52: The New Feminist Collective That Will Kick You In The Nuts

Published online in Are We Europe magazine


1 February 2017

In 2017, a kiss with a fist is better than none. Elections in Germany, the Netherlands and France have opened a window of opportunity for bottom-up initiatives to finally bare their teeth. In France, the newest feminist collective “52” is already proving to be a real kick in the nuts, and they are not afraid to confront France’s sexist malaises.

Just like that, I had walked straight into the lion’s den. Thinking I would interview one or two members of Paris’ newest feminist collective, I actually found myself in the dimly-lit smoking room of La Colonie amid a group of smiling women. Sophie extended her hand and I smiled awkwardly at her fishnet tights, disguising my curiosity. I sat down and introduced myself, trying to re-adjust my expectations. “Thank you for coming, ladies, let’s wait until the rest arrive and then I can formally introduce our project to you all, ” Sophie announced, taking the role as prowess of this pride.

If you haven’t heard of 52 yet, you will soon. The group has a core of about 25 leaders, with about 540 loyal members on their private Facebook group. Tired of “feminism being asleep in France,” the collective has decided to take action. On the night before January 11th, which marks the start of the winter sales in the country, the group paraded the streets of Paris, Lyon and Marseille pasting posters showing some alarming statistics. Typical sales lingo like “jackpot” and “special offer,” as well as references to abortion, the under-representation of women in parliament, a lack of parity in the workplace and the fact that women are responsible for 85% of the purchases in stores in France decorated the posters.

“85% of purchases are made by women. We are the economic force.” © 52

Their use of statistics is a way of resisting the post-truth cloud that looms over politics today. Rather than appealing to emotions, 52 uses numbers because “when you see the numbers, you change your attitude.” These figures become a tool that women can use to counteract a conservative and often macho rhetoric, using numbers rather than emotions to speak to the general public. Choosing a statistic as a name is a bow to intersectional feminism, a way to show the world that, yes, it is possible.

They chose this particular night because women make 85% of all purchases in France, meaning their first effort made a lot of noise. “Women earn less, yet they buy more,” Sophie says. “I mean, just look at the way shops are laid out. How many times have you walked into a store and realised that the whole first floor is geared towards women? The cosmetics section, the clothes section, the household section… it goes on and on.”

Sophie continued her keynote speech effortlessly, lacing together women’s issues that belong to wildly different topics. Everyone was watching intently, not afraid of interrupting and asking for clarification or sharing their own stories. There was Solène, an ex-FEMEN member concerned with how to reinforce feminism on a day-to-day basis; Alice, a graphic designer and teacher who was a strong advocate of education and its role in eradicating sexism; Mégane, who works for a recruitment agency that solely hires female actors in an industry that relentlessly prioritises men; and Carrie, a waitress and high-end escort. Regardless of their differences, everyone was there for two common causes: solidarity and empowerment.

In choosing empowerment as their core goal, they move away from inequality. With hashtags like #WeAre52 and #WeArePowerful, the vocabulary of 52 shifts from negative opposition to positive revolution. However, a backlash of comments on their Facebook posts shows that  many people disagree with the use of the word ‘powerful’. One person wrote: “Claiming power? Why can’t we just live together? What’s up with this frenzy of power feminism that I see everywhere, feminist women that are worse than these macho douchebags… The term feminist creates an instant differentiation between people. Why can’t we be humanists?”

When I asked the group about what they thought of this, Sophie immediately retorted by saying “laisse pisser”. “Forget about these comments. Power has been part of men’s  vocabulary for far too long. Women right now need to hear they are powerful in order to reinforce their emancipation, because feminism can often be isolating. We’ve seen this happen with hip-hop, so let’s see it happen elsewhere.”

Two hours later the conversations showed no signs of dying out. A 'girlcott' on consumption, an intervention on Valentine’s day, a viral rap song, introducing non-gendered activities in Kindergartens, a feminist children’s book, a parallel economic system… nothing seemed out of reach or too ambitious. Just two days ago in reaction to Trump’s anti-abortion order, 52 photoshopped Hillary Clinton into the Oval Office surrounded by women signing an order stating: “It is prohibited to ejaculate outside procreation.” The photo reached 3.5 million people on Facebook, was shared over 20 thousand times, and got over a thousand comments in the span of 24 hours.

“It is prohibited to ejaculate for non-procreative purposes” © 52

I had walked straight into the lion’s den, and there was no instance of intimidation. The collective is a prime example that bottom-up initiatives are both necessary and possible, especially as a response to a regression to conservative and macho politics. There is a return of global movements, and 52 will be a leader in confronting women’s issues.