Catcalling and street harassment get some brilliant gender-swapping treatment in a French animated series from the late 1990s.
Gender-swapping is one of these increasingly popular motifs that is so simple but that can be incredibly powerful. It can seem kind of mundane; I mean, why should a man dressed in women’s clothes modeling a perfume be so inherently strange or funny? But the fact that it does seem so strange to us is exactly what starts to reveal the norms that rule our society. Why does it seem so absurd for women to be catcalling a man like they are in the video? How come women almost never act this way in real life? Because, well, there’s this thing called patriarchy, and it dictates how we act and feel even in the smallest interactions. It is what makes men think that it is okay to mutter towards a woman in a public space, in an effort to remind her that the space, and her own body, do not belong to her. It is a structure that is reinforced constantly, even at an everyday scale, and that has be come so normalized that we barely even notice it. Luckily some simple gender-swapping can bring it back into focus.
Every Monday and Tuesday I wake up around 6am, get ready and head to Gare de l’Est, from which I take a train to Meaux, a small town of around 50,000 people East and slightly North of Paris. This is where I spend two days teaching English to around 14 primary-school classes of children aged anywhere from 6 to 11. Notice I say “teach”—while I have no teaching credential and am supposed to be an “assistant” who merely helps the teachers with their English lessons, offers the correct pronunciation of words, maybe plans a few activities, the program and schools themselves are highly disorganized when it comes to English and so somehow I am essentially the English teacher.
Meaux is a town with a large immigrant population and an allegedly racist mayor. Besides a vaguely quaint town center with a cathedral and a somewhat substantial reputation for Brie and mustard, there’s not a whole lot to report on. When I arrive at the train station I hop on a bus and bypass the center anyway, heading instead for the neighboring industrial zone. This is where my schools are located, surrounded by housing projects. This doesn’t have the same connotation as “the projects” in the US do, but it does feel a million miles away from Paris. More than anything, it can feel dreary and rather deserted. The teachers, not knowing that I was placed in the town by the teaching assistant program, have asked me confusedly, “but why did you choose Meaux?” Riding the bus here I feel totally anonymous, and an English title on the book I’m reading will generally get me a few looks. It’s a complete contrast to cosmopolitan life-as-spectacle Paris, and that’s one reason I’m grateful for the experience.
Though Meaux doesn’t feel as “cosmopolitan” as Paris, ironically my schools represent a sort of mini-multicultural utopia that Paris could only dream of coming close to. The students have more diverse origins than anywhere I’ve ever seen: North and West Africa are probably the most commonly represented, but there’s also Yemen, the Congo, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Portugal, Poland, Greece, French territories (like Martinique, Réunion, and French Guyana), Romania, China…and that list probably doesn’t even cover it. One lesson the kids loved was learning how to pronounce these countries in English. Continue reading “Notes from Meaux-town*”→
So these “Shit ________ say” videos are getting completely out of control, and for the most part are not funny at all, but I couldn’t help falling in love with this one when my roommate showed it to me. I have no idea if a French person (or really, Parisian) would agree, but most of the phrases an mannerisms in this video are pretty right-on from what I’ve observed and experienced. You can detect his (American or Canadian?) accent in moments, but he’s got the timing and intonation almost perfect. Since I too have a penchant for accents and slang and pretending-to-be-french, I’d really like to find this guy and be friends.
I just discovered that you can watch the entirety of La Haine (1995) on You Tube (so no need to spend a fortune on the Criterion Collection edition). So even though I’ve seen it a number of times, I feel compelled to watch it again. It is one of my favorite films of all time and one that embodies so many topics that fascinate me, as it is ultimately a film about exclusion from mainstream society and how this is reinforced in structural ways such as urban planning and police brutality. And of course, there’s no shortage of vulgar French slang and “Verlan,” a style of speaking that more or less inverses words: “femme” becomes “meuf,” “bizarre” becomes “zarbi,” “arabe” becomes “beur.” Verlan is completely unique to the Parisian region and though it started among immigrants and other marginalized populations of the banlieues, it has spread throughout the city and elsewhere, much to the chagrin of the Académie Française’s arbiters of the French language.
I love this scene, which begins with shots of people hanging out in the housing projects’ playground. The DJ Cut Killer points his speakers out the window and plays a mixture of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien” with NTM’s “Nique la Police” (Fuck the Police). How’s that for pastiche? (That is our completely gratuitous highbrow academic word of the day.)