I’ve been trying to regularly contribute to Better Know a Frenchman, my series about the people behind the names on streets signs and buildings all across France. Shortly after I started the series, I found out about a feminist movement to put more WOMEN’S names in those places of honor.
FémiCité is a project by the group Osez le féminisme ! (roughly, Dare to be Feminist!)*. According to their website, out of 63,500 streets in all of France, 20,000 are named for men while only 1,270 bear the name of a woman! 1,270! That is barely 2%! Or as they say, “That’s 2% of streets dedicated to half of humanity.”
They also note that of the 302 metro stations in Paris’ extensive system, only three bear women’s names. And of those three, there is a single station where that woman does not share the name with a man! (Interestingly, one of the most recently built tram lines has 9 stations with women’s names, among them Rosa Parks and Ella Fitzgerald.)
The problem here is obvious. The names we choose for public infrastructure are representative of the core values and aspirations of a community. What does it say about a community if our core values only include 2% of female influence?? We shouldn’t hide women’s achievements, we need to celebrate them, especially in those most mundane public places of daily life!
So, overnight, they posted distinguished women’s names all over street signs in the center of Paris. They included names of 70 writers, scientists, actresses, countesses, spies, singers, politicians, philosophers and poets. Along with this fun public art project, they have also called on Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo — herself a pretty amazing woman — to support the need for more celebration of women’s achievements across the city by challenging her to rename more streets in their honor, even a public square or government building.
In solidarity, I have decided to begin highlighting amazing French Women along with the Frenchmen I have already been profiling. What women have you noticed on street signs? Who do you think deserves recognition?! ❂