Eléonore Pourriat’s movie Majorité Opprimée (Majority Oppressed) tells the story of a matriarchal society, where gender-roles are reversed in an unknown city of France. The ten- minute French movie which went viral shows a day from the life of a middle-class French man, Pierre, who is demeaned, sexually harassed and assaulted. Whether the movie succeeded in frightening men as Pourriat had expected it, “I wanted it to be not so realistic but frightening,” is doubtful but the movie has certainly succeeded in being a classical spectacle of ‘feminist infighting’ by trashing Islamic feminism and a large number of hijab-wearing Muslim women as dimwitted and oppressed.
Through cat-calls and street harassment, Pierre reaches his baby’s nursery school. Here, Pierre is seen in conversation with a Muslim male-babysitter who is wearing a balaclava which clearly resembles a Muslim woman’s hijab. Pierre is concerned about the sort of oppression Nissar is made to go through and asks him, “Don’t you feel more and more trapped? First you shaved your moustache, then your whiskers and now this. I’m afraid you look more and more like a child… you don’t belong to anyone you understand?” In response, Nissar wears a moronic smile, puts up an expression of downtrodden stupidity and says quiet submissively, “It is the law. So God is protecting me …”
This scene is a manifestation of how hijab-wearing Muslim women are perceived in France. Despite their protests around the globe that hijab is their choice, this scene reinforces the stereotyping of Muslim women as simpleminded with no intelligence and maturity of their own and makes a desperate call for forced liberation of hijab-wearing Muslim women. This forced liberation gained momentum with the law passed by the Stasi Commission in France in 2004, Niqab law of 2011 and the statement issued by French President, Francois Hollande in April 2013, that the present ban would be extended to the private sector and state jobs.
The most disturbing scene in the movie is where Pierre is sexually assaulted at knifepoint by a group of girls. Suprisingly, one of them is called Samia (the name is a clear hint at the person’s religion and North African origin). Perhaps this scene is the best depiction of how Muslims in France who are largely of North African heritage, identified as the reason behind every social ill and how they are subject to racial profiling and objectified as criminals.
As it was certain to happen, a female police takes Pierre’s statement. In her interrogation of the event, she implies that Pierre has made up the whole story. Even his wife who comes to collect him from the police station treats him with disdain, she extends a cursory sympathy and then goes on to brat about her day’s achievements at work. When Pierre remarks that he is fed up of this woman-dominated society, she accuses him of asking for sexual harassment by dressing immodestly in revealing knee-length shorts and flip-flops. Pierre’s frustrated reaction to the statement is, “you want me to wear a balaclava?”
Thus Eléonore Pourriat views a ‘balaclava,’ implying, ‘a-three-piece-cloth-scarf’ as the most serious threat to a woman’s individual identity. Pourriat’s typical, clichéd profiling is synonymous to Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement that hijab is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity.
Moreover, her film reflects the clear-split in the global feminist movement, and how fractured and excluded the movement stands today. This phenomenon is not something new to the movement; the second-wave feminism was disrupted in a frenzy and the third-wave feminism emerged to address the issues of feminists who were not just white, upper middle-class women. Thus, third wave feminism perhaps attempted to build a picture of a more universalized and globalised feminist movement, where women from different cultures, class, religion and orientation came together to give their own meaning to the movement, a meaning that would be all-inclusive of their personal understanding of what feminism is.
The promotion of a particular brand of feminism as the right feminism and other forms of feminism as wrong and unacceptable is a major challenge to the feminist movement. Such actions are destroying the movement from within. Feminism is about making the world a better place to live for both the sexes and ensuring gender-equality in every arena. And as long as we are working towards liberation of women, does it matter whether you are on the left or the right, whether you are a black feminist, or an Islamic feminist?
Pourriat’s film perpetuates a sense of inequality and class-bigotry that women feel from within, that is, from their own peers. In the last scene, Pourriat brings forth an important issue of how women are blamed for sexual harassment against them in the name of provocative dress. Thus, while his wife’s remarks that Pierre intentionally invites sexual harassment because of the way he dresses is stupid and pointless, it is important to realize that Pierre’s mocking rebuttal that whether she wants him to wear a balaclava, which according to him is the ultimate manifestation of women’s oppression is equally shortsighted and insensitive.
Pourriat’s film sadly reminds me of a line from Ti-Grace Atikinson’s resignation letter from the Feminists- “Sisterhood is powerful. It kills. Mostly sisters.”