Rethinking Feminism in ‘68: Féminin, Masculin, Avenir, and the Intersectional Origins of the MLF

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:50 PM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago)
Hannah Leffingwell, New York University
Though the so-called “Sexual Revolution” would later be remembered as one of the lasting legacies of May ’68 in France, the participation of feminists in this revolution has largely remained a blind-spot in the historical literature. Complicating perceptions that the burgeoning feminist revival was a result of—not an impetus for—the events of ‘68, there was at least one instance of feminist activism in Paris during this time: a small association founded in 1967 called Féminin, Masculin, Avenir (FMA). Though their meetings rarely attracted more than a dozen participants, this co-ed group of leftist intellectuals acted as an important training ground for some of the most vocal theoreticians of lesbian feminism within the Mouvement de libération des femmes (MLF), including Anne Zelensky, Jacquline Feldman, and Christine Delphy.

Engaging with the autobiographical writings of these three militants, as well as Anne Zelensky’s personal archives, my paper challenges the prevailing notion that feminism was absent from the debates of May ’68, and that 1970 was "année zero" for radical feminism in France. It also pokes holes in the self-presentation of the MLF as embodying a uniquely “French” approach to women’s liberation. The FMA was an early example of a radical, transnational approach to feminism that looked beyond “women’s rights” (and national borders) to imagine a world where gender as a category would cease to exist. The articles, tracts, and letters penned by the members of the FMA reveal a forward-thinking approach to the intersectionality of women’s oppression. Their theories on sexuality, gender, capitalism, and patriarchy would later be developed by MLF, but often without acknowledgment of the FMA. Though the association remained small and relatively unknown throughout its lifespan, its activities had a lasting impact on the trajectory of radical feminism in France.