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“By Elena LYSAK
Marine Baron became known in France for her book “The Lieutenant” based on her 2 years army experience. Marine was serving in the French Marine Corps and was unpleasantly surprised by the attitude towards women in the military. She resigned and a few months later published her first autobiographical book “The Lieutenant. What It’s Like To Be A Woman In The French Army“. Marine is an active woman of many interests. She is currently writing her third book. Besides, she is working on her thesis in philosophy. She also practices martial arts and plays the cello. Marine is talking to us about the paradoxes of liberty that often go together with rules and restrictions.
“Music and writing are vital to me.”
Marine, your first autobiography “The Lieutenant. What It’s Like To Be A Woman In The French Army” was published in 2009. A few years later, in 2015, you released your second book dedicated to life and destiny of Ingrid Bergman. What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I am busy with several things. I am working on my philosophy thesis at the University of Sorbonne, I am also studying Criminology there. In addition, I have an administration job at a fashion house for children; I am raising my 4-year-old daughter, and I am finishing writing my third book.
A philosophy thesis, that’s interesting. What is your subject?
My thesis is based on writings of Michel Foucault, but it’s difficult to single out a precise subject. In a nutshell, I am very inspired by his book “Discipline and Punish“. I am exploring the subject of how we express our wishes and how they can be limited by certain norms.
When people ask you about your profession, what do you answer?
Right now I prefer not to define myself by a profession, I don’t want to put myself into a certain frame, you know.
I’d love to work in the French legal system in the future. I also plan to finish my thesis in philosophy, and I absolutely want to continue writing. So it’s rather difficult for me to define myself professionally, I just do what comes, and what I like doing. Henry de Montherlant once said that we sometimes mistake a person who loves things that deserve to be loved for a dilettante.
This resonates with me because I love so many things that deserve to be loved, however writing is the only activity that is constant for me, I always come back to writing.
Why do you like writing that much?
I have always been interested in writing but I have also always loved music, the two are connected, I believe.
When we write a sentence, we try to recreate a sound of a word, of a sentence, it’s a bit like music.
To me, music and writing are very important, they are my way of self-expression. I have been playing the cello since I was 5, I still consider that my level is not that high but I am able to practice and play with my daughter today, and I am happy about it.
“Girls are often undervalued in many areas.”
You studied literature. Why did you choose it?
I didn’t choose. I was good at school, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was interested in languages, I loved French, so I went to study classical literature and languages.
My parents were happy about my choice because it seemed to be appropriate for a girl. That’s true.
Even today it’s like that. I just recently read a study that says that parents generally talk more maths to boys than to girls.
Really? Do you think we need to change the situation?
Absolutely. I believe that this can be changed through education for both, boys and girls. Girls should be more exposed to maths and sports, they should be taught to be more confident. It will be great if they played more with boys, like soccer etc.
I reckon that’s what you are teaching your daughter?
Yes, I am trying to teach her to be strong and confident. This is important.
What about your husband, what does he teach your daughter?
My husband is very proud of our daughter, he adores her. I believe that it’s very important for a little girl to feel that her father is proud of her.
Even more important than for a boy?
In a way, yes. A girl who feels accepted by her dad will be capable of taking the male roles, she will be able to do anything a man can do.
It’s surely bad for a boy if his father is not proud of him, but in general, boys are more accepted, more valued by society than girls. Girls are so often undervalued by society, in so many areas, and if a father doesn’t show his love, it may have consequences.
Why do you think girls are less accepted by society?
Well, I believe that women are often undermined: we are faster than men addressed by our first names, we get patronized easier than men.
Women are often much more busy worrying about others than about themselves.
Women even excuse themselves much more often than men, have you ever noticed?
There’s no tragedy in it but it’s a fact that women are less accepted, we have to do something about it.
Take the presidential elections in France, there’re not so many women who dare to put forward their candidates. There’s still a lot of inequality out there, we should learn to value ourselves more.
It starts in the childhood when too many women get to hear: “Be quiet. Let your brother talk.”
And naturally, many women grow up believing that a man is a king and they have to adjust.
It looks like inequality starts in the family?
Yes, I believe that it starts in the family.
I was always scared to speak up, to say something stupid, but men don’t bother that much what others think, they just say what they want.
And boys are given more freedom than girls.
It’s difficult to change the world, is there something that a particular woman can do to change her life?
There surely is.
In my opinion, we should speak up whenever we feel injustice in society. We should learn to control our natural empathy to be able to protest, we should try to dare and force ourselves to make something real.
And little by little, step by step, we should be able to change things.
We should fight for everything. It’s important because inequality in our society is still very high.
I just finished reading the book of Marlène Schiappa “Where are the Rapists?” (FR: “Où sont les violeurs?”)
This book says that about 90 % of sexual assault victims never see their aggressors punished by the court. It happens because the rape may not be recognized as such in the case of victim’s content, and it’s very vague, it’s very easy to manipulate.
“The army is not for me.”
Did you join the army out of protest?
I’ve decided to join the army rather because I was bored. I was studying languages, which is difficult enough but I was very dynamic, so I was looking for more action. I thought that the army was something that corresponded to me.
They don’t always ask you to strictly follow the orders in the army, but they want to see the result, so if you want, you can do a lot of different things, both physical and intellectual, and I liked that side.
It’s surprising. I would tend to think that army is a lot about structure.
Sure, it’s very structured in terms of rules, hierarchy, and daily schedule. At the same time, there’s certain liberty within the structure. The paradox of this liberty is that everyone can do whatever he or she wants in order to get good results.
When you say: “The Army is not for me”, what exactly do you mean?
That’s what I told to my captain when I was leaving the army. I do believe that I am fit for the army as much as any other human being would be, however as a woman, I found that I didn’t really fit in. I found myself in a situation when I didn’t feel accepted as a woman.
Do you miss something about the army in your everyday life?
Yes, I am missing some things from the army. Mostly, I miss the sports. I started practicing karate again but just a few times a week.
Funnily, I am missing that certain liberty we were talking about. And also the feeling of being useful in life.
Being useful to whom?
Being useful to France, to democracy. When the Paris attacks happened, I tried to volunteer to help but unfortunately, they were not looking to employ the officers.
“No political party represents women’s rights.”
Are you a patriot?
Yes, I am. Being a patriot means serving the interests of a nation. To me, it means defending the values of democracy.
French patriotism is about defending democratic values, we want freedom of all, women, races, religions, etc.
Does your family share your opinions?
My parents wanted to have a boy, and I believe, they were quite disappointed when they got a girl. I’ve always sensed their disappointment and suffered from it.
I believe that’s the reason why I care so much about women’s rights.
In fact, women’s rights are linked to human rights in France and everywhere in the world. But it’s difficult to talk about particular political movements, today there’s hardly any particular political party fighting for women’s rights.
“We have the right to fight when we tell the truth.”
You are inspiring many women. What women inspire you?
Ingrid Bergman inspires me a lot, otherwise, I wouldn’t have written about her. She is an independent and extremely liberal woman, she had the courage to do what she wanted and ignore what people were saying.
I like a lot the French politician, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. She is very independent, she has served in the army and I like the way she talks, it’s refreshing.
And if course, don’t forget Simone Veil, she is a huge inspiration for everyone.
What about women writers?
Marie Ndiaye who wrote “Trois femmes puissantes” (“Three Strong Women“), I loved it a lot. She won the Prix Goncourt in 2009 for that book.
You are reading a lot. Do you ever re-read books?
I am re-reading “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert.
I also love “Monsieur” (“Mister”) by Emma Becker. It’s the story of the love affair between a twenty-year-old girl, and a married surgeon more than twice her age.
I started wondering what could be done differently in a situation similar to the one described in the book. If we are treated badly, we can make the choice not to accept it.
You have published two books, and you are working on the third one. How do you write?
I first write a plan. It’s about 10 chapters, and it helps me to create a logical line. And then I take my plan and I write one chapter after another. And yes, I always know what happens at the beginning and at the end of each chapter.
And I would usually write at night, between midnight and 2 am because I work during the day.
How long does it take to write a book? For example, how much time did
you spend to write “The Lieutenant”?
It took me months of worrying about writing it without doing anything, and then, it took me just 3 weeks to put everything down. But it wouldn’t be honest to say that I finished writing that book in just 3 weeks, because the time to worry about it, to be angry, it was a real drive.
So the time when we seemingly don’t do anything, is also important.
You see what I mean?
I see. Were you not afraid to write a book about your experience in the army?
I was scared when the book went out. At the same time, I really wanted to speak out.
It was difficult because I was telling the story of my relationship with my parents, and of me not being happy with that relationship, and it’s even more difficult than to talk just about yourself.
But I realized that there’s nothing to fear if we tell the truth.
What did you learn in the army that is useful in your daily life?
I got used to working with a lot of men, it helped me to learn talking in a more direct way and not to be intimidated by higher ranks. In this way, the army brought me freedom.
Sometimes, when I need to find the courage to do something, I think of the army. I jumped from the plane with a parachute when I was in the army, and
I remind myself what I am capable of, it encourages me to be more daring in my everyday life.
“I’ve always tried to write the truth for women and about women.”
Some women write you to ask your advice. Is it a success for you?
Is it a success for me? I am not someone famous. Of course, I am happy when someone talks about my books but I don’t see it as a success.
I hope that I will receive more acknowledgment in the future, even if it’s not my goal, it’s always great to be acknowledged.
Do you want to be acknowledged by your readers, or by critics and colleagues?
Both are important. Being recognized by readers gives a feeling of being loved. At the same time, when the professionals in the industry say that a book is well written, it’s great! So, surely, both are interesting for me, and I am happy to be appreciated by people.
At the same time, when the professionals in the industry say that a book is well written, it’s great! So, surely, both are interesting for me, and I am happy to be appreciated by people.
So, surely, both are interesting for me, and I am happy to be appreciated by people.
Why is it important for you to write and to be recognized?
I write for women. It is important to me because I believe that a man can’t really put himself in their shoes.
I always try to write the truth for women and about women, I try to shed the light on some things, to explain things. When I see injustice, I feel like fighting against it. And I try to be strong when it is important.
Is it difficult for your husband to live with a strong woman?
Yes, I don’t think I am an easy person to live with.
I am lucky that my husband is much older than me, we have a 23-year age gap.
We have enough age difference not to be rivals, besides he is somewhat more reserved than I, and also very independent.
“I have quite a few aspirations for my daughter.”
How do you organize your everyday life?
I don’t do the cleaning, I don’t do the washing, I don’t do the dish-washing, those are my husband’s chores.
I like cooking. We also share chores, it’s been like that since we got married.
What are your hobbies?
I started running this year. And I also practice karate, I like it a lot. My daughter has been doing karate since she is 4, she got her first belt.
Are you worried about her when she is fighting?
I believe we are always worried about our kids but I surely don’t want her to be scared of anything. I signed her up for karate classes to teach her strength, and to be physically strong. And also because it’s not just for boys.
Isn’t is too early to start at 4?
No. My daughter is already a year ahead of her age in the primary school. I also do a lot of math with her, and she is taking violin classes.
I have a lot of aspirations for her. Maybe a way too many. But then, I believe that with everything she is learning at her age, she will have many more opportunities in her life, this will allow her to have more freedom.
“Procrastination is hard but at the same time it’s my engine.”
What does your daily schedule look like?
I wake up at 6.45 am, I get ready very fast. I don’t have to take care of our daughter, it’s my husband who is taking care of her. And then I go to work. I work from 8.30 am to 13.30 pm.
What do you have for breakfast?
Nothing, just a coffee. I go to bed late, I am not hungry early in the morning, and waking up at 6.45 is very early for me. I eat at 2 pm after work, but in fact, I am still not hungry around this time.
In general, I love to eat, I love going to the restaurants and I eat a lot. I love eating sweets so much, that when I eat something savory, I make sure to get a dessert. So I love eating but at the same time, I can control my hunger.
What do you do after work?
I am working till 13.30 for a childrenswear brand, I do administration work for them and I like doing it.
I also write a column for the website Atlantico, I mostly write about books as I read a lot. I also work on my thesis, and then I get back home and take care of my daughter. I either pick her up from school or from the after-school at 5 pm.
What do you use to keep track of everything you have to do?
It’s all in my head! No, really, I have a very good memory, I remember everything, even everyone’s birthdays.
Do you suffer from procrastination?
Yes, procrastination is hard. At the same time, it’s an engine – when I procrastinate, I start suffering from not doing anything, and then I feel like getting things done again, it helps me to move forward.
“Do as many things you love as possible, this is the only way to succeed.”
Do you lack time for some things you want to do?
Yes. Starting with my daughter… I don’t know how other people do it, but I have a feeling that I never have enough time for her. And that’s why I don’t want to have another child, my life is already really busy.
I often stop doing something else to spend more time with my daughter, it’s a pleasure for me. And I never regret it.
What would you recommend to women who dream to change their life but don’t know where to start?
I would say, if you feel like doing something, then you have to do it.
I would also recommend trying different things at the same time, we shouldn’t concentrate on just one person, or one activity. It’s important because it gives us certain strength.
Sometimes people are scared to get overwhelmed by doing different things, but we learn a lot from trying different things.
We have a lot of hidden capacities in us but we have to do things to bring them to light. So you have to try, and not to lock yourself. Do different things, different things you like, that’s the only way to succeed.
Where can people find you online?
Useful links, notes, and resources:
Marine Baron’s Books (FR):
Other Books and Authors:
- Michel Foucault
- “Discipline and Punish” by Michel Foucault
- Henry de Montherlant
- Marlène Schiappa
- “Where are the Rapists?” (FR: “Où sont les violeurs?”) by Marlène Schiappa
- Marie Ndiaye
- “Trois femmes puissantes” (“Three Strong Women“) by Marie Ndiaye
- Gustave Flaubert
- “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
- Emma Becker
- “Monsieur” (“Mister”) by Emma Becker
Images: Marine Baron
Translated by Natalia Yurevich