Olympe de Gouges, Madame de Lafayette, Marguerite Yourcenar: this year there are three women on the program for the French baccalaureate, whose written test will take place on Thursday, June 16.
The place of the authors is progressing slowly, but we have started from afar and their presence is still much lower than that of the authors. “Whoever makes the exam programs now ensures that there are women. But there is clearly still progress to be made.”summarizes Françoise Cahen, secondary school literature teacher in Alfortville (Val-de-Marne), who launched a petition in 2016 “To give women their place in bac L literature programs”.
A work written by a woman, The Princess of Montpensier by Ms. de Lafayette, was enrolled in the Terminals program of the literary baccalaureate in 2018, a first since 1997.
Ever since, “There are positive developments”, notes Françoise Cahen. But the number of women is not “still not huge” and “we tend to always revolve around the same authors”†
A “little progress”
Since the reform of the baccalaureate in 2019, for the exam, teachers have to select four works from twelve proposed works, one per literary genre. Since the reform, there are a total of four women on this list. This year there are three in general: Olympe de Gouges (“Declaration of the rights of women and of the citizen”) for the “literature of ideas”, and Madame de Lafayette or Marguerite Yourcenar (your choice) in the category “ novel and narrative”.
Next year there will be two: Olympe de Gouges again and Colette (sido and The branches of the vine).
“It’s small progress. But the trend is still heritage literature, with quite a few women.”notes Viviane Youx, president of the French Association for the Teaching of French (AFEF).
A qualified presence “symbolic” by Pierre Mathieu, literature teacher at Angela Davis secondary school in Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis), and co-author of a 2020 column on the “sustainable mismatch between authors in our programs”†
We will stay for him “in an anecdotal view of the way women are introduced to the literature review”† “Once we put an author on the program, she must necessarily talk about the status of women”like Olympe de Gouges who has written other works, including a play on slavery, he regrets.
For Julien Marsay, professor of literature at Gennevilliers (Hauts-de-Seine), author of a Twitter account and soon to write a book on “invisible authors”the selected women are “warranty exceptions”†
“We keep some of them and they act as a guarantee to say, okay, there were a few who knew how to handle the pen, but it’s the exceptions that prove the rule, according to which writing is a man’s business.”he analyzes.
The evolution of a collective culture
Among the other barriers to a greater presence of female writers, teachers specifically mention the lack of knowledge of female authors. They have been little studied by prospective teachers during their training, their works are little represented in school and college publications, and they are rarely part of teacher competition programs.
“We need to have more committed women in what’s been called the ‘literary canon’, like the aggregation program”says Françoise Cahen.
The teachers also observe a tremor there. The aggregation of modern letters, for example, regularly offers a work by a woman, when there was none for years. “But we are here to count them”tempers Françoise Cahen.
For Jeanne Chiron, teacher-researcher and president of the association Le Deuxieme Texte, which aims to give more space to female writers, “There is a desire, a necessity, not only militantly but also politically, to hear other voices resound”†
“The will to evolve is on the part of the teachers”adds Pierre Mathieu. “It really is the collective culture as it is formed that needs to evolve”†