L’Académie francaise and Gender Equality
L’Académie française is the pre-eminent France learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the oldest of the five académies of the Institut de France.
The Académie consists of 39 members known as immortels (immortals). The body has the task of acting as an official authority on the language; it is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the language. Its rulings, however, are only advisory; not binding on either the public or the government.
The Académie française has 40 seats, each of which is assigned a separate number. Candidatures are made to a seat, not to the Académie: if several seats are vacant, a candidate may apply separately for each. New members are elected by the members of the Académie itself. Académicians hold office for life, but they may be removed for misconduct. Since a newly elected member has to eulogise his predecessor when elected, it has happened that people refused to apply for certain seats because they disliked the predecessor too much.
The official uniform of an academician is known as l’habit vert, or the green habit. The habit vert, worn at the Académie’s foreign ceremonies, was first adopted during Napoleon Bonaparte’s reorganisation of the Institut de France. It consists of a long black coat and black feathered cocked hat (officially called a bicorne), each heavily embroidered with golden-green leaf motifs, together with black trousers or skirt. Furthermore, members receive a ceremonial sword (l’épée), except Academicians who are women or clergymen, who do not receive swords.
L’Académie française and Gender Equality
In its 364 years of history, it has elected 718 members, 6 of whom are women. The first woman to be elected to the Académie française was Marguerite Yourcenar (d. 1987) in 1980, the 17th person to ever occupy ‘3e fauteuil” (seat no. 3).
Other female members of the Académie française are:
- Jacqueline de ROMILLY (1988)
- Hélène CARRÈRE d’ENCAUSSE (1990)
- Florence DELAY (2000)
- Assia DJEBAR (2005)
- Simone VEIL (2008)