Actress, writer, and director Tatyana Razafindrakoto radiates a contagious enthusiasm. One of the founders of La Formule, a collective of seven artists committed to investing their creativity in a wide range of cultural projects, Tatyana is the driving force behind the Aliennes Festival, which will be held March 5th and 6th in Paris to celebrate the creation and emancipation of women. The Attentive Body had the pleasure of talking with her about the festival, the state of feminism today, and the possibility for every woman to make her way in the world freely and joyfully.
The Attentive Body: You talk about a “new form of feminism, a more accessible one.” Could you elaborate ? How do you see the old form, what are its limits, and how and to whom would the new one be more accessible ?
Tatyana Razafindrakoto: First of all, I’m a big admirer of the struggles that took place in the 1970s, which got a lot of media attention and allowed women of my mother’s generation and mine to gain the right to control our own bodies, the right to be free and to be considered full and equal citizens. But I wasn’t really aware of these struggles until long after the fact. What I knew about feminism when I was 18 or 20 was what is still being said about it today: feminists are made out to be a bunch of Furies who attack everyone and everything. It took me a while to understand that this wasn’t the case, that feminists today are continuing the battles started by our grandmothers and that their militancy is necessary.
As for limits, I think that at some point that I can’t exactly put my finger on, there was a problem with the transmission of feminist values. And my generation suffered a lot from it. Many young women today say, “I want equality with men but I’m not a feminist.” It’s actually quite strange.
TAB: So it’s a generational issue, a matter of transmission?
TR: Yes. Transmission and maybe adaptation. Feminism still exists; it embodies necessary, essential, humanist values. But it also has to know how to adapt. I think that’s what I wanted to do: adapt feminism to make it more accessible, appealing, and even “cool,” to get young women and men interested in understanding it.
TAB: What does feminism have to adapt to today?
TR: To our ways of communicating – social networks, the internet – and to our rhythm. Everything moves very quickly. People don’t take the time to sit and listen to a lecture for three hours anymore. They want things to move, to be immediate and “easy.” Being a feminist should seem simple, joyful, and fun.
TAB: I’ve heard you talk about “ordinary sexism.” What do you mean by that? What exasperates you as a woman today?
TR: Ordinary sexism is so ingrained and widespread. I seem to see it everywhere: in advertising, in the movies, in the street, in schools… For me, sexism is all those little remarks, all those little gestures in daily life that put women in a position of weakness. Personally, I’ve often come up against the phrase, “You’d make a great assistant!” or being harassed in the street, and even sexism in the workplace. If you’re a woman and you manage a team of people, for example, your difficulties are doubled (at least) and your salary is halved.
The popular misconceptions that I’d like to shake up a bit have to do with how we educate little girls: not good at math, not good at sports, delicate, serious, not too ambitious… I’d also like to ban pink boxes and blue boxes. We’re categorized right from the start as children!
TAB: A big part of my work consists of increasing people’s attention, teaching them how to change from a primarily mental way of functioning to something bigger that includes their bodies, other people, and the environment. How would you like to focus people’s attention? What should they be paying attention to that they’re currently neglecting or ignoring ?
TR: First of all – and here I’m talking mainly about women – I think we really neglect our own possibilities. With this festival, I hope that women will feel strong, full of potential, full of desire, with a whole realm of possibilities open to them. I think that women should be attentive to not just meet the expectations society has had for them for two thousand years (or more!), and instead chart their own course and feel perfectly legitimate doing it.
TAB: How did you choose the workshops and presenters for this festival? What were your criteria?
TR: First I looked at the people around me, and everybody else on the Aliennes team did the same. We found we had many terrific women in our immediate environment, so we started by asking them to participate and come up with their own ideas. Then those terrific women thought about the people they knew and ta da! – dozens more exceptional women! We made it happen through acquaintances, word of mouth, and trust. There were also chance encounters in the street or in cafés… What’s great about this festival is that it’s giving us a wonderful opportunity to approach people and have a discussion, which gives us the possibility to create something with people we would never have come into contact with otherwise. Our criteria are fairly simple: talent, desire, and humanness! We’re Aliennes, but we put humanity at the center of our concerns.
TAB: Do you want to surprise people? If you’re talking about shaking up popular misconceptions…
TR: Yes, completely! In fact there will be many surprises during the festival – short, spontaneous events we’re calling “Lunatic Initiatives.” And also we’re presenting artists whose work is often surprising and, I hope, far from stereotypical.
TAB: Your work on certain poets inspired you to create Aliennes. I’m curious: which ones?
TR: In the reading I staged, “Les Emancipées” (The Emancipated), I worked with texts by Andrée Chédid, Taslima Nasreen, Zoé Valdès… But also Virginia Woolf and, in a more anthropological vein, Françoise Héritier. These women are major sources of inspiration.
TAB: I have a fair number of international readers. Could you say something about feminism in France compared to other countries, for example, the United States? Do you consider French women more conservative, more innovative…?
TR: I’m not a specialist in feminist movements abroad, so I can’t really make any assertions. But I think that France is a bit behind, particularly in the way it communicates! In Anglo-Saxon countries, especially the U.S., feminist videos are attractive, lively, touching, and joyful. They make you want to “join the team.” Also, celebrities are committed to the cause, and this is sorely lacking in France. I’m a real fan of Emma Watson, who’s the spokesperson for HeForShe. She uses her brain, her goodwill, and her fame to spread a message of equality…and it’s very successful.
TAB: Last month, commenting on the importance of supporting Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential elections, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said to young voters, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” What do you think about that?
TR: It’s a bit moralistic for my taste… I don’t think shaming will get anybody anywhere. But if I took it less literally, it might make me smile. I agree that women should support each other, but not just in the name of some kind of “female bonding” – that’s a bit simplistic. It’s rather because we’re stronger in numbers. But it’s not that simple. This is more of that nasty stereotype stuff: women often oppose each other, and this opposition is encouraged. It’s part of the habits that need to be shaken and changed!
TAB: Anything else you’d like to say, Tatyana? Something important we haven’t touched on?
TR: It’s very important to remember to be optimistic, to be enthused about the values you’re committed to. What I like about feminism is that it’s extremely positive. It’s a movement that wants to move humanity forward, to balance things out and create more choices, more freedom… That’s so exciting! People need to feel that: being feminist today is tremendously positive.
The Aliennes Festival, March 5th and 6th 2016 at the Flêche d’Or, Paris.