Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

Discussion About the Womens Club Meeting

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"Scenes of Paris - A meeting of the women's club in the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois" by Frederic Lix (1871)
Discussion on "A Meeting of the Women's Club"

Frederic Lix has illustrated a church full of women with many activities going on all at once. As this meeting takes place there seem to be many social classes defined and illustrated within the drawing.

The Players

Whose that Lady (the speaker): The one woman who stands out from all the rest is the women in the highest position, she stands on a balcony above all the other women under the same church. Her stance is strong as she raises her left hand, almost to quiet the crowd and gain attention. Obviously a speaker, she might have been in the middle of a very important speech and might have aroused the women in the church to create a commotion. Her attire is not of the poor class, perhaps not even the working class, but she seems to be a representative for the poor and working class. Her hat and dress with ruffles show that her clothes have been tailored and that she is a person somewhat important to the rest of the women attending the meeting. She is the main focus of the picture, however, if one were to look at the picture for more than a few seconds they would notice all the commotion going on below her.

Among the sea of women stands out groups in the foreground...

Lady Pointing: The women on the right hand side pointing her left arm towards the speaker. She is indicating that the women on the balcony needs everyone's attention. Her bandana-covered head indicates she is not of the same social level as the speaker (the speaker wears a fancy hat). Her occupation probably consists of a laundress or a seamstress as told by the clothes she wears.
Taken Aback: The next two women below, in the right hand corner, are the next to come into focus. One clutches her child and stands leaning back. Her face shows a protective innocent look as to shelter her child from the lady who stands with hand on hips. This second lady has a strong stance, almost like a mother-figure punishing her daughter. As she pulls at some of her apron it seems as though she interrogates that women with a child. (These two women might indicate the relationship between a Dame Visiteuse and a mother she is inspecting. The Dame visiteuse represents an older women interrogating the younger woman.)
Center Circle: Right below "the speaker" (in focus) sits a group of ladies who are older and in rages. Some of the focus is on the lady turned to the outside of the circle with the child on her lap and finger pointing upwards. The lady to her right is covered in a shawl, and sitting on what seems to be a wooden stool. These ladies are not aroused but they seem to represent the older women of the poor class, they have lived through many things and are too old to actively participate in the events going on, but they came to show their support. (The same goes for the older lady in the bottom left hand corner)
A Younger Generation: All along the left side of the picture stands young women intently listening to the speaker or observing the events taking place within the church. One woman has her head arched forward, ears turned towards the commotion taking it all in. These women represent the younger activists who saw women's rights as something to fight for and something new.

The Analysis: An empowering picture of a women's club meeting. It's interesting how a male choose to create a scene about a women's club meeting in a time where female activists weren't taken seriously. Lix creates a picture almost poking fun at some stereotypes of women at the same time creating a picture of women in power The whole picture shows a chaotic meeting, if sound was added to the picture on might infer that you could barely hear the woman standing right next to you. Lix draws some of his female characters turned away from the speaker, talking to another person, and some just present and sitting there blocking things out. He is saying that women don't pay attention, its more of a social setting to gossip and than a rally meeting. Children are brought from the home to this meeting to show how the mother can never really be in charge of things b/c she always has the burden of being the women; the barer of children. Lix plays on a stereotype of the poor women in his picture of the women's meeting. He acknowledges that women can have meetings, however, he ridicules them for being women. Almost the idea that they can have meetings, not not like men's meeting where everything might be more organized. A meeting where everyone is paying attention and no children from the home are brought.

 

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