On stage but still unrecognized… The (bitter) revenge of female clowns

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ON TRACK! (3/5) Reduced to a purely male role, the clown has evolved with the times. A victory with a sometimes bitter taste for women, given the clichés still conveyed

On stage but still not recognized… The (bitter) revenge of women clowns

Contrary to popular belief, women Clowns still outnumber their male counterparts. All that remains is to get known — Canva

  • It's summer, the circus is in town. The opportunity to go see the clowns blunder on the track. But who is really hiding behind the red nose and makeup? 20 Minutes went under the marquee to find out more.
  • The white clown, the Augustus, the Joker, killer, dreamer or blunderer, there are all types of clowns… except one, or rather one. The female clown, absent from pop culture and collective memory. It is to her that we are interested in this third episode of our series “En piste!
  • Despite many pitfalls, women are making a name for themselves among clowns today. Because even if they arrive in number, this world often looks more like a stereotype fair than a magic tent.

Circus universe obliges, little magic trick. Of mentalism, more precisely. You are going to think very hard about a clown character. Imagine it in your head, here it is… The red nose, the big shoes, the colored hair… Is it good? Top! We bet it was a man. If we are sure to have seen right to 99%, it’s not that we’re the new Fabien Olicard, but simply that in popular culture, the female clown does not exist.

However, the character has long since left. the world of the circus in the collective imagination – the Joker in Batman, Ca in the eponymous work, Baggy in the manga One Piece… To believe that the clown can do absolutely everything, except have two X chromosomes.

Be beautiful, sweet, attentive, but do not be funny

Marie-Garcia Carmen, sociologist at; the university of Lyon and author of Contemporary Circus Artists. Social and practical representations(La Dispute, 2011), sees in it the work of an ancestral sexism: “Historically, women have been excluded from humorous practices”. The clowneries – tart àgrave; the cream in the face, falling on a banana peel and a garden hose that splashes a little too much – would in particular be very frowned upon, since they constitute “to make oneself ugly or to make a fool of oneself, which remains less frequently desirable in women than in men given the aesthetic expectations for the former.” Some examples of “woman clown” found on the first page of Google search…

On stage ;not yet recognized… The (bitter) revenge of the female clowns

Various clown costumes accessible on the first page of google search – Screenshot and Paint

An observation shared by Zed Cézard, triple expertise. Non-binary circus artist, doctor of art science and author of Are clownesses politically incorrect? Queer reflections on the clownish practices of women (Somme Tout, 2022) and Les “ Nouveaux” clowns: a sociological approach to the identity, profession and art of the clown today (L’Harmattan, 2014), a story of being sure to master your subject. For this specialist, the work of clowns consists in playing “just as much with their faults, their shame, their failures as with their successes, their happiness, exposing their vulnerabilities, their authenticity and their emotions in full ;”. Show yourself to heart open and crumbly in short, àgrave; the opposite female stereotypes, “or” the woman should look good and behave well.” Ditto for the distribution of social roles: à; the man to be “funny, active and productive”.

Revenge of women?

That's it! for the collective unconscious. But what about reality? Historically, it is difficult to know how many women have exercised in the middle, as the subject was taboo for a long time and the cases invisible – when women were not obliged to cross-dress. But as far as the present is concerned, and despite stereotypes that are still well anchored – “women have taken over this terrain and are now more numerous than men in the area. practice the art of clowning,” enthuses Zed Cézard.

This is particularly the case of Meriem Menant, better known by her stage name “Emma the Clown”; who has been pacing the boards for thirty-two years. Classic story of a revelation to 13 in college drama class: “I made people laugh and it clicked: If it’s to be alive , I want to live a long time.” Of course, she recognizes “a double difficulty” to being a woman and a clown, two precarious positions. A way of the cross, but also “a way of life. Would I have been further and better known if I was a man? Yes, probably. If I had been only female humorist without making myself up as a clown? Probably too.”

On stage but still not recognized… The (bitter) revenge of the female clowns

Meriem Menant, artist known as Emma the Clown – Wahid

But for the artist, the essential is elsewhere. “Women are making more and more room for humor, as everywhere in society,” she smiles behind the make-up. “To make people laugh is to have power over others. It’s also speaking out. Two demands of women for a long time.”

The victory of numbers but not of stereotypes

But pay attention to; so that this victory is not yet another cake pie; the cream. Marie-Garcia Carmen: “Women are much less numerous than men in the country. to make it their profession and to make a living from it, many are amateurs.” Zed Cézard still observes very gendered roles, with women clowns finding themselves massively in internships, training courses and hospitals. Either “less visible forms, with less financial and social rewards, and consistent with received ideas about the role or preferences that women should have  », inevitably dedicated and turned towards the other.

Blandine, a 34-year-old teacher, officiates as a clown at; hospital and can only see the glass ceiling at the top of the marquee. The CVs they send to diversify – and finally professionalize – their activity; remain a dead letter, the doors of circuses seem to be systematically closed and the dreams of living from one's passion are slipping away day after day, disappointment after disappointment. “It’s a difficult environment, even more so for us,” she snapped in an anger redder than her nose. “I am only accepted when it’s free and when it’s about sick children, as if my role as a woman boils down to me being a woman’ ''healing'' with laughter rather than just making people laugh. We want a funny woman, but only if it is useful, free – and for children preferably, maternal instinct, everything ça, everything ça ” /p>

Reclaiming Imagination

Blandine still hopes to see “the Clown's H&ld Darroze appear” – ultra-media star chef: “She has proven that you could be a woman and an officer in the kitchen. It does not solve everything, but hey… We don’t have a superstar to embody us, and the bosses tell themselves that if there have never been famous female clowns, it’s because they must not be good in this role, then we are not given a chance.” A snake biting its tail for Zed Cézard : “Since women clowns are not seen, they are not recognized. So they aren’t supported, so they’t improve their practice or access to education. key locations. So they are not recognized, therefore not seen…”.

On stage ;but still not recognized… The (bitter) revenge of female clowns

Woman and clown, a difficult balancing act – Canva

Remains only for the queer artist, &laquo ; Women are taking up more and more space. Their place.” Even embellished on the side by Marie-Garcia Carmen, who sees “an evolution and more and more contemporary female clowns”.

However, our question, you (surely) thought; to a man. And that's still the whole problem of the environment, concludes Blandine: “It’s fine to be present in the real, but the imaginary, çit remains ultra -important and decisive. Even more in the cultural environment and that of the circus. If we don't make people dream, what do we serve?”