Invasion of the Bearded Ladies
By Clive Paget on Apr 3, 2013 filed under Classical Music | 1 Comment and 1 Reaction
Women in beards disrupt season launch of Paris Orchestra.
A French feminist action group that goes by the name of “La Barbe” invaded the recent season launch for the Orchestre de Paris at the Salle Pleyel. The protesters, all wearing Pythonesque false beards, heckled the announcements demanding better representation for women in the concert hall, especially with regards to conductors and soloists. The head of the orchestra, Bruno Hamard’s rather lame reply was that one third of his members were female.
The women received a fairly sympathetic hearing on this occasion in contrast to a similar action at the Paris Opera where the women were howled down by angry (male) French journalists.
The Paris-based action group have been upping their game annually since being founded by the ironically named Harriet Hirshorn in 2008. The movement encourages women to don false beards and crash male dominated cultural and political events. In 2011 they attached false beards to many of the city’s most famous statues on Bastille Day no less. “We climb up on the statues and put beards on them basically to say, ‘this isn’t true, let’s be literal. Why should France be represented by women ? France has always been a men’s country, run for and by men ; we should make these statues male’”.
La Barbe has two meanings in French – both “beard” and “Enough !” and in France women make up less than 20% of the parliament and just 15% of top executives. The formation of La Barbe, which includes women from 18 to 80, was triggered by the media sexism towards 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal.
A typical action goes as follows : “First we climb up on the stage wearing beards and [the men] are thinking, ‘What is going on ?’”, says Hishorn. “Then we start reading from something that says, ‘Bravo ! Look at what a great job you’ve done [keeping women out] ! And we start listing their names [to ’congratulate’ them] … and in the beginning, the men would say, ‘Yes ?’, responding to someone calling out their names as if it were roll call. So it was very funny – I think the confusion helps us because by the time they get their bearings and realize it’s a protest, it’s sort of too late and the message has been heard”.
The group’s success has inspired other versions of La Barbe around the world. In Mexico, there’s a group called Las Bigotonas (Women with Mustaches) and there’s even a chapter here in Australia who go by the suggestive appellation “Beards Down-Under” and whose logo shows a map of the country sporting a cheekily winking feminine face and wearing Tasmania as a beard. Their most recent action was at the Australian Football League (AFL) Brownlow Medals, interviewing several male players on the red carpet and what they thought of the 84% share of media coverage for sportsmen. The bearded women congratulated Mike Larkin of channel 10 on behalf of the media for helping to achieve the high level of “sportsbeard” coverage. Larkin described the event classily as being “Where women wear nothing and men try to get drunk.” Other targets have included the Mining Industry and a rather half-hearted attack on Julia Gillard.
They have yet to strike at an Aussie Arts event but it may just be a matter of time…
Women in beards have been reasonably well represented in opera at least with Baba The Turk and Thérèse/Tirésias the most obvious examples