Bearded ladies bombard Melbourne Mining Club
La Barbe presents mining men with the Golden Beard award for outstanding service to patriarchy.PT0M0S 620 349
Last week, the nation which introduced the world to Simone de Beauvoir and Elisabeth Badinter added one new item to its list of feminist exports to Australia: activism with a sense of humour. The Melbourne Mining Club found itself playing host to a group of women in false beards who quietly took to the stage to "congratulate the beard dominated gathering on its efforts to strengthen the patriarchy", awarding Richard Morrow of EL and C Ballieu "a prestigious Gold Beard award for his services".
The women belong to La Barbe - a feminist protest group whose name means "the beard" as well as "enough!" or "boring!" in French slang, which has become known in France for this sort of surreal peaceful protest. Groups of bearded women have started to make regular appearances at business meetings and high-level political events, drawing attention to the over-representation of men at these gatherings. Members of La Barbe, resplendent in their fake facial finery, have ambushed board of trustees meetings and national media outlets; they have been thrown out the French Senate, and last weekend took to the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival - where not one of the 22 films nominated for the Palme D'Or has a female director - accessorising their signature hirsute look with signs reading "Merveilleux", "Merci!!!" and "La Barbe". Offshoots of this hairy band have been spotted in Mexico, Denmark and, as of last week, Melbourne.
La Barbe activists are forcibly removed from the French Senate Photograph: La Barbe
"While they were polite, they were uninvited and unwelcome," an apparently slightly mystified Chris Fraser of Melbourne Mining Club told Australian Mining, saying he felt the group's actions "seemed to be addressed not so much at the mining industry rather than at women's role in society in general", but reassuring the journal's readers that neither the event's attendees or it's hairy gatecrashers had been hostile.
Le Barbe activists. Image care of http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/la-barbe.
(Given his industry has only 15 per cent female employees, when even the not-exactly-egalitarian House of Representatives can boast more than 20 per cent, it's a little unclear why Fraser feels mining would not be La Barbe's target. But perhaps that's beside the point.)
French feminists aren't the only ones who have been using funny to get their point across lately, as DailyLife.com.au's own Annie Stevens recently pointed out. In How To Be A Woman, British journalist Caitlin Moran suggests that women who do not identify as feminist must have been drunk when they were asked their views; the invaluable advice in Tina Fey's Bossypants includes "when choosing sexual partners, remember: talent is not sexually transmittable". Meanwhile Slutwalkers around the world have been wearing funny costumes to get their point across.
But while these feminists have been accused of offering what journalist Julie Bindel calls "feminism-lite" and feminist academic Nina Power calls " FeminismTM", La Barbe's protests are taken seriously. activists are forcibly ejected from the events they ambush, sometimes by the police. Sensible newspapers like Le Monde and The UK's Guardian publish their satirical letters ("women, mind your spools of thread! And men, like the Lumiere Brothers before you, mind your film reels!" read the latest Cannes-themed effort) and influential women of cinema - including director Gillian Armstrong and Toy Story 3 producer Darla Anderson have signed a petition in support of the group's message at Cannes. While these women are unlikely to go bearded in public any time soon, they add clout to La Barbe's underlying message.
The shortage of women in positions of power is hardly a problem confined to France, so perhaps it's no surprise La Barbe's approach owes more to modern activists like the Slutwalkers than the philosophical, literary approach of their countrywomen, such as Simone de Beauvoir. Still, few things say "oppressed Other" quite like a woman in a false beard being shooed out of a meeting populated by important mining men. So maybe de Beauvoir would have recognised one of her most important ideas in action, even in disguise. And the rest of us can wait to see where La Barbe sprouts up next.