Paris, if the word "woman" is scary: exhibition of female portraits vandalized by transfeminists

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The time has come for women to regain their place in public space. We no longer have to be afraid in common spaces. We must live without the fear of going out, day or night. We must be free to dress as we want, go to the places we like, without imposing a curfew on ourselves. Public space must be shared, between women and men. We must be free. It is the aggressors who should not be, it is their actions that should be condemned, not our freedom to be and exist. Fear must change front".

Looking straight at the camera. Hands crossed or resting on hips. Behind, the darkness of the night. In the foreground, the pride of being, of existing. Fearless. It's called exactly Women are not afraid, the artist's photographic exhibition Pauline Makoveitchoux. About 150 portraits of women who do not pose but stand out in that darkness which for many has meant aggression, street violence, fear, rape. The artist chose sixty for the exhibition began last March 8th in Vitry-sur-Seine, municipality south of Paris.

This is not the first work dedicated to women for Makoveitchoux. His work is intense and almost ancestral Les Sorcières, witches, on ancient knowledge and healing of women and the value of sisterhood, or even on company Les Clameuses, in suburbs. The series was born instead from the collage movement (posters) against femicide Les Colleuses.

The women of Makoveitchoux are different, very different, but despite everything the single word "women" is now offensive to local transfeminist activism which did not take long to react, placing other posters alongside Makoveitchoux's collages, demanding greater representation of trans and “sex workers”. An extremely inappropriate intervention, simply because the portraits alone do not identify women either from the point of view of gender or profession. “We did not vandalize, but completed” was their only explanation on the Collage Féministes Vitry Instagram account.

There is a real split around the feminist collage movement in and around Paris. She was a pioneer and initiator of collages against femicide Marguerite Stern, author of the volume Héroines de la rue literally "heroines of the street", who has progressively distanced themselves from numerous collage collectives especially after the transactivist drift of the latter and the vandalism at the building The Amazon, in Paris, shelter home for women victims of violence, insulted with fouls and other insults. 

The one at Makoveitchoux's exhibition is chronologically only the latest interference of an activism which, instead of building and fighting for its own space, destroys and invades that of others. The prelude to this act of vandalism was theambush at the demonstration of the abolitionist Anti-Prostitution Collective CAPP at Place de la République on March 7. A handful of teenagers attacked women demonstrating against prostitution with insults, throwing eggs, threats, torn signs and physical attacks. The same scenes were seen in Italy, in Florence. The episode created confusion on social media and beyond, involving numerous feminist associations and collectives.

Makoveitchoux closed the discussions by releasing a powerful statement on Instagram:

I Pauline Makoveitchoux, suburban resident, daughter of poor immigrants, feminist activist and self-taught photographer, claim motherhood and respect for my photographic series Women are not afraid. 

We, women, are 52 percent of the French population and half of humanity, and we suffer systematic, misogynistic, universal and millenary violence. My photographic series Women are not afraid puts into perspective the legitimacy of women to be in public space and denounces everyday sexual and sexist attacks, committed amid general indifference.

For a year and a half I have been taking these shots for free and spreading my work with the intention of offering women the power to reclaim spaces and question men about their behavior as aggressors or passive witnesses.

After posing, all the women expressed the strong and powerful emotions they felt during the photographic sessions.

Some still write to me now, months later, to tell me when they feel bad they return to look at their portrait to find strength again.

I have held two free exhibitions, the first in Ivry-sur-Seine (southern suburbs of Paris), last October, paid for by myself. The second in Vitry-sur-Seine, Monday 8 March 2021, with the financial support of the municipality of Vitry, which is also my municipality of origin.

These exhibitions aim to offer my work freely to all girls and women through spaces accessible to all and away from elite museums and galleries.

Today, my exhibition in Vitry-sur-Seine was vandalized. This act of vandalism was claimed by a group of women disguised under a pseudonym.

Throughout my life, men have told me how inferior I should act as a woman. How I had to speak, because I came from the suburbs, without education or appropriate language.

Today, I reject invasions on my thoughts, my actions, my language.

These people wrote numerous phrases, coming out of fashionable liberal propaganda and far from reality:

  • feminism must be inclusive: I challenge you to find another photography series that represents as many different women as mine
  • trans women are our sisters: trans women are not women, my sisters don't have penises
  • there is no feminism without sex workers: I don't know sex workers, I only know my violent history of prostitution and those of survivors of prostitution, with whom I fight every day to demand rights and means for women to escape from this hell.

A reminder: statistics show that more than 90 percent of women in prostitution (mostly women) want to get out. The average age of entry into prostitution in France is 14 years, and this single figure is sufficient to demonstrate that this is not a "job", an activity like any other. Life expectancy for people in prostitution is 39 years, and the suicide rate among people in prostitution is 9 times higher than in the rest of the population."

Valeria Nicoletti

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