PARIS — In 1949, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir published the landmark feminist book Le Deuxième Sexe ("The Second Sex"). The work is a challenge to anyone who chooses — or is assigned? — to read it, with almost 1,000 pages between two volumes. Revered for the clarity and force of its arguments, de Beauvoir's masterpiece would launch the second wave of feminism that moved beyond the battle of basic voting and legal rights to begin to confront gender inequality across society.
Today, we find ourselves in the middle of the third wave. Since the early 1990s, feminist thinkers have been aiming to tackle more abstract and personal concepts such as the struggle to rid minds of those pesky biases that live inside all of us: "How can she work full time and raise three kids?" or "Well, did you see how she was dressed?"
But for today's feminists, like those who came before, the question of how to communicate their arguments is crucial to actually managing to enact change. Though de Beauvoir provided the unique gift of connecting abstract concepts to concrete reality, a door-stopper of a philosophical volume can only take you so far.
New statue of a girl standing up to the iconic Wall Street bull — Photo: Gina d'Antonio via Instagram
Five years after the feminist icon's death in Paris, another voice arrived that's worth remembering: It was dubbed Marie Pas Claire, a multi-level word play that translates as "Marie Not Clear," and spoofs the beauty magazine Marie Claire. Based in the French capital, the group challenged the restraining notions of femininity with cutting humor that it published in its own magazine. With articles, quizzes and jokes, the young women of this group showed the power that sexist remarks could have — but this time, to men.
How long can a man live without a brain?
— That depends, how old is your husband?
That's one of the tamer jokes. Marie Pas Claire created a scandal in France, which was exactly what the magazine was hoping for. If you don't laugh, they thought, you'll cry.
It's a strong contrast to the image of the militant, even angry, feminist. And it's done that way on purpose: Anger may be justified, but it doesn't always advance your cause. Whether or not this type of approach is the right one is still a point of debate today.
Today, March 8, is the annual International Women's Day, an event celebrated around the world since that first wave of feminism early last century. For the occasion, another form of protest is being tested in the United States by the organizers of January's massive Women's March on Washington: A simple strike will take place — women doctors, lawyers, cashiers, CEOs, police officers, factory workers and engineers will not be showing up to work today. How long can an economy live without women?
Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.
PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?
In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.
This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.
Addictions to sex and social media
Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'
Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.
No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.
Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image
According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.
Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.
Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.
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