How hashtags underline the difference between French and American feminism
You already know that French can be a very visual language. We’ve all had a good laugh about how feeling down in French is best described as having your morale in your socks. And we all know just how good it feels to have the banana - the literal translation of when you are happy and smiling.
But when it has come to advancing gender equality and creating a safe space for women to openly discuss abuse, harrassment, and discrimination, the French expression-turned-hashtag can be both visual and super confusing for those learning the language.
The French equivalent of #metoo appears to say, on the surface, that you should balance your pork, or, if you type into Google translate, swing your pig. As is often the case, a literal translation doesn’t work here. Understanding the real meaning behind the hashtag that took France by storm is not only interesting linguistically, but underlines a cultural difference between French and American feminism.
Okay, let’s get the translating out of the way. Balancer is commonly used to mean to swing or to sway. But in more familiar French, it can mean denounce, name, give it up, spit it out (as in, “You’ve got a secret? Vas-y, balance !”). Porc, unsurprisingly, means pig - swine, to be more precise. This is where things get interesting… in the US, “pig” is a common insult for the police or for someone who is fat, lazy, or dirty… in France, it’s often used to describe a dirty, chauvinistic, sexist, and often aggressive man.
#balancetonporc means “Name your aggressor.” The fact that the aggressor is male goes almost unsaid. I would translate it as Name the pig. As in, name the pig who harrassed, aggressed, discriminated against, or hurt you.
How this differs from #metoo has been discussed at length, particularly in France where the population is familiar with both hashtags and their meaning. Whereas the “anglo-saxon” #metoo identifies with the victim, #balancetonporc centers its focus on the aggressor. It should be pointed out however that, in naming your aggressor, victimhood is immediately implied.
The real difference between these two hashtags relates to how feminism and women’s rights are viewed differently in the United States and France (or, more broadly speaking, North American culture vs. European culture). Many Americans were baffled that France’s #balancetonporc was so revolutionary in tone and yet could coexist in the same culture alongside celebrities and supposed progressives such as Catherine Deneuve who denounced the #metoo movement altogether. In a now infamous letter published in Le Monde, Deneuve and over a hundred other notable French women stated that men were being unfairly punished for things such as “ touching a knee, trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about ‘intimate’ things at a work dinner, or sending messages with sexual connotations to a woman whose feelings were not mutual.”
For some in France, #metoo was performative feminism. It felt wrong to see American women suddenly standing up and making proclamations against harrassment in a country with unequal abortion access from state to state, very little economic safeguarding for mothers, and other concrete gender-equal policies. Yet for some in America, it seemed hard to fathom that a country as legislatively progressive as France would consider a male coworker “stealing kisses” as something fairly innocuous.
Perhaps these differences have less to do with beliefs and much more to do with direction and movement. Feminism in France was greatly influenced by intellectual powerhouses such as Simone de Beauvoir and Anaïs Nin and is sometimes considered to have at first been a greater influence on broader societal ideals than on everyday life. In America, feminist movements in the 60s and 70s were regarded as more of a grassroots movement, an idea more readily applied to a housewife’s existence or language used in “women’s magazines” (Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique gives greater context to this thought) initially than in academia or government. So in France, feminist ideals seem to “trickle down,” while the American movement is more from the ground up… these differences seem to continue to be underlined today.
At The French Collective, we love a good hybrid. Why not unite? We embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion and are proud to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. In looking at the differences between French and American feminism, we recognize that, as always, there’s so much more that unites us than divides us. We hope to celebrate the progress - and, yes, debates - in each country and take action on what still needs to be accomplished ahead.