Activist Marguerite Stern (Photo credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Cancelled at Cannes

Sidelining the creator of a national movement is pure, unashamed revisionism

Artillery Row

At the beginning of 2019, I started to display my revolt against feminicide on the walls of Marseille. I chose A4 sheets of paper and black paint as my stand, as simple as it could be. In September of the same year, I launched this movement first in Paris, then on a national scale.

In January 2020, I started to assert controversial positions about transactivism on Twitter. To put it in a nutshell, I think that being a woman is a material reality, not a feeling. Even with a lot of willingness and bodily mutilations, I am convinced that no man could ever turn out to be a woman and vice versa. Since then, I have been plagued by harassment, threatens, physical assaults in feminist demonstrations and, as a climax, subject to the so-called cancel culture. I have, in short, been cancelled. We have plenty of words for it in French too.

The Cannes Film Festival is currently taking place, and I heard that Marie Perennès and Simon Depardon would present a film entitled Riposte Féministe [Feminist Riposte], which forms part of the Offical Selection. This documentary draws a portrait of “collage (wo)men”/“collage people”. Those claim ownership of my creation: collages against feminicides.

As a result of the official description, an interview by the film’s director, and my own exchanges with one of the producers, I realised that nowhere am I mentioned. I definitely have a problem with that. I wish I were not erased from history, as so many women have been before me. I stand for truth by refusing my creation to be attributed to others. Wiping me out is just pure, unashamed revisionism.

When I am asked how I came up with the idea of black letters painted on A4 sheets of paper to denounce feminicides, I generally take a deep  breath, my mind gets confused because I know that I am expected to briefly answer, to drop a punchline. And such a punchline never comes. I cannot explain how I came up to with idea in less than 10 minutes.

I cannot, and will not, tolerate being erased from history

It is an mix of many inspirations. At the outset, I can consider Pierre Soulages’ paintings, the aesthetic shock that I feel when I look at the white parts of his paintings cut into the black ones. It is the track of his tool. I can consider as well the FEMEN movement, the love of typography that I carry out of it, and how we take up the public space as women. I should also mention the ambition to think on a grand scale for women, how to inject life into a whole group either. This is what Inna Shevchenko taught me.

I really try to be concise, because this is an opinion piece, not a catalogue essay, but the gestation took years; the simplest ideas often turn out to be the longest to shape.

It is no more complex than this though: I cannot, and will not, tolerate being erased from history by publishing houses and documentary production companies, which make money and widen their audience by using — by stealing — my creation. I cannot tolerate that this creation, originally meant to struggle against feminicides and domestic violence, is getting hijacked by women who feel within their rights to take over my aesthetics to make collages such as “We don’t want to count our dead (wo)men anymore”, “Pootriarchy”, “Let’s burn the TERFS”.

TERFs are women like me: the ones who refuse to say “menstruating people” when referring to endometriosis. The ones who refuse to include men who pretend to be women in spaces that may remain non-mixed, such as changing rooms, jails, and refuges for abused women. TERFs are the ones who denounce surgical mutilations and the administration of hormones to healthy bodies because they foreshadow a health scandal. We are regularly assaulted and humiliated: eggs are thrown at us at demonstrations, we’re harassed online, casually threatened with death, and all too literally manhandled. All in all, we are the new witches.

In France, some of us are labelled with this acronym; we hate it for it is systematically used as an insult against us. Dora Moutot, who created the first large-audience community dedicated to heterosexual female sexuality on Instagram, bears more or less the same reprisals as me. Over the past two years, her turnover has been cut by a  third because she refuses to say “people with vulvas”.

Pauline Makoveitchoux, the first photographer to document the very beginning of collages movement in Paris, had her exhibition “Women are not afraid” (Virty-sur-Seine) wrecked for it was not “inclusive” enough — in other words, she refused to include men who pretend to be women in her work. All her requests to be given public funding in order to make a film about collages against feminicides were rejected. “TERFs” are not welcome in Cannes.

So far, I have been dealing with a pain that many of us share: every year, in France, 220,000 women are victims of domestic violence. The collective “Feminicides by partners or exes” keeps counting the ones who are killed, every two or three days. The government does not take any relevant measure.

This pain is even bigger when I see my creation being distorted and hijacked by entitled people who grant themselves use of it to display calls for murder of so-said “TERFs”, collages written in gender-neutral language to evoke feminicides, or idiocies like “Pootriarchy”.

Too many women have been invisibilised; it has to stop

I may also mention the pain I felt during the release of the book Notre colère sur vos murs [“Our anger on your walls”], published by Denoel, who I have been suing. Its back cover implies that the collages against feminicides appeared out of the blue, leading people to believe that it had nothing to do with me. At the present time, I will have to go through the fact that a film about my creation, Riposte Féministe, does not mention me either.

My pain cannot stop growing. It is visceral as it accounts for the pain of a creator whose work is ludicrously plagiarised; it is ideological as I cannot bear attending my contribution to women’s history being erased in my lifetime. And to suit the needs of men.

This erasure is both voluntary and political. It is inherent in the transactivist ideology, which masterfully handles censorship and newspeak: it is about changing the definition of the word “woman”, imposing the erasure of this word in aid of dehumanising expressions such as “menstruating person”. Transactivists are very skilled to erase women. Here is their trademark.

This is the reason why I decided to take charge. I mandated my lawyers, Ms. Ermeline Serre and Mr. Ivan Terel, to exercise all legal means, including judicial ones, against people who create works that I think parasitise my creation — which is originally dedicated to abused women — be those people ever so defaming or erasing me. Too many women have been invisibilised. It has to stop.

This article is translated from the original in French.

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