Tuesday, February 7, 2012

J'accuse

In my French class this year, we studied "la literature engagée," writing that makes a commentary or a criticism on an issue of the time, often with the goal of provoking change. 

The best piece of writing we read, and indeed possibly one of the best pieces of writing I've ever read, was an open letter commonly known as "J'accuse" (I accuse), written at the end of the 19th century. The author, Émile Zola, was writing to to the president of the French republic, concerning the "Dreyfus Affair" in which an innocent man was condemned to prison due to antisemitism and a lot of negligence.

I read the letter in the original French and I couldn't stop being amazed at the intensity of the author's language, the precision of his diction and how he lays everything out to come perfectly to his conclusions. It's the strongest beat-down ever, in the most polite of terms. I was smiling and laughing as I read it, to the incredulity of my peers. The best part is definitely the last page, a list of accusation after accusation, simple and to the point, followed by an uber-polite closing. If you speak French, I recommend reading it, despite its length. It's available on WikiSource here.

We also listened to a rap song take-off of "J'accuse", which similarly was addressed to the president. The ADHD of the internet generation will probably prefer the song, here on YouTube.

For my final project in the same class I did a presentation based around the question "Did the feminist revolution truly benefit women in France?" My research into this subject made me realize something scary: my belief that society is inherently biased against women is not merely superstition. It's fact. Scary, scary fact. I can only imagine how much worse the situation is for women in minority groups.

I remember one day in art class in middle school, all the kids at my table were arguing about something, I don't remember what. It wasn't going my way, so I asked a new question, whether we should have a matriarchy. The boys would have had us by one vote, but I got my boyfriend to vote with me, since he didn't really know what matriarchy meant and he trusted me. The original argument was then completely forgotten as the rest of the guys began to tease him for his vote.

I laughed then, but now I thinks it's sad. Those boys didn't (and still don't) realize that women and girls have to deal with living in a patriarchy every single day of our lives. Every time we have elections practically, we vote to support that patriarchy, electing leaders from the small demographic of well-to-do older white men. (In the United States, I think the stat is that most federal leaders come from roughly 6% of the population - rich white males with an elite education. But I've lost my source for this, so if anyone comes across it, please let me know).

Here in Ontario, a media-frenzy "honour killings" trial ended recently (the Shafia trial). I kept hearing people from the Muslim community on the radio, arguing that honour killings aren't part of Islam. Other (Christian) commentators kept mentioning the patriarchal nature of Muslim culture - as if Christian culture and indeed all of western society isn't patriarchal as well!

I accuse the world of standing by, complacent, while women everyday, everywhere, are oppressed in silence.


(And I accuse myself of taking myself way too seriously - I just can’t help but rant on this subject.)

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