Happy Women’s History Month! Here at FranceABC we’re pleased for the chance to showcase influential French women. These women have been powerful role models for French women and girls across the globe, and we hope for our students too.
Without further adieu we introduce some of France’s most influential contemporary women (and one historical woman for a little fun!).
Women’s History Month: Olympe de Gouges
Everyone knows of Joan d’Arc, so we thought that for our Women’s History Month historical figures, we’d introduce you to someone new. Olympe de Gouges lived from 1748 to 1793. She was a playwright, abolitionist, and early women’s rights activist.
Like her English contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), de Gouges had her own protofeminist treatise, written the year before: Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the [Female] Citizen (1791). She spoke strongly in defense of women, unmarried mothers, orphaned children, and in support of improving divorce laws. Her theatrical productions were in support of her ideas, including her strong belief in the abolition of slavery in France.
Marie Bochet (1994-) is one of the top dogs of paralympic alpine skiing. Bochet swiped four gold medals at both the Sochi 2014 and the PyeongChang 2018 winter paralympics. She’s also won 18 World Championships medals, making this skiing superstar someone to watch out for.
Bochet began skiing at the age of five alongside her brother. At the young age of 11 the French Handisport Federation spotted Bochet as “a potential elite Para athlete” according to the International Paralympic Committee. Despite several injuries, Bochet has always picked herself back up and continued on, following her motto: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Roxanne Varza (1985-) is the epitome of multiculturalism, success, intelligence, and woman power. The current director of Station F, and co-founder of Girls in Tech Paris and Girls in Tech London, which trains women in computer code writing, Varza is a strong proponent for women in STEM. Business Insider has ranked Varza in the top 30 most influential women under 30 in tech.
Born in Silicon Valley to Iranian parents, Varza moved to France as an adult after working for French Microsoft start-ups. According to MedTech Innovator, Station F is “the largest start-up campus in the world and emblem of French tech know-how.” Varza is an incredible role model for any girl looking to enter STEM industries.
Hala Wardé is an idol in the world of architecture. Her Lebanese Pavilion at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition was titled “A Roof for Silence” and investigated “the question of living together [...] through a questioning of the spaces of silence, and by putting into dialogue architecture, painting, music, poetry, video and photography” (Arch Daily). It’s no wonder she’s been hailed as one of the top 50 most influential people in France.
Wardé was born and raised in Lebanon and trained in France. Her Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed in partnership with Jean Nouvel, made waves, and got her the commission for the Lebanese Pavilion. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, do yourself a favour and give her a quick Google.
In 2018 Vanity Fair named Fatoumata Kébé (1986-) one of the most influential French women in the world. And it’s no wonder! Kébé is an absolute legend. With a degree in mechanical engineering and a PhD in astronomy, Kébé’s work currently focuses on space debris and space traffic management at SpaceAble.
And she doesn’t just combat rubbish in outer space - she’s a strong proponent of protecting our environment on Earth, too. She founded and launched the Connected Eco Project in collaboration with women in Mali. Through this project, she developed solar powered irrigation which “monitors water usage and ensure both quality and quantity in food production where it is needed most, while preserving the natural environment” (International Astronautical Federation).
Kébé is one of the major players in the Space Girls Space Women exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Crafts. She also plays a role in both the Women & Science and the Women in Aerospace associations.
Christine and the Queens
Christine and the Queens, or Héloïse Adélaïde Letissier (1988-), took #1 in Vanity Fair’s most influential French people in 2016. That same year, and again in 2018, Time listed her as a next generation leader, while Forbes followed suit and listed her as one of the 30 most influential people under 30 in 2017.
Christine and the Queens began playing piano at the age of four and has since went on to form a very successful career of both musical composition and performance and playwriting. “The Queens” of her title is an homage to drag queens she saw perform in Soho, London. She has dedicated most of her work to them and to all trans individuals. Christine and the Queens identities as pansexual and uses all pronouns interchangeably.
It’s hard to overstate the success and popularity of Christine and the Queens. She kept music alive during France’s lockdowns, performing music regularly via livestream and theatrical performances on Instagram. Notably, one of these livestreams aired on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. For The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, she recorded “I Disappear In Your Arms” in an empty venue for airing on his show.
Last but not least, the pastry chef Christelle Brua (1977-). Brua takes the culinary arts of France to a whole new level. In 2009, she was voted the best pastry chef of the year. But it was in 2018 that she really made waves, being voted the best restaurant pastry chef in the world. She’s the first woman ever to receive this title. Go Christelle Brua!
Her signature pastry is a masterpiece: the “‘Puffed sugar apple’ with Carambar ice cream and sparkling cider” (Elle). Appearing only as a round green ball, it has set her name in stone. However, she is by no means a one-trick pony. As the first pastry chef ever in the Élysée, Brua designs a new cake every day to excite the guests. Needless to say, our mouths are watering! We’ve barely scratched the surface. All of these women are absolutely incredible, and deserving of their piece of fame. We’re excited to see what they do next, and look to these women as powerful role models this Women’s History Month.
Look out next month for our next instalment of French Around the Globe.