France’s education minister has sparked a sexism row after demanding high school pupils dress in “republican style” for classes.
Jean-Michel Blanquer’s comments came a week after a protest by girls at French high schools about being hauled in front of headteachers or turned away from lessons because they were wearing mini skirts, low-cut or crop tops deemed “provocative”.
Some complained of discrimination and double standards, saying while their clothing choices were being policed, their male classmates were allowed to wear what they liked.
On Monday, the minister responded to the protests saying “It’s important to go to school in correct dress … school is not like other places.”
“You don’t go to school as you would to the beach or a nightclub,” Blanquer told RTL radio adding: “Everyone can understand that you go to school dressed in a republican style.”
His comments led to questions about what exactly he meant by “republican” style and mockery on social media.
Singer Jeanne Cherhal posted a photographer of her naked self covered by a tricolor flag, while others circulated pictures of Eugène Delacroix’s celebrated republican image of “La Liberté guidant le peuple” (Liberty leading the people) depicting a bare-breasted heroine.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, which became #BalanceTonPorc (denounce your pig) in France, outrage at stories of girls being told off for what they were wearing have inspired new hashtags including #BalanceTonBahut (denounce your school) and #BalanceTonProf (denounce your teacher). These are being used to share experiences of sexual harassment, discrimination and aggression at schools and anger at what is seen as official inaction in the face of the shaming of girls.
The hashtag #lundi14september, launched on TikTok last week, spread quickly across social media and called on pupils to wear “indecent” clothing to protest against dress codes and comments about their appearance.
Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for citizenship and former equality minister, applauded the protest.
“Today, Monday, 14 September, young girls across France spontaneously decided to wear skirts, low-cut shirts, crop tops and makeup to affirm their rights in the face of judgment and sexist acts. As a mother, I support them out of sisterhood [and] admiration,” she tweeted.
The French feminist group Osez Le Feminismse! also backed the protests, saying schools had to “shift their aim towards disciplining boys”.
“We have to push the ‘shift shame’ initiative further and demand that school staff raise student awareness of sexual harassment and aggression so that certain boys’ unacceptable behaviour stops,” Céline Piques, the group’s spokesperson, told France24.