From firstname.lastname@example.org Tue Nov 11 08:45:06
From: Le Monde diplomatique <english@Monde-diplomatique.fr>
To: Le Monde diplomatique <english@Monde-diplomatique.fr>
Subject: ‘All they want is a job and a salary. They feel entitled to that’
Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2003 13:21:07 +0100 (CET)
Laurence Wurtz: The women who took part in the March of the Beurs [in the early 1980s] say that being emancipated involved conflict, and often forced them to break with their families. Do young Franco-Arab women still have the same problems?
Nacira Guénif: There is a difference between the generations. The older generation believed every word of liberation theory. The second generation is not convinced that the theory was either right or useful, and is only now using feminist arguments, as in the Ni Putes Ni Soumises movement (1). Women who were 30 in the 1970s adopted feminist ideas wholeheartedly, believed in them, clung to them and in many cases lost out. They did not find their place in society or they paid a very high price, losing all contact with their families.
LW: Women in their 30s today do not define success in the same way as the older generation?
NG: I don't think so. It is still an open question how Muslim women in France can succeed, which is perhaps the main difference. There is still pressure to succeed, but now young women do not necessarily yield to that pressure. They want to succeed, but not at any price. They keep a distance from standards imposed by others, even educational standards. There is beginning to be an individual definition of success that is not socially determined. Success and society can be dissociated. As long as women know what they mean by success, it does not matter if other people do not understand their criteria.
Society believes the criteria for success are the same as they were in the 1970s—that a university degree is the only hope of salvation for the daughters of migrants, the only way of escaping stereotypes, of escaping pressure from parents and religion, and a closeted life. Today's young women know a degree offers them no protection in society. They suffer the same discrimination in the job market as their menfolk, even if it is less obvious. To find work they may have to change their name so that it sounds more French.
They have fewer ambitions about liberation and are much more realistic about the gap between theory and practice. All they want is a job and a salary. They feel entitled to that.
LW: How do current demands differ from those of the previous generation?
NG: They clearly want society to stop focusing on what supposedly makes them different as Muslim Arab women, because that leaves them no way out. What French society thinks is a lifeline may in fact drown them, because it implies that they are not the same as other women and asks them to demonstrate they are really French, properly integrated and socially successful. This just highlights the differences.
Their other main demand is about their menfolk, fathers, brothers and potential lovers. They want to draw attention to the suffering of their menfolk—the menial labour of their fathers, the arranged marriages of their brothers, and the need of some men to exaggerate their manhood. This generation of women is also asking men what they are doing to overcome these problems. Instead of competing, man against woman, they could be helping each another.
Some women, children of successful migrants, are now an elite that some people set as an example and use to make comparisons with school drop-outs, petty delinquents, and young women wearing the hejab. In focusing on social success we risk creating an artificial elite. That is a trap. It is essential that we understand that success does not include the idea of an elite.
(1) For more information on the Ni Putes ni Soumises (neither whores nor submissive) movement, see their website