by Antoinette FOUQUE
Vincente my daughter,
Vincenza my mother,
Antonia my grandmother,
Marie-Louise my godmother,
Lili and Maria my elders.
Welcome into this Dictionnaire universel des femmes créatrices which is born today at Editions des Femmes, after many years of gestation. A manifest of existence of the timeless and innumerable people of women.
Welcome to this place, an offspring of the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes [MLF, the French Women’s Liberation Movement], a place of engendering and incessant creation, a land of asylum and hospitality in which the spirit and the practice of the longest revolution has been maintained. Welcome all in this history-laden place, promise of the future that advances in the present.
Welcome into a women’s chronicle of heroic exploits, in the here and now of permanent liberation.
This place is not neutral. It was born forty years ago, after more than five years of movement and of political and psychoanalytic questioning with the MLF; it took up and deepened my intellectual research in the 1960s, enlightened by the great thinkers and intellectual guides such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Their modernity was totally new at the time in French culture, but it espoused the Lacanian assertion: “The woman does not exist.” In the Panorama des idées contemporaines by Gaëtan Picon (1957), only four women appear among the 212 revolutionary thinkers who incarnated the “unprecedented mutation” of the postwar world. Fortunately, I was learning from Jean-Joseph Goux.
My encounter with Monique Wittig in January 1968 had clarified our common revolt against this exclusion and the preeminence of manpower that bore alone the human condition since Humanism. The May 1968 revolution permitted us, in launching the MLF, to add to the theoretical practice a political practice, which I continued with the creation of the Psychanalyse et Politique group, a place for research and transmission, a sort of people’s university, where thought based on the existence of women and their libido was developped.
At the movement’s first public meeting at the new university in Vincennes, in April 1970, referring to Freud, I said that we, women, were going to succeed where the hysteric had failed. Provided that we said yes to freedom and not to her master’s – or God’s – voice. The philosophy, film and psychoanalysis courses that I subsequently gave in 1971 and 1973 at this university confirmed, for me, the idea that theoretical practice, alongside militant action, had to be strengthened.
It was urgent that women, after having taken the floor, take up the pen. If we consider that peoples without a written language do not have history, it was necessary to move on to writing to enter history. Giving a place to the absence of place, lifting the repression on women’s creation. Fighting against permanent effacement, carrying out a revolution of the symbolic. Reinforcing and equipping the political battle from this strategic place: the éditions des femmes, which I created in 1973. A gest of battle and accelerated awareness-raising, of the revolution of the intimate and of collective liberation.
Through this publishing house, then bookstores, and later, the first art gallery devoted to women, I wanted to offer those who were shut in behind a domestic fence, the hospitality of a place open onto the world; a space for them, for us, for oneself, where women would not be excluded-confined as in the father’s house but would exist starting on ground that would belong to them.
In this place are recorded, without any exclusivity, all the battles of these last few decades: for the control of fertility, against misogyny, violence committed against women…. For each of them, we have tried to print an indelible mark: books of personal accounts, books about liberation, mobilization, transmission.
Many contemporaries, the heroic creators who people this Dictionary, we met them, supported them, helped them to write – translated what they wrote –, published them, made them known, and sometimes even saved them. From Eva Forest who risked the death sentence in Franco’s Spain in 1974, to the Almanach collective “Women and Russia” around Tatiana Mamonova in the USSR in 1980, from Nawal el Saadaoui in Egypt in 1981, Duong Thu Huong in Vietnam in 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar in 1991, to Taslima Nasreen in Bangladesh in 1993. And then Kate Millett whom we accompanied in Iran, in 1979, during the first revolt of Iranian women against the religious dictatorship, Leyla Zana whom we supported in 1994, during the trials that were inflicted on her in Turkey. Publishing them was to help them not turn themselves into victims but into heroines.
Women of thought and action came from every continent: in 1975, Anaïs Nin, the scholar, a 70-year-old with a diaphanous and very youthful beauty, very concerned by Psychanalyse et Politique, convinced of the need for all of us to sing women’s epic, echoing the work of Judy Chicago, The Dinner party. We published Aïcha Lemsine from Algeria, Yuko Tsushima from Japan, Nélida Piñon from Brazil…
A few major figures, whose work was rejected by publishers or major figures of the past who had been forgotten, found their voice in it: in particular Virginia Woolf, not the subjective and individualistic writer of A Room of One’s Own, but the woman eager for freedom and collective independence revealed by Three Guineas. This political text published in France thanks to the obstinacy of its translator, Viviane Forrester whose work written after the suicide of her son, struck by unemployment, The Economic Horror, scandalized certain learned economists by its analysis and apocalyptic forecasts, of an implacable topicality. We also published Sylvia Plath “inhabited by a scream,” Hilda Doolittle and Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” all of whom wanted something that could not be heard; Jeannette Winterson, whose fight for the recognition of homosexuality we supported; Angela Davis whose Women, Race and Class we published and republished; Catharine MacKinnon, whose political analysis of male sexual domination was considered too radical in France, and many others.
Writers – Clarice Lispector, Chantal Chawaf, Hélène Cixous – who found here a place in which to deconstruct androcentric, matricidal writing and bring to light a sexuated, matricial writing.
It is a germinal place to restore full human dignity where each creator is engaged in a battle that is much greater than herself: extinguishing the fire that annihilates her sisters. We are fortunate with them to stand at the heart of the Continent that has most recently appeared in history so that women can have their own Enlightenment and shed light on the world through it.
Des femmes has, in 40 years of existence, constituted the embryo of the Dictionary that has come into the world today.
The genesis of this Dictionary was complex and its birth far from being random.
For a long time, I only had two books at home, the Petit Larousse Illustré and the Encyclopédie Quillet, which were given to my sister and brother, both middle-school students, by my mother whose only misfortune she said was not having been able to go to school. For her, public education was the great human adventure, as for Virginia Woolf, who saw in women’s access to education the political act par excellence and the best weapon against war. “Pencils and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism, there is no greater weapon than knowledge…” has just stated as an echo, Malala Yousufzai, the young Pakistani girl victim at the age of 15 of an assassination attempt as she was going to school and who, from the UN forum, launched a vibrant appeal for education for all.
I discovered everything in the Encyclopédie Quillet The image of a ship’s belly, the same one as that on which my father sailed, blended in my mind with that of a pregnant woman’s womb, secretly drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, then that of the uterus to which Diderot gyneconomist devoted an article and an entire plate in his Encyclopedia. A leafing through of a memory of my early childhood, scarcely conscious, that formed the archetype of my desire to learn and understand, of my exploration of the difference of the sexes. The encyclopedia as transgression and object of unconscious desire.
By mere chance working on the archives brought out that, long before the birth of the Dictionary, it was clearly the MLF that had programmed its initiative. In the last delivery of its first newspaper, Le Torchon Brûle, which was published between 1971 and 1973, I announced, in a naïf sketch, the creation of éditions des femmes to prepare an encyclopedia of women.
My impatience had to submit itself to the slowness of history and to partially, en route, abandon the encyclopedic project. Roland Barthes, who was my doctoral dissertation advisor, had stated it and I knew it: “The encyclopedic act is no longer possible, but I believe that the encyclopedia gest has its value as fiction, its pleasure: its scandal.” Like Diderot who called the new knowledge acquired during his century “Encyclopedia” in his Dictionary, I did not give in on the desire to bring together and share our own part of the Enlightenment, that cultural Renaissance, undoubtedly minuscule, our hummingbird’s share, the contribution of the MLF.
When Béatrice Didier – whose review Corps écrit had thrilled me for years – proposed, in July 2005, her “Dictionary of female creation” project, rejected by all other publishers, it met my original desire in the most fertile way possible. So it was only natural that I welcomed it to this house of the rejected and the independents – that is, creators (let us recall the Salon of the Rejected) while opening it to all the realms in which contemporary women are active. To Beatrice Didier’s treasures of literary practice and unique experience in university was added the subtlety of Mireille Calle Gruber’s modernity, the latter joining us. Even if we didn’t have the same academic, university or activist project, we agreed on what there was in common: welcoming women’s creation in all its facets. This Dictionary, a knowledge tool, is made for everyone.
When it is associated with what is coming, the past does not die. It is the treasure of the future.
A founding act, this Dictionary opens a time of memory. It gives an account, through the facts and acts, of the pre-alphabetic intelligence of these millions of women kept away from reading and writing, the heiresses of thousands of years of oral and genital cultures. It attests that so many women have existed deprived of historical representation; it lifts censorship by restituting the names of this host of anonymous women (or those who had once again become anonymous through constant repression) who crossed the history of homo sapiens. These labile names that have barely been engraved in the sanctuaries of proper nouns – the dictionaries.
A manifestation, a movement to avoid oblivion, reform links, this Dictionary is a conservatory, an archive of women, who are very well known, little or not known at all; a manifesto of existence that, in a certain way, makes the other half of the sky, the other half of the earth, which is not the clay army of Xi’an but a peaceful army of living beings, be reborn.
Of course, it is imperfect: certain heroines of women’s rights could have been forgotten – for example, Bella Abzug, who led conferences at the United Nations from 1975 to 1995 with an invincible energy. It is a work in progress, an open and infinite construction site, a permanent, generic and genesic place of gestation, where women can transmit a small trace of their constant creation of the world, and of everything that can be expected of it. Lifting, as it does, a small corner of the veil, leads to thinking, despite the holes in the fabric, that there is surely a logic of the living in this insistence and persistence of women to exist.
This Dictionary will generate multiple and unexpected creations. It will open a way and others will come, more complete, that will draw from our work – this is the role and the destiny of the avant-garde.
It is a moment in the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes.
Welcome to all those who came before us who worked enough so that their names be not erased and that others come; you, ladies of times past who at any moment are in danger of effacement.
Welcome to the newcomers of time. Wherever you are on earth, wherever you live, you are linked to this living, thinking flesh.
Welcome to those women, who were omitted today, who will be present in the next edition.
Welcome to the generations that are coming, to whom each day is given.
Welcome to the time of women, matricial and fertile, ceaselessly in evolution.
For a long time I was fascinated by this epic of survivors, migrants, who, despite the immemorial war that was waged against them, despite the unabolished domestic and sexual slavery, have continued to give birth to the world.
They existed and this “existing” based on a condition of servitude, is a self-creation that is part of a great narrative.
Let us call “gest” this great narrative that came from the Golden Age of the great goddesses, in the cult attested to by their representations, and through the remarkable work of Marija Gimbutas on the presence of women in prehistory. Then came to pass the great defeat of the female sex and the taking of symbolic power by the so-called “first” sex: Engels sets out the emergence of private ownership as the origin of oppression, Freud situates it in the glacial era, when women were forced to renounce the pleasure of bringing forth children. Procreation being foreclosed by the pseudo-symbolic, andro-phallocentric order, hysteria was born.
Consequently to uterus envy, the myths, the gods, metaphysics appropriated procreation and established a system in which fertility shifted from the uterus to the brain. Zeus swallowed Metis and gave birth from his head to Athena, the fully armed warrior, who after having sent the Erinyes back underground, founded the Athenian democracy without women. Jupiter genitor genitrixque. The God of monotheisms cursed procreation to be able to exploit it: Eve was born from Adam’s rib, and guilty of a capital sin, was condemned to give birth in pain, under the master’s control, prohibited from creation and knowledge.
Then would come the time of liberation.
With this Dictionary, I wanted to reestablish that women are creators in that they procreate, and lift the repression that creation inflicts on procreation. We must rediscover the first meaning of creation – creare in Latin means to both create and procreate without any opposition of the two terms ..
Creation and procreation are both transgressions of the forbidden that weighs on the matricial and its knowledge, but poetry and pregnancy as experiences constantly go back to them. “The study of the beautiful is a duel in which the artist cries out with fright before being vanquished,” as in the deliverance of giving birth. They stem from a common urge. Artistic genius and genesic creation burn to sing the life before life, memory and future.
Creation is derived from procreation: it is the translation, in every field of human activity, of the same desire to do something, to give the world energy, to assert oneself, to leave a visible and useful trace for those who will follow. A long time ago, I had already scheduled a collection “A Woman at Work” that referred to a woman in labor. Louise Bourgeois, the 21st-century artist, undoubtedly expressed it better than anyone in her creation that every work of art is gestation and uniquely, irreversibly the act of giving birth.
Women’s creation is universal in itself because they are creators of the living in the cultural sense, as in the sense of humanity’s evolution.
The human being’s first environment is the woman’s body. Woman, border-crosser, in permanent gestation, migration of the humanity that she welcomes through carnal hospitality, in a sort of immense diaspora that is read through discoveries on mitochondrial DNA. Birth after birth, anthropocultrice, she refines the spirit of the species and transmits the engram, the impregnation, the human imprint, both a trace in the brain engraved before birth, and archi-writing before the gest, before speech, before the written word. Born a girl child, she will give birth. Humanity is a woman who gives birth to a girl who gives birth to a girl. Co-birth. Memory of the origin for the girl, inscribed in her, that she will transmit by engendering in her turn. I called homosexuation, that native, primary, first homosexuality, to the first body of love, that foreclosed link of transmission of an absolutely patriarchal civilization. Gift of life received and returned, art, science of the living, in all its facets, in all its forms. Libido creandi, that incessant movement, energy that does not want to give in, desire that is the infinite momentum of the living.
Since the creation of the MLF, I have worked to dig a furrow of thought that restores the specific competency as a competency of civilization, singular and at the same time universal knowledge, object of feminology. Gestation, the absolute gift, is the paradigm of ethics: responsibility, capacity of the other, abundance, amplitude of the flesh that thinks, that creates.
We must rematerialize the world, anchor every creation in the genital, genial process of gestation: recognize the symbolic force of the uterus, which surely represents the most modern of gests, as it legitimizes thinking of the future. The conjunction of creation-procreation will produce extraordinary, unprecedented effects of development, liberation, revolution.
Everywhere in the world, women are the beating heart of a humanity that is produced every instant: thrice workers, they take on professional and domestic labor and make children. In the poem “Travail d’une femme” that my daughter Vincente gave me, Maya Angelou lists their infinite tasks: “I must/I must/I must.” Under the master’s iron rule, work is slavishly keeping her nose to the grindstone; freely, it is the genious of creation.
One had to imagine this Dictionary to tell the tale of this heroic opera of the people of women, open to infinity and that will continue to be written for those whose body still does not belong to them. Times and places, local and global, intertwine, combine, become eroticized. Each to her own task, wherever she is, permanently at work, in the process of inventing and turned toward the future, accomplishes her vocation and transmits its call to the new arrival. “Every vocation is a call – vocatus – and every call wants to be transmitted.” The people of women, who are secular par excellence. Each in her own singularity and together plural, we are alike, not strangers. In knowing us by three, we will know all of us.
I see a link between the French economist Esther Duflo, member of the Collège de France consulted in Washington by Barack Obama, who wants to eradicate poverty in the world and, in Marseille, the facile city, Esther Fouchier, who fights so that the Arab Spring becomes from one shore of the Mediterranean to the other the summer of women. Between Hypatia of Alexandria, a brilliant 4th-century mathematician and philosopher who was stoned to death by fanaticized Christians, and Fadela M’Rabet, writer and poet who was dismissed from her teaching position in Algeria of the 1960s for having written Les Algériennes. Between Rosalind Franklin, the dark lady whose work was at the origin of the discovery of DNA, and Vandana Shiva, physicist, epistemologist and field ecologist who created a university of grandmothers to protect diversity: “We need the knowledge of our grandmothers who know each plant and all its properties, its characteristics.” With them, we are in the assertion of difference, sexuated knowledge.
Anthropological mutation is underway with the chimeras of Nicole Le Douarin and Michelle Perrot’s history of women, genial genital handywomen in the strict logic of the living. Tireless creators, bringing together and sewing fragments of human poetry, like Sonia Rykiel, knitter of the demoded, colorfully striped, rhapsodic, or Isabelle Huppert who, from the backstreet abortionist to Joan of Arc, has been all women in the cinema, like a suspended answer to the impossible question: “What is a woman?”: all in tropisms, she acts like Nathalie Sarraute writes.
The extraordinary thing about this liberation is that the battle for the necessary right to equality has not made women (not all of them) renounce the poetic experience of gestation, the gest of the body and the unconscious. The beauty of this revolution is that the subject is asserted by its sex, in its originality, above and beyond the abstract universal, anchoring itself in its origin in movement. Emerging, powerful, upright women, who do not give up on desire. Thus, we, women, have gone from the female condition to the historical condition.
Today, we have become poets and we are writing our condition ourselves. Here, we sing gestation and fertile women, the movement par excellence that displaces lines, that weeps, that laughs, that sings and that comes to life, the desire for permanent creation in every woman’s body – a piece of needlework or a work of genius, in a petit point tapestry as in pregnancy. Accomplishment – endless incompletion.
Half-epic, half-history, may this Dictionnaire universel, this gest to the glory of women, take part in the education of posterity.
I will not go back on the incessant war against women, real, imaginary and symbolic violence; physical, social, economic, intellectual and political, it is also unconscious, preconscious, conscious. We have not forgotten, we will never forget the massacre that continues.
The 300,000 Indian girl babies who disappeared following foeticides. The 1,100 Congolese women raped and mutilated every day, in the Kivu region. The 4,000 Mexican women kidnapped and murdered in 20 years with complete impunity in Ciudad Juarez. The “witch hunt” that in this medieval war, has started again in Papouasie… Femicide that we would lie to see at the heart of the next UN conference on women, constantly pushed back.
In leafing through this Dictionary, we can hear the echoes of these martyred voices. “Parle-moi” [“speak to me”] Jacqueline Merville* writes in a poem to the memory of the young Indian women tortured to death by a gang of men in Delhi in 2012. Wounded and fertile heart (and choir) of women, which sets out their wretched geopolitical condition, both timeless and contemporary.
It is an understatement to say that women resist that women resist, it is a question of something else: an underground and on-ground force that has never let itself be domesticated and that has built a part of history without the master’s knowledge.
The women warriors who use nonviolence as a weapon unmask the real of the barbarity against women and take the risk of carrying out a heroic act. Twenty years ago, Taslima Nasreen was driven out of Bangladesh, condemned to death by a fatwa for having denounced the condition of women in her country in her books. (“Women are my house,” she stated at an MLF colloquium). Recently, once again, Sushmita Banerjee, an Indian writer back in Afghanistan, was kidnapped and murdered for the same reason.
The naked chest of the hero, here, has nothing immodest about it: today, the Femen* exhibit their scorned dignity, as inversely Aung San Suu Kyi, deprived of freedom, food and piano in her own home, had the elegance of receiving the people who had come to see her from the other end of the world, as we did in 1995, a flower in her hair. A flower to say “I exist and now you can no longer make me disappear.”
Recognizing women’s immense contribution to humanity will permit them to turn a triple scourge (sexual slavery, underdevelopment, no access to political power) into a triple dynamic that I call the “3 Ds”: Demography (genesic health and the right to procreation), Development (literacy training and economic emancipation) and Democracy (parity and democratic personality), a plait none of whose strands can be fulfilled without the others.
Even more than a Renaissance, it is a matter of a civilization model. Women are inventing a new human contract, a new world, which is not limited to their assimilation into the narcissistic abstract universal model in which one always goes back to the One. Beyond equality and beyond the artifice of genders and the universal, they propose a diversality model in which phallic economy and uterine economy are combined, in which 1 that multiplies 1 makes 3. Co-creation, always tripartite. Here is the time of fertility, the new alliance between men and women.
Herein lies women’s creation, the creation of art, of being, of civilization.
This Dictionary is a gest of gratitude from men and women to those women who have transmitted and are transmitting their culture, their energy and their life instinct to us.
Remembering, thinking, thanking. Giving thanks makes it possible to decipher the world: by saying “thank you,” we recover our dignity and courage to exist for tomorrow; the strength not to be done with hate and envy, but to hold them in respect, to soothe them enough to initiate a civilization of love and gratitude, to substitute the life instinct for the death instinct, red gestation for white melancholy.
You who open this Dictionary, enter the hope of a new era.
Thank you to those whom I met at the MLF, I would have like to name all of you.
Thank you to those who informed me, taught me, transmitted to me; you whom I didn’t have the joy of meeting, you whom I met, you whom I’ll never meet.
Thank you to the thousands of women from every time, every place, who people this Dictionary.
Thank you to those who took part in it and who, I hope, elsewhere, in another manner, will keep enriching it.
Thank you to those who, these last few years, worked on reweaving the strands of history, to forget oblivion.
This Dictionary would not have seen the light of day without their commitment, their lifeblood, their knowledge and their generosity.
Thank you and welcome to the gest of women.
 Installation composed of a gigantic triangular Last Supper with 39 place settings dedicated to important women in history and mythology, resting on a base on which the name of other women is presented.
 According to Elisabeth de Fontenay who describes his enchanter’s materialism (Diderot gynéconome, Diagraphe, 1976).
 Roland Barthes, Comment vivre ensemble. Cours et séminaires au Collège de France, 1976-1977, Paris, Seuil-Imec, 2002.
 The hummingbird of the Amerindian legend is busy looking for a few tiny drops of water to hold in its beak that it tosses on the enormous fire that is ravaging the forest while the other animals are not doing anything. “You are crazy, hummingbird, you see that that doesn’t do anything,” one of them says to it. “Yes, I know, but I’m doing my part,” the hummingbird replies.
 Marija Gimbutas, Le langage de la déesse, des femmes, Paris, Des femmes-Antoinette Fouque, 2005.
 Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884.
 Sigmund Freud, Vue d’ensemble des névroses de transfert, Paris, Gallimard, 1986.
 Charles Baudelaire, “Confiteor de l’artiste”, Le Spleen de Paris.
 Georges Bernanos, A Diary of My Times, New York, Macmillan, 1938.
 Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin, la dark lady de l’ADN, des femmes, 2012.
 Vandana Shiva, Solutions locales pour un désordre global, by Coline Serreau (Actes Sud, 2010).