It has been so wonderful to see many of you at the recent 10th International Women in French Conference, “Voix et voies des marges / Margins: Voices and Pathways”, which was held 12-14 May 2022. This conference signaled a number of “firsts” for Women in French: we had a record number of 230 attendees; it was also the first Women in French virtual conference; and it was the first academic venue in French and Francophone Studies to consider various forms of marginalizations holistically. My utmost and heartful thanks to my co-organizer, Dr. Michèle Schaal, does not even come close to recognizing the herculean effort and work that she has put into realizing this conference, from its inception.
I would like to take a moment to reflect on our wonderful organization, Women in French, if I may, in this letter. For this, I feel compelled to look back … if but for a moment, to our beginnings. I approached Dr. Lucy Schmitz Morros, who was intricately involved in the inception of Women in French. I asked her for her thoughts on imagining Women in French at the Women in German conference in 1977. She writes, “The sense of WIF's future was real from the outset at the conference at Miami of Ohio. Jean and I knew that if we could put together a list of women nationally, a directory of women with advanced degrees in French, then structure meetings and later conferences, it would be fabulous for all of our development and our careers. And that became a reality quite quickly.”
Pondering on Lucy’s inspiration in the beginning caused me to take stock of where we are today. We could note that the twentieth century gave rise to not only increasing numbers of women authors on the French and francophone literary scene, but the first International Women in French Conference at the beginning of the twenty-first century in 2000. One might think that 22 years later, at the recent 10th International Women in French Conference, that our goals of promoting the study and representation of women authors has been achieved. Have we not witnessed increasing publications of texts by well-known French and Francophone women authors? After the robust three days of the conference, I would venture to say that we are all in agreement that the answer is … “No … not yet.”
While the 10th International Women in French Conference marks significant achievements and the breaking of many barriers since its inception in 1977, it also shines a light on the lacunae that still exist today. This conference brought to the fore those voices that still exist in the margins, as well as the multiple forms of marginality that continue to render voices silent and, at times, invisible. As a call to continue the enormous work that inspired the presentations at the 10th International Women in French Conference, I would like to conclude this letter with a quote that in part inspired the call for papers for the conference. In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, African-American feminist and philosopher bell hooks theorizes that, “being on the margins may constitute a powerful tool for creating awareness and protest.” My hope is that the voices we heard at the conference will inspire continued work and support to bring those voices in the margins not only into the center, but to eradicate those margins all together.