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Family Fictions and Reproductive Realities in Occupied France: Claude Chabrol’s Une affaire de femmes Rosemarie Scullion C ONTEMPORARY FEMINIST THOUGHT from Simone de Beauvoir on holds that women have been relegated to a footnote status in conventional historiography and their experience thus effaced from the historical record. The validity of this claim is apprecia­ ble even in very recent rewritings of modern French history, a prime example of which can be found in Jean-Pierre Azéma’s 1979 contribu­ tion to the multi-volume series La Nouvelle histoire de la France contemporaine . In De Munich á la Libération,1Azéma details the turbulence and trauma of the immediate prewar and Occupation years in France, acknowledging only in condensed, subtextual form the crucial contribu­ tions made by French women to the Resistance (ML 168). The same foot­ note format is also adopted for an account of the Vichy régime’s repres­ sive gender and reproductive policies which, the author tersely notes, ushered at least one female abortionist (or “ faiseuse d’anges” as it is known in the vernacular) to the guillotine during the war (ML 93). A similar indifference to the sexual politics of the Vichy regime can also be found in other major accounts of the Occupation period.2Such historical minimizing of this prominent feature of the Occupation legacy is all the more conspicuous in light of Claude Chabrol’s effort in Une affaire de femmes (1989) to underscore the centrality of sexual politics in the Vichy régime’s collaborationist reign. Chabrol’s film not only brings into relief the Vichy régime’s ruthless hypocrisy with respect to women but also elucidates some of the subtle cultural tensions and gender dynamics that have been eclipsed in more linear, event-focused histories of the period. In the discussion that follows, I propose to assess the historical and ideological implications of Chabrol’s filmic representation of the case of Marie-Louise Giraud, the last woman in France to be executed by guillo­ tine following her 1943 conviction for performing illegal abortions. In addition to highlighting the specific ways in which women suffered from the enactment of Vichy’s population policies, an historical reality which Chabrol captures with great poignancy in Une affaire de femmes, I shall contrast the régime’s pronatalist posturing with the genocidal zeal with Vol. XXXIII, No. 1 85 L ’E s pr it C réa te u r which it initiated and orchestrated the deportation of thousands of Jewish children to death camps in Poland beginning in 1942.3Counter­ ing the widely-held notion that the sexist and racist policies energetically pursued by Vichy conservatives after the fall of France in June 1940 were dictated by or emulated those of the fascist occupier and are therefore specific only to the Occupation era, I shall illustrate that the ostensibly contradictory gender and racial politics of the period in fact cohered per­ fectly within the collaborationist régime’s own reactionary logic and adhered closely to its central political aims. Chabrol borrows the title Une affaire de femmes from the 1986 nar­ rative by Attorney Frangis Szpiner4 which, the opening credits inform viewers, “ freely inspired” the film’s screenplay. Szpiner’s title very aptly characterizes the gender distinctions at work not only with respect to the burdens of human reproduction typically placed on women but also those of ensuring the survival of the family unit in an economy of scarc­ ity produced by the rigors of war and foreign occupation. Historian Henri Michel has shown that under the Occupation the difficulties of procuring foodstuffs, clothing and other vital necessities, a direct conse­ quence of the rapacious terms of the Franco-German armistice of June 25, 1940, presented daily tribulations particularly for women who are customarily charged with maintaining the domestic unit.5 In addition, nearly 100,000 fatalities from the brief war, the absence of two million male breadwinners held prisoners of war in Germany, widespread un­ employment and, after February 1943, the institution of the STO (Ser­ vice de travail obligatoire) further conspired to eradicate or drastically diminish the earnings of many French households, privation which in the daily scheme of things...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 85-103
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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