Gall. Au pouvoir, citoyennes: Liberté, Egalité, Parité. Paris: Le Seuil, 1991.
Viennot, Elaine, ed. La démocratie à la française ou les femmes indésirables. Paris: Publications de l'Université de Paris VII, 1995.

Translated by Jennifer Curtiss Gage

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