“C’est pas vraiment un viol, c’était ton mec” = culture du viol (“It’s not really rape, it was your boyfriend” = rape culture)
Écoutez les victimes, croyez en leur histoire (Listen to victims, believe their story)
Éduquez vos fils (Educate your sons)
Il te frappe, on te croit. Tu la frappes, honte à toi (He hits you, we believe you. You hit her, shame on you)
“It was about a year and a half ago, in September 2019, that I went for the first time. I think I went because I have a baseline level of anger that never really got resolved”. In 2019, Anna spent three months as a Collage Femicides ‘gluer‘, pasting the walls of Marseille twice a week with slogans denouncing gender based violence and femicides in France, where in the same year 146 women were murdered by their former or current partner. “One of the movement’s big contributions is that it creates these spaces where we feel safe,” Anna explains over the phone from the south of France.
It is hard to miss these brutally honest black and white reflections, indignations and testimonials of gender violence that have coated the walls of over 140 cities, towns and villages across France since August 2019. And since the horrifying kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in the UK in March, the same collages started appearing and getting more attention in London.
I spoke to some gluers in France to better understand their activism and how it all started.
Quite simply, why are you pasting the walls of your towns and cities with these slogans?
We paste to reclaim our streets as women and gender minorities. So the idea is to take up space where we normally don’t have any: to write big black letters, to no longer be discreet, to fight against femicides, sexist violence and sexual violence, and to pay tribute and show support for victims. We want people to understand that the current patriarchal system oppresses us, that we do not feel safe in this society and until people know and understand this, our society won’t change. We want to be heard, or rather seen. Our bold black letters now make it difficult for people to claim they don’t know that a woman is murdered every two days in France. Ultimately, it’s this idea of resilience, of highlighting the everyday realities behind the collages.
Do you feel more seen than when you started over a year ago?
We feel more visible in terms of followers on Instagram and media attention. We can see that femicides have become more central in people’s minds, the same goes for domestic violence and rape. This increased awareness isn’t only linked to our movement, but we’ve participated in this liberation of speech. Our movement is definitely gaining more traction, which we can see from the new towns in which collages keep appearing (London included), and we really hope it keeps growing.
Can you talk us through the organisation of a pasting session? Do you follow some common rules?
It’s very simple. We have an internal messaging system where we agree on a date, a time and place to meet and we then divide up the workload. Some paint the slogans, while others prepare the glue and we then paste in the agreed location in groups of three to five. The walls selected for pasting sometimes depend on the slogan: if it’s about consent we might paste on high schools, whereas if it’s about the police negligence we will paste not too far from a police station.
This is an informal movement so there are a lot of implicit rules but they’re all pretty well understood. We operate without cis men, firstly because it could be triggering for those who want to be in a safe space, and secondly because the idea is to reclaim our streets as women and gender minorities and still feel safe without the presence of a cis man.
How do you choose the messages that you paste? We’ve noticed that your collages are becoming increasingly politicised.
There are several criteria that influence our choice of slogans and the word choice is always discussed during our meetings. We react to current affairs and denounce abuse in the news, like the appointing of Gérard Darmanin (France’s Minister of Home Affairs who is accused of rape) and Roman Polanski’s César win (French film director who is guilty of “unlawful sex with a minor” and accused of rape). Last year we also pasted on walls across the country to raise awareness of breast cancer for Pink October.
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Our gluers also have their own experiences which are either pasted in the form of personal testimonies as well as slogans denouncing more global systemic issues. As our movement grew, so did the diversity of our gluers, there are now more than 800 of us, so our slogans have evolved to denounce more types of violence inflicted by the patriarchy: racism, sexism, LGBTQ+ phobias, ableism, sexist violence, sexual violence, gender violence, etc. The origin of the violence is the same, so denouncing one without denouncing the others is pointless.
How does pasting your messages on the walls of your town make you feel?
The feeling hasn’t changed since the first day – it’s one of empowerment. It’s a fire burning in each of us, the will to act, to change things. By pasting the walls of our cities we feel like we’re participating, we know it will be read even if it’s ripped off.
As we paste, we really feel at ease and safe with each other, as women and gender minorities. We feel surrounded by a whole group of individuals who share our struggle and our ideas and that’s very powerful. We regain power in the street together, a place we didn’t have before.
What message do you want to send to those who rip off your collages?
You don’t like reading it? Imagine what it’s like to live it.
The message we want to send to those who are indignant about sheets of paper on a wall is: Ok, this is your fight. You have decided to fight for clean walls, I fight for women and gender minorities who are raped, for all the discriminations that people of colour and gender minorities suffer on a daily basis. If our collages upset them, they should reflect on why that is. We are continuously told there are other ways to spread our message, like petitions, but there are thousands of them and they haven’t led to anything because our politicians aren’t ready to make concrete changes. The police, the justice system and the state are not doing their job, so we need to keep denouncing the violence that we suffer and the inaction of the whole patriarchal system.
We’re down there in front of your office, around the corner from your flat. We’re here every day and we’ll keep pasting over the collages that are ripped off. As long as sexism is still active – so will we be.
How has your movement been impacted by the pandemic?
Our movement took a turn during the first lockdown. We shifted to virtual collages which allowed us to show we were going to adapt and that we were not going to leave the space, whether it’s social networks or the street. The evening curfew over the past few months has also limited our movements, meaning we had to paste our walls earlier in the day.
Following the increase in domestic violence in France and most other countries during lockdown, various victims contacted us because they needed to flee so we launched an initiative to find and allocate safe spaces for them to escape to. We found people who had apartments available and were willing to offer them to victims of domestic violence. When the second lockdown was announced in France before Christmas, we launched this initiative again.
The inability to meet with others to discuss the evolution of our movement, to create bonds of trust and therefore a stronger network has also made it difficult for us during the past year. Online social networks are great but they don’t replace the human relationships that we could have been building.
If you’d like to join in with the Feminist Collage London or start gluing in another UK town, you can follow and contact them for advice on Instagram. Reclaiming our streets has felt more poignant, vocal and vital than ever these past few weeks in the UK.