50 years ago today, in France, students and workers rose in large numbers to protest consumerism, capitalism, and American imperialism. This day is considered in France to be a turning point in French history and a date on which to remember the power of collective voice and action. Honorine, from Women’s March Paris, reflects on the 50 year anniversary of May Day and the perceived power of her voice.
A narrative by Honorine, part of the #Mai68 to #Mai2018 series
Thursday, April 19, 2018: After having promised a friend to attend an event she had organized on street art but having been lured away by another event on fashion, I drank — or rather knocked back — a mini bottle of champagne. It was not the best choice because it made the trip home pretty rough.
Normally, I can hold my alcohol (not that my student’s budget allows me to drink every night). That time, however, something was different.
I grew very pensive. I started to have the sort of thoughts you have when you are staring at the ceiling and painting your imagined future. I began to reflect upon my life when, suddenly, I stopped short. “I am an adult.”
I don’t know about you, but it isn’t every day that I truly internalize that I am an adult and that, as a consequence, I have the right to do everything that adults do. I then began to wonder in earnest, “When exactly do people realize that they have become adults?”
This is a question I had already been asking myself for quite some time. I had tried to get an answer from several fellow female university students. However, they all said that they had never thought about it and thus didn’t know what to respond. That said, their experiences are likely very different from my own. They are all white women from middle class or well-to-do families.
To be frank, I didn’t even know how to answer my own question, but people address me as “Ms”, so something about me must convey a certain level of maturity. Also, once I hit 18, I must have started to look more like a “woman” because the way others see me, most notably men, has shifted. At the same time, when I was just 16, I was already enough of a “woman” for men to openly flirt with me, touch me, harass me. I had forgotten that there is a nasty habit of sexualizing black women at far too young an age. Even as children, we carry the burden of all the sexual imaginings linked with the black female body.
This mixture of thoughts was strange because, in my own mind, I was still just a child, even if the rest of the world saw me as a woman. Yes, I am deliberately focusing on society’s sense of sight because sight takes in the physical — I was seen as an adult because of my physical appearance, my female morphology. My personality, my inner being — those features were ignored.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018: I am edging closer to my 20th birthday. My physical appearance is now more clearly that of an adult. Indeed, as Chantal Debaise once said, “An adult is a child that has grown up. From a physical perspective, this is undeniable.”
But what about from a psychological perspective? Is there something that triggers adulthood? To this, I have no reply. All I know is that, in this moment, I am certain that I am an adult. I know that I am an adult not only because my friends are ten years older than me, but also because what I have to say as a young woman is no longer brushed aside as a diatribe uttered by an angry — black — adolescent.
Because I have passed that magical threshold into adulthood, my voice is being heard a bit more. Isn’t it odd? I cannot help but wonder — does this mean that what I had to say before was less important?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. My words were less important to those hearing them because I was “Miss” and not “Ms”, and young voices are ignored.
Yet whether I am “Ms” or “Miss”, what I have to say has not changed one iota. There is also a nasty habit of infantilizing women and especially young women. For example, a video has been shared on social media of Juliette, one of the protesters who occupied the University of Tolbiac in Paris. She was invited onto the French news channel LCI to discuss her participation in the student movement against merit-based university admissions, a measure that was announced in April. Although she conveyed her thoughts clearly, stood her ground against a mayor representing the National Front, and engaged in difficult debates without batting an eye, she was criticized for her youth and her way of expressing herself. And all this because her speaking style is novel and actually better adapted to the issues at hand. It is obvious that she was being infantilized to minimize the validity of her arguments and opinions. Her thoughts, and indeed her very person, were seen as absurd because she is young AND intelligent.
I therefore leave you to reflect on several questions. Clichés aside, does society truly see today’s youth as the generation of tomorrow? If so, then why isn’t equal weight given to what they have to say? As we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of May 1968, why do we spit upon the occupiers of Tolbiac? Me? An adult? Am I not a young woman, a young adult, who has much to offer to those who are my seniors? Why, then, must I yell simply to be heard?