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How Marine Le Pen’s Campaign Became a Dangerous Space for People of Color

Marine Le Pen may have lost the 2017 French elections, but she still was able to garner a large following for her incestuous political party the Front National. More so than when her father Jean-Marie Le Pen occupied the presidential position of said group. During her father’s leadership, the group was known as being a voice for old white men, and women occupied a small portion of membership, almost 1 every 2 men in fact. One of the many reasons was that he believed women should be homemakers, also equating abortion to French genocide. Therefore, when Marine Le Pen took over as President in 2011, she changed the image of the group, which eventually led to her father’s open disapproval of her daughter and her niece, Marion Le Pen, the regional counselor of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

In the 2012 elections, Marine Le Pen obtained 17,90 percentage (6.4 million) of the votes in the first tour. This is a major increase from the 10,44 percentage (3.8 million) of the vote her father obtained in the 2007 elections and the 16.86 percentage (5.5 million) of the votes from the 2002 elections, of the second round, that counted for 4, 8 million votes in comparison to the 25,5 million votes for Jacques Chirac, who evidently won the elections. The Front National has since gained a considerable amount of voters, which concluded 21.59 (10.6 million) percent in the first round on the 23rd of April 2017, holding the second place and leading her to the second and final round which she evidently lost to Macron. This boost in supporters mostly came from women who make up almost half percent of the votes: an estimate of 48 percent women and 52 percent men. The reason could be attributed to Le Pen’s marketing campaign. She was marketed as being understood by women, a “being one of you ” campaign. The symbol of the Front National was even changed from a flame to a blue rose, in order to humanize the party.

More precisely, she has been attracting working class women. Women who feel they have been forgotten by the system. Even her campaign tour was called “Les Oubliés” (the forgotten.) Sound familiar? Firstly, she used being a mother of three and twice divorced as a tactic to show women that she was like them, in which she published in her campaign leaflet and stated in a campaign video. The latter, she taps into the irrational fear of the big bad brown man who coming to get you and your civil liberties. A few seconds into the video she says she is a woman, and as a woman she fears for her life against extreme violence and violence from Islam. She continues with stating she is a mother and also lawyer.

 

White Feminism and Islamaphobia

Le Pen’s main tactic is using Islam to advance her nationalist “feminist” agenda, and this is done in the most backwards way possible. After the 2016 mass sexual assaults in Germany, Le Pen used several quotes that futher her Islamaphobic attitude. Elisabeth Badinter was one of the thinkers quoted. As a French feminist philosopher leftist, Badinter wrote a letter to the then Minister of education, Lionel Jospin, in 1989 to ban female students who refused to take off their headscarf access into school. If quoting a known Islamaphobe isn’t bad enough, she also used a Simone de Beauvoir completely out of context. De Beauvoir held both atheist and pro-choice stances, which is pretty much the opposite of what the Front National believe, as their party is known for their strong catholic ties and pro-life position.

That being said, Le pen supposedly changed her opinions on reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ issues as of recent, right in time for the election.  She attempted to gain support from the LGBTQ+ and the pro-choice movement by essentially blaming Islam for Homophobia, sexual assault, and corporal punishment for their life choices and identities. Therefore, when Le Pen states that she is here to protect the LGBTQ+ community and pro-choice community, what she is really trying to do is create a bond with her white sisters. In return for their support she will protect the white LGBTQ+ community and white women’s rights against the “foreign offender” who attacks their freedom. LGBTQ+, disabled, impoverished, and mentally ill people of color, are in turn minimized within this white supremacist agenda. Recently in the US, these maneuvers were used against undocumented immigrants, so it’s clear that this is not a new concept.

Laïcité on Steroids

The issue, amongst the many, is that white feminists only focus on abortion and contraceptives as a priority and anything intersectional is almost a non-existent issue. Therefore, when Marine Le Pen eased up on abortion rights and contraceptives many white women flocked to her. White women will ban together to fight for what fits their narrative of freedom. So when white men and women agree to ban something from another culture, it is normalized and acceptable. I, of course, am speaking on the headscarf ban in public schools.

In 2004, under President Chirac, France devised a law that does not allow for anyone to publicly display of sign religion. Meaning you cannot wear a cross, a Kippah, or any veil. The law was written in a general manner, but the law’s major targets were Muslim women. The ban began in 1989, when three young students refused to remove their headscarf, and consequently they were suspended from school. After a series of suspensions from 1989 to 2003, the French parliament voted to pass the law. Moreover, in summer 2016, on a public beach in Nice, five white police officers forced a woman, dressed in a burkini, to undress on a public beach. In turn, Mar., 2017, businesses were given the right to ban the headscarf in the workplace. The defense is of this secularism, but Secularism in France is very particular. It is embedded into an ideological framework of what it means to be French.

This secularism on steroids is merely a mask used to hide xenophobia. Hiding behind the words of “freedom,” they criminalize Muslim women’s bodies in order to promote a sense of white French liberalism. People from both the extreme left to the extreme right, use this ideology to formulate French secularism. Ironically, many women who push for the headscarf ban call Le Pen racist, but they are just as racists and colonialist themselves. In fact, the French minister of Families, Children, and Women, Laurence Rossignol, said that it was irresponsible for brands to produce and to market veils and cover-ups for Muslim women, right before comparing Muslim women who chose to cover up to American “Neg**s” who were in favor of slavery. A statement that went unpunished even though there were calls for her resignation. Rossignol belongs to the same party of Francois Holland.

The feminist group Femen, who disrupted Le Pen’s campaign stating she was a “fake feminist” in April 2017, also show signs of hypocricy. Contrarily and ironically, Femen, a group based in Paris, endows the same views as Le Pen in being a constant against Islam. In fact, on the “about me” section of their page the only religion stated in the requirements section is Islam. They require women to dispose of their “unbearable living conditions” in “theocratic Islamic states practicing Shari’ah and other forms of sadism regarding women…” In an article titled “Hijjab Day: There’s No Such Thing As a Feminist Who Supports the Hijab,” penned by Femen founder Inna Shevchenko, she states that “despite her white skin” she has the right to discuss any culture because she is a human. De facto, many Muslim feminists have rejected Femen, just as they reject Le Pen.

Many mainstream French feminist collectives operate with white womanhood ideals have threatened the existence of women of color and their culture. Many white feminists position themselves paternally in relation to women of color. In fact, many feel it is their duty to emancipate women of color from their perceived “oppressive” and “uncivilized” cultures. This emancipative act is done within a framework of how people of color, specifically women of color should behave and act. Thus concluding with many white French women classically taking on the role of the oppressor, in not acknowledging the overlapping struggles that women of color experience daily.

Color-blindness and Racial Disparity

For a few years the UN has brought up the issue of racism with France not having better discriminatory policy. In 2013, the then-French president Francois Holland tried to remove the word “race” from the constitution claiming that it doesn’t belong there. Therefore, a color-blind policy is embedded into the culture: if race is not discussed therefore it is not a problem. In fact, consensus figures for race are not available. There are no figures to demonstrate racial disparity among the French population. In an article by Henry Grabar, France’s Ferguson, on the death of Adama Traoré in the custody of police, Grabar quotes Adama’s lawyer who dismissed his death as an issue of class and not racism.

In addition, this holier-than-thou attitude was displayed in the 2017 elections, which resembled the US presidential elections of the United States, turned into a “lesser of two evils” fiasco. The two weeks leading up to round two of the presidential elections were badgered with days of many voters saying they will abstain, while others made it a vote against the right. Many had to limit their voting to either the Big business Macron and Right extremist Le Pen, voting against for Le Pen would alleviate the racial tensions, therefore the problem would be cured. In the second round, she lost 33 percent to 66.1 percent of Macron’s voters. So many white French people patted themselves on the back for voting against Le Pen, while proudly showing that racism was not part of French culture, but it is.

Contrarily, many community members, who chose to abstain from voting, work actively in their own communities to address the direct issues in their community. There have been many collectives who have been organizing to fight racial problems. This shows that simply voting is not always enough, though it’s important, it’s just one of the steps needed to secure freedom and safety for the oppressed. Simply stating your views will not change nearly as much as actually working to change the bigotries in this world.

In France, there are many issues to be dealt with that are being addressed by many collectives, but mainstream feminism is not ready to give up their white throne for women of color, and this needs to change.

 

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Written by Alyssa Evangelista

Alyssa is a Dominican-American New Yorker and graduate student in Communication and culture in Paris where she also teaches English.

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