‘It is the politician, but also the woman, who takes the pen today to address the French’, wrote Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right party, the Front National, and presidential hopeful. Throughout her article, published in Politico last year, she continued to speak as a woman, and even quoted Simone de Beauvoir and contemporary French feminist Elisabeth Badinter. Writing about the alleged link between the migrant crisis and a supposed rise in sexual assault, she wrote: ‘The fact that barbarism may again be exercised against women, because of a senseless migratory policy, fills me with terror.’ So Le Pen seems to know her de Beauvoir; she appears to worried about a rise in sexual harassment; and she claims to be interested in women’s ‘bodily integrity’. Does that mean that Le Pen is actually a feminist?
‘No’, Lauren Bastide tells me, emphatically. ‘She is a terrible bigot, sexist, racist.’ Bastide is an avowed French feminist, former editor-in-chief of French Elle and one-time regular on the evening talk show Le Grand Journal. But her previous employment, especially working on television, left her, in her own words, ‘void and useless’. So, she quit her job, enrolled for a masters in gender studies at the Université Paris 8, founded a podcast studio, Nouvelles Écoutes, and began her own podcast called La Poudre (Powder) – a ‘space for herself’ to ask women about their experiences and inspirations. Is it a feminist podcast, I ask her? ‘Absolutely’, she tells me.
Bastide has had her own battles with feminism. Back in 2015, Bastide, alongside feminist writer Titiou Lecoq, penned an article for Libération, condemning the feminist support for the ‘breast is best’ campaign. Going against the grain, Bastide and Lecoq criticised the presentation of women who bottle-feed as ‘bad mothers’. She also distances herself from many French feminists on the issue of the burqa – a ‘very, very, very touchy issue’, she tells me. ‘Right now, feminists in France are really divided on this question. Some, like Badinter, defend banning the headscarf from any public space. Other feminists, like myself, consider these bans a terrible attack on women’s rights.’
Bastide’s position goes against the traditional secular project in France – the idea that religion should not impede on public life. This idea has recently blown up in French politics, with bans on ‘burkinis’ on French beaches and calls to ban the headscarf from universities, where it is currently allowed. But Bastide is clear on why she opposes a ban on the veil: ‘It’s a woman’s body, it’s her choice. We shouldn’t consider Muslim women as being unable to make their own decisions. Fighting against radical Islam and terrorism is very necessary – but this is very different.’