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Meet the Rosies: The French women dancing against pension reform

“Our resistance weapon is singing and dancing,” exclaimed Youli Yamamoto, co-founder of the Rosies, an offbeat protest group against the French government’s controversial pension reform. 

“We won’t be stopped until the law is repealed.”

Her feminist collective has joined widespread unrest against deeply unpopular plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, pushed through by French President Emmanuel Macron using special legal powers.

“We are protesting against the fact that women and France’s working-class population will be the most impacted by the pension reform”, explained Yamamoto.

Why the costumes?

Dressed in blue boiler suits, yellow rubber gloves and red polka dot scarves, the Rosies’ outfits are inspired by Rosie the Riveter, a US icon for all the women who grafted in factories during the Second World War. 

And this uniform is carefully chosen. 

Their boiler suits represent working women today, while the red scarves are a nod to the original Rosie the Riveter’s girly look. 

The yellow gloves underline the extra burden of childcare and housework which women must deal with after a long working day. 

The group was first created in 2019, following former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s claim that women would “benefit most” from proposed pension reform plans. 

“We decided to change up our uniform and paint our faces with skulls. This is to represent the disastrous fate that this pension reform has in store for us,” said Yamamoto.

France’s pension system currently disadvantages women because they tend to retire later than men and have lower pensions. But economists believe the new pension reform will increase this already existing disadvantage.

The French government claims the changes are needed to make the system economically viable, with pensioners placing an increasing financial burden on the state. 

In 2019, protests by the Rosies were reserved for women. 

“However this year we are open to all sexes and genders, especially given that this pension reform heavily impacts factory workers and the like – who are predominantly male,” said Yamamoto.

Singing and dancing flashmobs

The Rosies have collectively written a range of songs which incorporate political lyrics to the beat of club hits. 

Their trademark songs include “Women on Fire”, sung to the melody of Freed from Desire, and “Nous on veut vivre” to the sound of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

Future Rosies can practise their dance moves before joining protest flashmobs by watching the choreography tutorials uploaded to Attac’s website in order to be protest-ready.

Women young and old have joined the movement, which now spans the country. 

“A group of mothers in Narbonne [in the South of France] started their own local branch and then their teen daughters decided they wanted to create their own group!”, said Yamamoto.

Inspired by Rosie the Riveter

“Rosie the Riveter was previously an image of US propaganda but she now represents strong women and has become somewhat of a feminist icon”, explained Yamamoto.

The fictional character gained international fame from Howard Miller’s wartime “We Can Do It” poster. 

She represents female factory workers who took over their male counterparts’ jobs following conscription during the Second World War. 

Their labour was invaluable to the war effort and kept the country up and running. 

The Rosies are a feminist collective backed by Attac France – an organisation which fights for social justice in France.

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