“French government contemplates backtracking on the 35-hour week, abortion, and women’s vote.” This isn’t a real headline. It's from Le Gorafi – the French equivalent of satirical US news website The Onion. And yet considering the recent wave of reactionary and conservative protests in my country, some of my fellow countrymen probably wouldn’t mind regressing to a pre-women’s rights era. It looks like France has been slowly but steadily growing its own grassroots Tea Party and although this group doesn’t yet have its American counterpart’s political clout, it is unfortunately just as loud.
Last Sunday, tens of thousands took to the streets of Paris and Lyon to protest against gay marriage – never mind that it has been legal there for months. The previous week, an aptly named “day of anger” gathered what I can only assume are a group of similarly minded individuals – protesting against pretty much everything, from the existence of Jews to women's rights and abortion, gay rights, Europe and, of course, the left. A photo of one protester’s particularly ridiculous banner denounced a “fascist Zionist satanic and paedophile Europe.”
Similar to the likes of Michele Bachmannin the US, those who protest against François Hollande in France lack a common purpose – they’re just “anti” everything that the current government stands for. They come out at a time when Nicolas Sarkozy’s opposition party is struggling to reinvent itself, flirting a little too often with Marine Le Pen’s extreme right electorate. And of course, they’re the underbelly of a country that still isn’t over the economic crisis.
It’s terrifying to look at these events unfold from abroad. This isn’t the France I know. Sure, we do love a good demonstration but where did the anti-Semitism, the homophobia, the sexism come from? Why is Dieudonné – a self-proclaimed comedian that we’d all happily ignored for about a decade – surfacing again, along with his hateful rhetoric? Perhaps a little naïvely, I thought my country was above that.
“Being equal above all else was a bad idea,” the parody article I read mockingly concludes. “Women should concentrate on family life, not on superficial politics.” Reading those lines, I see that just a little further south, Spain has already passed laws to restrict abortions and protests altogether. It’s difficult not to wonder whether one day populism might catch up with politics in France too.
Daphnée Denis is a producer for Monocle 24.