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french clits
Courtesy Les Infemmes

Why ‘clitoris activism’ is growing in France

From clit conferences and zines to clit blankets and christmas carols: female genitalia is more popular than ever

Earlier this year, gender equality activists in France were struck by a devastating blow. According to a June report from the Haut Conseil à l’Egalité, the state of sex education in the country was in shatters; dominated with damaging stereotypes and sexist messaging. From school-age, men were reportedly being taught about sexual pleasure and “genital sexuality”, while women would remain stuck with tired clichés about love and finding the ‘right’ person.

Fortunately, a sociomedical researcher called Odile Fillod has a high-tech remedy to this problem. In a bid to bring France’s education system into the present, she decided to create the world’s first anatomically correct, 3D printable clitoris. The open-source device – which looks a little like a sci-fi boomerang – can be printed out by teachers and given to primary and secondary-level students; helping them ultimately learn more about the way a women’s body works. “In understanding the key role of the clitoris, a woman can stop feeling shame, or (that she’s) abnormal if penile-vaginal intercourse doesn’t do the trick for her,” Fillod justified. “Given the anatomical data, that is the case for most women.”

Because apparently – although you may not be aware of it – this is a major issue. Most women actually have no idea what their clitoris looks like. While we could probably all recognise and label a diagram of our reproductive system, the actual bits that give us pleasure largely remain a mystery. For this reason, ‘clitoris activism’ is now more popular than ever. Artist Sophia Wallace has famously been tackling the subject with her ‘Cliteracy’ sculptures and surreal ‘ClitRodeo’ installations; while in France, filmmaker Emilie Jouvet and feminist group Osez Le Féminisme have been loudly honing in on the topic.

Perhaps one of the more prominent of these groups, however, is the Nice-based ‘Les Infemmes’. They published the “sensual counter-culture” zine “L'antisèche du clito” (The Clit Cheat Sheet) in December last year, and have been actively trying to remove the stigma around female genitalia ever since. The group has held conferences, made comics, opened an online gallery, and published clit-themed Christmas carols – all in the name of genital justice. We caught up with them to find out more.

“Knowledge is power. To be able to enjoy your clitoris, you have to know about it” – Les Infemmes

You started a fanzine, ‘L'antisèche du clito’ (The clit cheat sheet) at the end of last year – why did you all decide to do this?

Les Infemmes: The exact and complete anatomy of the clitoris was only established in 1998. Before that, all medical textbooks contained erroneous patterns. Nearly 20 years later, there’s still hardly any information on the subject. According to a recent ministerial report on the sex education in France, one 15-year-old girl did not know she even had a clitoris. Knowledge is power. To be able to enjoy your clitoris, you have to know about it. Our fanzine, “The Clit Cheat Sheet”, is modestly trying to repair this problem with light and humour; using updated scientific information, illustrations and comics. It also allows us to speak about the history of medicine, epistemology, politics, violence against women, and female genital mutilation.

How has it been received so far?

Les Infemmes: We chose the DIY style of the fanzine for ethical and aesthetic reasons. Anyone can photocopy the black-and-white, double-sided A3 design on recycled paper, then fold and cut it by hand. 1500 copies have been distributed to date, for free in associative cafes, independent bookstores, waiting rooms of gynaecologists, family planning centres, LGBT centres, sex shops, coffee shops, lesbian bars, concert halls, queer film festivals and on the street.  All text and visuals are on our blog, and are open access – so everyone can read it, print it and distribute it easily.

This new wave of ‘clitoris activism’ seems to mostly be concentrated in France. Do you feel like the country has a particular problem with female genitalia?

Les Infemmes: What country or contemporary society has not created problems for women and their genitals? The female genitals are the most major political problem of patriarchal civilization. There were female excisions in France and Europe until the early 1900s, legitimated by medicine to “cure” epilepsy and hysteria. Today, physicians are practising FGM to reassign anatomically intersex people in a binary way, which is socially constructed by heterosexism.  The Patriarchy has been building, renewing and strengthening its cultural, bio-political, economic and social infrastructure for over 5000 years. The empowerment of women is a global revolutionary process. The best is yet to come – as long as we keep moving forward!

How can a habit that’s so ingrained in modern society get broken? What needs to be done to get rid of the stigma, collectively and individually?

Les Infemmes: Individually, we need to break free from the grip of dogmas and oppressive normative discourses. We need to become aware of our bodies. We need to learn to love deeply, be mindful and not hear judgment. Being good to yourself and to others can remove the stigma: so cuddling, pampering, caressing, tickling, licking, smooching, hugging, rubbing, massaging, eating, comforting, and laughing. Collectively, we need to work on a new civilization; one that radically eradicates patriarchy and misogyny.

What projects are you working on, or hoping to start working on?

Les Infemmes: “Clitoris Invaders” is an open gallery-platform on clitorial creativity: there’s clit-blankets, clit-graphics, clit-cakes, clit-comics, clit-jewellery, clit-songs, clit-tattoos, clit-emoji, etc. We are also exploring the possibility of a fanzine on male orgasms, and shooting either a short DIY sci-fi ecosexual film or a short post-asexual porn film. 

This interview has been translated from French and edited for length. Read more about ‘The Clit Cheat Sheet’ here, or check out Les Infemme’s ‘Clitoris Invaders’ project here