At last, brightness in the tomb

“To great Men the grateful nation” that is what you can see on the pediment of the Panthéon. O, the Panthéon, last resting place of great men but obviously not of many great women. The result of the match speaks for itself: since its creation, the Panthéon has welcomed 75 men and only 6 women. When I say six, I should rather say five as the first one, Sophie Berthelot was allowed only as the wife of a famous chemist in 1907. And then, nothing for 80 years. At last, in 1995, Marie Curie was the first women to be buried in the Panthéon for her own accomplishment.

Since that date, three women have entered the Panthéon, all of them for their attitude and resistance during World War II. And then, on November 30th enters Josephine Baker. Finally! Josephine Baker, a black American woman, an artist, dancer, singer now rubs shoulders with Victor Hugo or Jean Moulin. As I am watching the ceremony, I feel deeply moved. She embodies everything the modern woman of today represents. She grew up in poverty and left a segregationist country to become a music hall star in Paris in the roaring Twenties. Josephine Baker adopted a new country and helped the resistance during the war.

I am glad, but I am mad. Glad because inequality inside the Panthéon is starting to shift. Glad because women are being recognized for who they are in such ceremonies. Glad because women figures can now be associated with major accomplishments in their own rights. Yet, I can’t contain this feeling of anger because even now such a ceremony is still a rare moment. Everywhere in the world, women are too often underpaid and despised. And that is not the worst. They are victimized, raped, abused, and killed just because they are women. We accept all those crimes without batting an eyelid often because they take place far away. However, how could I forget that in France alone a woman dies every 3 days, murdered by her husband? How could I forget that 70% of people living in Europe below the poverty line are women and that they are paid 20% less than men for the same job? Even though progress has been made, we tend to forget that this is an ongoing battle.

When I look at the list of people buried in the Pantheon, I get a clear picture of how we see our history: a history builds with men, for men where women are almost non-existent. They’re isolated cases in our history. Therefore, I find this ceremony for Joséphine Baker uplifting. Here lies a woman who, through sheer will, has changed her life and has fought for her adopted country. She was not a writer, or a scientist, nor a politician, but as an artist she fought as many battles. She sang: “I have two loves, my country and Paris”.

Today, Paris has returned the compliment, and it makes me hopeful.