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French museum of feminist struggles aims to shed light on neglected histories

In France, for the first time, the University of Angers announced plans to create a museum of feminist struggles, drawing on its rich archival resources and expertise to provide a permanent home to women’s history of struggles for emancipation and equal rights.

France is home to thousands of museums, ranging from the world’s most visited – the Louvre in Paris – to lesser-known museums dedicated to subjects as diverse as absinthe, vampires and corkscrews.

However, if you’re looking for the Women’s History Museum, you won’t find it.

In its index Museums dedicated to women, A to Z of more than 150 virtual and physical venues from Albania to Zambia, the International Association of Women’s Museums counts only one French entry: museuman online exhibition platform launched in 2004 by a group of historians at the University of Angers in western France.

Nearly two decades later, their dream of a comprehensive physical museum is beginning to take shape, soon to be housed in the university’s library and archive centre, which has become France’s leading center for the study of the feminist movement.

“France lags behind other countries in not having a women’s history museum, while our history is full of things to talk about!” said Christine Bard, a historian at the University of Angers and one of the main initiators of the project. ) explain.

Bard recently curated an exhibition at Paris’s Carnavalette History Museum that documents two centuries of women’s struggles for emancipation, from their overlooked role in the country’s revolutionary upheavals to the right to vote, divorce or abortion mass mobilization. She said the huge success of the exhibition was evidence of the public’s growing interest in the topic.

“We were driven by a very favorable environment where the #MeToo movement inspired a new wave of feminism,” Budd explained. She added that a museum documenting women’s emancipation struggles would have “clear social utility” at a time when feminist conquests are sparking profound social change but still need to be consolidated.

“Museum of Women’s Conquest”

The #MeToo wave has helped “stimulate enormous interest in discovering women who have made groundbreaking contributions to science, politics and the arts, women who have been largely forgotten by history,” said the magistrate and attorney who worked with Bard. Human rights expert Magalie Lafourcade said she is working with others on the museum of the future.

She highlights the stark difference between the younger generation’s growing awareness of gender-based inequalities and the lack of attention given to such topics in schools and museums.

Last May, as feminists around the world were appalled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down abortion rights, La Forcade wrote column The French daily Le Monde called for a “Museum of Women’s Conquest”, envisioning it as an educational facility and a sanctuary for women’s rights. Such a place, she wrote, would help “legitimize the place of women in all artistic and intellectual fields.”

Lafourcade’s request comes at a good time for the University of Angers, which has just secured a €10 million budget to renovate its library. The combination of rich archival resources and refurbished venues made it a natural candidate for the first museum in France dedicated to the history of women’s emancipation.

silhouette of the future Feminist Museum Announced at a conference in Angers on Wednesday, March 8, to coincide with International Women’s Day. The plan is to have the first exhibits up and running as early as next year, before it fully opens to the public in 2027.

Focus on art

The forthcoming museum revives a dormant project for Bard, which Paris officials asked her to develop plans for a women’s history museum in the French capital two decades ago, but ultimately abandoned entirely.

Historian Nicole Pellegrin, who works with Bard on the Muséa online platform, points to cultural and political reasons for the lack of women’s museums in France.

“French museums have long prided themselves on the fine arts, but are often disconnected from the civilization that gave birth to them,” she said. “On top of that, you have an anti-feminist tradition of a male political establishment claiming that women are adequately represented without requiring them to wield any power.”

>> ‘Françaises, Français’: Can French reduce sexism?

Unlike in the United States, where women’s museums are often sponsored by advocacy groups, such private initiatives are uncommon in France, Bard said. Elsewhere in the world, she notes, “state-sponsored women’s museums sometimes tend to instrumentalize their struggles to fit heroic, nation-building narratives”.

sheltered in an academic setting, program Feminist Museum A third path, “free from political pressure and firmly grounded in rigorous scientific research,” is being chosen, she added.

Cultural promotion

For the University of Angers, the upcoming museum is more than just a welcome spotlight. It is also an opportunity to fulfill an obligation that is often overlooked by French museums, said Nathalie Clot, director of university libraries and archives.

“France’s national universities have three missions: to teach, to conduct academic research and to promote ‘cultural diffusion’ among the wider public,” she explains. “The latter task has only recently been rediscovered. Our audience should not be limited to academia.”

While Clot is used to welcoming researchers at Angers, she has also been struck by the sheer number of requests from the public wanting access to the university’s feminist archives.she points Glasgow Women’s Librarythe UK’s only accredited women’s history museum, serves as a model to follow, praising its extensive collections and range of public programmes.

“In Angers we are fortunate to have a wealth of documentary and archival material, as well as student and expert staff, and a building to accommodate the land,” added Clotte. “Now we need money to turn it into a museum.”

Lafourcade, who spearheaded the search for sponsors, said she had encountered “an enthusiastic response” at ministerial and parliamentary levels. She is now waiting for them to be translated into concrete funds.

Meanwhile, museum promoters are celebrating their first success crowdfunding campaignwhich would allow them to buy a painting by Léon Fauret depicting French feminist and suffragette Maria Vérone’s campaign to rename “human rights” to “human rights.”


Although Feminist Museum While it is hoped to see more art by women in the coming years, the promoters stress that it will not be an art academy. They noted recent progress in increasing the visibility of women artists in French museums, but added that more work remains to be done.

Far from absolving other museums of the responsibility to address gender-based discrimination, the museum in Angers hopes to complement these efforts, acting as a catalyst and a source of expertise.

“We’re seeing more and more exhibitions focusing on women, but there’s still a lack of focus on women’s struggles for empowerment and visibility,” Pellegrim said. “We need a museum where women are not just victims, but fighters.”

Lafourcade said it was equally important to highlight the struggles of the LGBT community, as well as racial, religious and other minorities, and emphasized the need for an interdisciplinary approach to rights and liberation.she points Holocaust Memorial In Paris, France’s main Holocaust museum, its focus on other genocides has enhanced its reputation as a center for research and education.

The museum’s use of the plural reflects a desire for inclusivity and caution in an era of growing divide among feminist movements feminism.

“The feminist movement has very different histories, concerns and sensitivities, and some have had very little exposure,” Bader said. “Our job is to honor, showcase and embrace that diversity.”

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