Simone de Beauvoir was a twentieth century French intellectual. She earned her notoriety as a leading female philosopher and author of one of the founding texts of feminism: Le Deuxième Sexe. Published in 1946, the book drew attention to the subordination of women and challenged the patriarchal view that they held a secondary position in society. Despite the campaign for women’s suffrage a generation earlier, these ideas were provocative for their time and opened the door to a second wave of feminism that shaped post-war minds in France. Although Le Deuxième Sexe was heavily criticised by men, Beauvoir was never discouraged from her life-long goal of equal rights for women.[i]
Following the publication of Le Deuxième Sexe, France witnessed a slow but steady shift towards a more gender-equal society. Defining moments were the legalisation of birth control in 1967 and in 1970, the belated end to a Napoleonic law which gave authority over the family to men.[ii] Therefore, Beauvoir’s very public and provocative support for the feminist cause in 1971 may not have come as much of a surprise. On 5th April, 1971 Beauvoir’s ‘Manifeste des 343’ was published in one of France’s most prominent, left-wing magazines: ‘Le Nouvel Observateur.’[iii]
Front cover and page 5 of the Manifesto of the 343. [iv]
The Manifesto of the 343 was a petition signed by 343 well known French female figures claiming to have had illegal abortions in France. This controversial and public manifesto not only demanded the decriminalization of abortion, but also highlighted the common misconception that abortion only concerned low-life prostitutes. With these 343 signatures, Beauvoir proved that abortion was an issue for all women. In the opening paragraph of the manifesto Beauvoir boldly states: ‘Un million de femmes se font avorter chaque année en France… Je déclare que je suis l’une d’elles. Je déclare avoir avorté.’[v] By publicly declaring that they had had illegal abortions, these women exposed themselves to criminal prosecution and public shame.[vi] Much like Emile Zola’s infamous article ‘J’accuse’, Beauvoir’s manifesto put her own freedom at risk, confirming her role as a committed feminist and intellectual.
Already an established author, the Manifesto of the 343 proved Beauvoir’s status as a national personality able to influence the French conscience. The bold and eye-catching front cover stated: ‘la liste des 343 françaises qui ont le courage de signer le manifeste “JE ME SUIS FAIT AVORTER”’. The black background contrasts with the four coloured lines of the text which adds to the eye-catching nature of the cover, especially as the use of colour in magazines was relatively novice. The text started as a pale yellow and with each line it became a bolder and stronger colour, in keeping with the strengthening intensity of the statement, which ends in “JE ME SUIS FAIT AVORTER” in bright red. This bold, albeit short, statement entices the reader and lures them in to the magazine to read the manifesto and preceding dossier on page 5 and 6.
On page 5 you are immediately struck by five columns of names that list the 343 women who signed the manifesto. Entitled ‘UN APPEL DE 343 FEMMES’ in capitalized red font, the magazine editors and Beauvoir accentuated the importance of this manifesto. On turning the page, we see the dossier, a very persuasive explanation of why abortion should be legalised written by Beauvoir herself. In the same format as the preceding page, it is entitled: ‘NOTRE VENTRE NOUS APPARTIENT’. At first glance, it defies generic, linear journalism whereby one normally reads from left to right. With the use of alternating fonts, sizes and layout, the editors keep the reader interested by allowing them to read the article in whichever way they like.[vii]
Page 6 of the Manifesto of the 343. [viii]
‘Les dix commandements de L’État bourgeois’ intrigued me first. Here Beauvoir has used sarcasm and irony to ridicule the outdated laws on abortion and the patriarchal nature of the French state. For example, one of the commandments was: ‘Fœtus tu préserveras, car plus intéressant de les tuer à 18 ans, âge de la conscription.’ Beauvoir used this double standard to expose and ridicule, the patriarchal and imperialist nature of abortion laws, emphasizing the need for change.[ix]
Moreover, Beauvoir’s use of rhetoric never seizes to evoke emotion within the reader. She uses ample statistics to legitimize what she says and portray how detrimental the situation is. For example, she says: “Chaque année 1,500,000 femmes vivent dans la honte et le désespoir. 5,000 d’entre nous meurent.” Statistics bring the idea to life, making the injustice more real. Furthermore, her use of short powerful sentences and comparisons to the likes of ‘bétail’ and ‘esclaves’, accentuate how women were inferior to men, a notion which perfectly summarises the basis to most of Beauvoir’s philosophical and political work.[x]
This manifesto was one of the most renowned media artefacts in the feminist movement in France and the response was huge, albeit mixed. Due to its controversial nature, it was inevitably criticised, notably from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo whose front cover a few days later read: ‘Qui a engrossé les 343 salopes du manifeste sur l’avortement?” From then on, the manifesto was often referred to as ‘Le Manifeste des 343 Salopes’. Paradoxically, this drew more attention to the piece and consequentially launched debates on the legalization of abortion worldwide.[xi] There was a string of events which occurred after the publication of the manifesto which ultimately resulted in the legalization of abortion in 1975 under François Mitterrand’s health minister and notable feminist politician: Simone Veil.[xii]
In conclusion, Simone de Beauvoir’s Manifesto of the 343 was a clear catalyst in the decriminalization of abortion. With feminist revolts in the United States and the tumultuous events of May 1968 in France, it was only a matter of time before a strong, feminist like Beauvoir took action. Her provocative manifesto caused a global stir and the repeal of the abortion law just four years later consolidated her status as a rebellious French intellectual unwilling to conform to the patriarchal rigidity of society. Beauvoir continued influencing political and intellectual affairs right up to her death in 1986 and her undisputed legacy as an iconic leader of the feminist movement still lives on today.
[i] Simone De Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe : Tome 1 (France : Gallimard, 1949).
[ii] Emilie Poyard, Barbara Neyman, ‘70 ans de combats pour les femmes’, < http://www.elle.fr/Societe/L-actu-en-images/70-ans-de-combats-pour-les-femmes>, posted 18.12.2015, consulted 08.11.2018.
[iii] Simone De Beauvoir, ‘Le “Manifeste des 343 salopes” paru dans le Nouvel Obs en 1971’, < https://www.nouvelobs.com/societe/20071127.OBS7018/le-manifeste-des-343-salopes-paru-dans-le-nouvel-obs-en-1971.html>, posted 27.11.2007, consulted 12.11.2018.
[iv] Unknown, ‘Publication du “manifeste des 343” dans Le Nouvel Observateur’, < https://www.gouvernement.fr/partage/8758-publication-du-manifeste-des-343-dans-le-nouvel-observateur>, posted unknown, consulted 13.11.2018.
[v] “Manifeste des 343 salopes”. Consulted 10.11.2018.
[vi] Manifeste des 343 salopes”. Consulted 13.11.2018.
[vii] Gouvernement.fr. Consulted 13.11.2018.
[viii] Gouvernement.fr. Consulted 13.11.2018.
[ix] “Manifeste des 343 salopes”. Consulted 10.11.2018.
[x] “Manifeste des 343 salopes”. Consulted 10.11.2018.
[xi] Alisonne Sinard, ‘Avant la loi Veil, le coup d’éclat des 343 “salopes”, < https://www.franceculture.fr/histoire/avant-la-loi-veil-le-coup-declat-des-343-salopes>, posted 05.04.2017, consulted 12.11.2018.
[xii] Fiona Zublin, ‘When 343 French ‘sluts’ fought for abortion rights — and won’, <https://www.ozy.com/flashback/when-343-french-sluts-fought-for-abortion-rights-and-won/79733>, posted 08.08.2017, consulted 12.11.2018.
- Simone De Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe : Tome 1 (France : Gallimard, 1949).
- Simone De Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe : Tome 2 (France : Gallimard, 1949).
- Simone De Beauvoir, ‘Le “Manifeste des 343 salopes” paru dans le Nouvel Obs en 1971’, < https://www.nouvelobs.com/societe/20071127.OBS7018/le-manifeste-des-343-salopes-paru-dans-le-nouvel-obs-en-1971.html>, posted 27.11.2007.
- Emilie Poyard, Barbara Neyman, ‘70 ans de combats pour les femmes’, < http://www.elle.fr/Societe/L-actu-en-images/70-ans-de-combats-pour-les-femmes>, posted 18.12.2015.
- Alisonne Sinard, ‘Avant la loi Veil, le coup d’éclat des 343 “salopes”, < https://www.franceculture.fr/histoire/avant-la-loi-veil-le-coup-declat-des-343-salopes>, posted 05.04.2017.
- Fiona Zublin, ‘When 343 French ‘sluts’ fought for abortion rights — and won’, <https://www.ozy.com/flashback/when-343-french-sluts-fought-for-abortion-rights-and-won/79733>, posted 08.08.2017.
- Unknown, ‘Publication du “manifeste des 343” dans Le Nouvel Observateur’, < https://www.gouvernement.fr/partage/8758-publication-du-manifeste-des-343-dans-le-nouvel-observateur>, posted unknown.