Paris, if the word 'woman' is scary: exhibition of female portraits vandalised 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 like, to frequent the places we like, without imposing curfews. 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 to exist. Fear must change front'.

Looking straight at the target. Hands crossed or resting on hips. Behind, the darkness of the night. In the foreground, the pride of being, of existing. Without fear. It is called Women are not afraid, the artist's photo exhibition Pauline Makoveitchoux. Around 150 portraits of women who do not pose but stand out in the darkness that for many has meant aggression, street violence, fear, rape. The artist has chosen sixty of them for the exhibition started on 8 March in Vitry-sur-Seine, a municipality south of Paris.

This is not the first work dedicated to women for Makoveitchoux. Intense and almost ancestral her work Les Sorcièreswitches, on the ancient and healing knowledge of women and the value of sisterhood, or on the company Les Clameuses, in the suburbs. Instead, the series of collages (posters) against feminicide stems from the movement Les Colleuses.

Parigi, se la parola "donna" fa paura: mostra di ritratti femminili vandalizzata dalle transfemministe

Makoveitchoux's women are different, very different, but nevertheless The mere word 'women' is now offensive to local transfeminist activism, which has not been slow to react, placing Makoveitchoux's collages alongside other posters, demanding greater representation of trans and 'sex workers'. This intervention was highly inappropriate, simply because the portraits alone do not identify women in terms of either gender or profession. "We did not vandalise, but completed" was their only explanation on the instagram account of Collage Féministes Vitry.

There is a real rift around the feminist collage movement in and around Paris. Pioneer and initiator of the collages against feminicide was Marguerite Sternauthor of the volume Héroines de la rue literally 'heroines of the street', who have progressively distanced themselves from numerous collage collectives, especially after the latter's transactivist drift and the vandalism at the building The Amazone, in Paris, shelter for women victims of violence, insulted with fouls and other insults. 

The Makoveitchoux exhibition is chronologically only the latest encroachment of an activism that 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 Anti Prostitution Abolitionist Collective CAPP at Place de la République on 7 March. A handful of teenagers attacked women demonstrating against prostitution with insults, egg throwing, threats, shredded signs and physical attacks. The same scenes were seen in Italy, in Florence. The episode created shock on social media and beyond, involving numerous feminist associations and collectives.

Parigi, se la parola "donna" fa paura: mostra di ritratti femminili vandalizzata dalle transfemministe

Makoveitchoux ended the discussions by issuing 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 photo series Women are not afraid. 

We, women, are 52 per cent of the French population and half of humanity, and we suffer systematic, misogynistic, universal and millenarian violence. My photo series Women are not afraid puts into perspective the legitimacy of women to be in the public space and denounces the daily sexual and sexist assaults committed in general indifference.

For the past year and a half, I have been taking these shots for free and disseminating my work with the intention of empowering women to reappropriate spaces and to question men about their behaviour as aggressors or passive witnesses.

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

Parigi, se la parola "donna" fa paura: mostra di ritratti femminili vandalizzata dalle transfemministe

Some still write to me now, months later, to tell me that when they feel sick return to look at their portrait to regain strength.

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

These exhibitions aim to offer my work free of charge to all girls and women through spaces that are accessible to all and far from elite museums and galleries.

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

Throughout my life, men explained to me how I had to act, as a woman, inferior. How I had to speak, because I came from the periphery, without education or proper language.

Today, I reject the encroachments on my thoughts, my actions, my language.

These people wrote numerous phrases out of fashionable liberal propaganda far removed from reality:

  • feminism must be inclusive: I challenge you to find another photo series representing as many different women as mine
  • trans women are our sisters: trans women are not women, my sisters do not have penises
  • there is no feminism without a sex worker: I do not know any sex workers, I only know my own violent history of prostitution and those of prostitution survivors, with whom I fight every day to demand rights and means for women to get out of this hell.

A reminder: statistics show that more than 90 per cent of women in prostitution (mostly women) want to get out of it. The average age of entry into prostitution in France is 14, and this alone is enough to show 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 among the rest of the population'.

Valeria Nicoletti

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