Delphine Claire Beltiane Seyring born 10th April 1932 in Beirut Lebanon and died aged 58 in Paris. Occupation Actress.
Seyring may be most widely known for her role as Colette de Montpelier in Zinnemann’s 1973 film The Day of the Jackal. In turn, perhaps her most demanding role was in Chantal Ackerman’s 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23 qui du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, in which she was required to adopt a highly restrained, rigorously minimalistic mode of acting to convey the kindest of the title character.
Seyring was a major feminist figure in France. Throughout her career, she used her celebrity status to promote women’s rights.
Here is the substance of an interview I did with her in 1987.
Delphine Seyrig: My mother was very independent, and she was hoping I would grow up to be independent, but she was not competitive. In fact she hated competitiveness. She hoped I would not be a passive, feminine little girl. She was hoping I would have scope and would be physically strong and independent. She herself led a very independent youth. She was a sailor, and she sailed with another girl of her age at a time when women did not do those things. She lived on a boat and went all round the Mediterranean when she was twenty.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Delphine Seyrig: I couldn’t as a child think in terms of advantages and disadvantages in an objective way. I could see what my advantages would be, very early, before I knew how to speak. I think one begins to face life in babyhood. We’re not allowed as children to consider that we have a hard life to face. We’re told we’re going to face a hard life when we are not with our parents anymore, but they don’t tell us that our life is hard when we are children, and I think it is. I do think I had to face life extremely early. This is a very important point for me. Life was never as hard for me as an adult as it was as a little child, because, as an adult, when life is hard, I can say, my life is hard, but when I was a child I was not able to say that, I was supposed to be a happy little girl and materially everything was provided for me. I was not able to say, my life is tough, I was not even able to think it.
Women have not been encouraged to make a living, they have been encouraged to work free at home. Women asking to be paid to work is still a novelty.
I’m trying to work day by day. I’m president of an association of a women’s centre which is called Le Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir. This centre is trying to create a memory of women of our time through audiovisual documents, film and documents about women or by women. Sometimes they are films by men, but they are about women. It’s trying to bring these things together, to create a memory of women of our times, of their work, of their thoughts, of their visions.
Delphine Seyrig: We’re not at home on this planet. All the institutions are male institutions, so we have to adapt to them, that’s all, and we don’t. That is why there are so many women in mental institutions, so many more than men. Women do not have power. Even if they have a little more power in New York than in other places, and if they have taken responsibilities for certain things, American women are just as oppressed as European women. There is no question but that money is in the hands of men, everybody knows it. What is in the hands of women is infinitesimal. Money is in the hands of nations which are led and lawed by man. It is a male-run planet. I’m talking about reality, not about how I feel. Reality is that economy is in the hands of men, law is in the hands of men, dissent and aggression are in the hands of men. And politics is entirely in the hands of men. It is not just a theory. It is already a big step forward to say we are aware at this time that the power is not in the hands of women and all in the hands of men. I think this is already important and very shocking. I have been doing what I can to become aware of it myself, and read what other woman have written on that subject, meeting women who are questioning this power. This is what I have been doing for the past twenty years. I don’t have any hopes for the future, but I think that, even when there is no hope for the future, being a human being and being a female human being, you have at least to say what you see and how you feel about it and what can be changed in your own small realm.
The fact that you have a woman Prime Minister, that’s nothing, that’s of no consequence, that’s not interesting to me. Women always show up somewhere in places of power, but they apply the men’s laws and they are men in their profession. They have to abide with all the male structures of society. They can’t change that, there’s no question of that.
There is now a big issue in France about incest – one out of five families has an incestuous relationship. That’s 20 per cent. You have this problem everywhere, of course, because of the male structures of the society. So those are things where women can speak out and act to stop certain things, or at least to make things evolve.
There are a million things men could do to improve harmony between men and women, but they don’t do them. The women’s movement has not at all encouraged men to think for themselves. It’s extraordinary that men do not bring up certain subjects among themselves, such as rape, violence, sexual violence. It is only women who discuss it. Men don’t, but they want to listen when women are talking about it. Why don’t men who do not rape organize a convention about it? Why do they not discuss it? It’s strange, but they don’t. How come men are not interested in discussing the subject? They say, I’m not a rapist, therefore I’m not interested, therefore I don’t have to discuss this. All right, who is going to discuss it, the rapists? Are you going to leave it in the hands of the judges, and the repression by jail and punishment, and is it not a subject that should interest men? It’s very strange to me, this.
I consider myself a woman who has adapted very successfully to a patriarchal society. And within that successful adaptation, I feel extremely rebellious. I can see, within my life, what has happened, and I can question this adaptation. I consider myself in pretty good shape considering what it is to adapt to this society. I could have gone crazy.
Delphine Seyrig: I think I was a conventional mother, with everything that implies. I’m not so proud of the way I educated my son. I did the only thing I knew how to do, and the only thing that was done around me. Now, when I think back, I feel I did what I could in those days. He is now an adult, but somehow I feel if I had to do it over again, I would do it differently.
I was in the struggle for abortion. I had abortions done right in this house when it was absolutely forbidden in France and they were arresting women who had abortions, and women who had performed abortions, and putting them in jail. So a number of us signed a manifesto, saying we had all had abortions, and we were not arrested. This was one way of showing the hypocrisy of the law, and we advanced to the point where abortion was admitted in France. I testified in abortion trials. Those are the kinds of struggles I was into, in other words; that’s the realm of an individual’s action in a group, but it does not change the world.
Delphine Seyrig: My experience is that there are a lot of things I can share with women that I cannot share with men. Men, in my experience, cannot share a great many things with other men, except in the Church, in the army and in sports. Otherwise, I find men are very lonely, and very isolated from each other.
How can one believe in marriage? I don’t believe in much. I don’t know what marriage is any more. It made sense as a sort of law in the past for women to be able to have a roof over their heads and be supposedly protected but actually they were greatly imprisoned.
Delphine Seyrig: I think each individual is slightly different biologically from another one, and there is an infinity of nuances between male and female. I don’t think it’s that definite. But it’s very important for women to realize that their mind is just as good as a man’s, and that their power of thinking is certainly as good, and that they’re probably far more capable of expressing emotions in ways other than battle. Women probably have difficulty in surviving emotionally in a patriarchal society because emotions have been so distorted from childhood. Men seem to survive. We are in a patriarchal society, and I don’t think that’s contested. Within that framework, there are a lot of women trying to understand the structure, this male structure, and trying to clarify it, trying to identify how women are situated within that structure. Within that male structure, women are subjugated in every sense of the word. Women are the best agents to perpetuate the male structure because they are in charge of small children, yet they’re not responsible. They’re in charge of children, but they’re in charge of bringing them up adapted to this society. If a woman brings up her little boy to cry whenever he feels emotion, she will not make a man adapted to this society, and if she brings up her little girl to be strong, as my mother wanted me to be, well, I could see the society around my mother was not saying the same thing as my mother was, and I chose very early between my mother’s vision of what I should be and society’s vision. And I could see that my interest in society was to adapt, but not do what my mother felt I should do. My mother was right, in some ways, except that she herself had given up her independence to be a married women who accompanied her husband and lived his life. She stopped living her life after she was married. I could tell, at a very early stage, it was safer to adapt. I’m putting this in an adult’s words but I was then between two and four years old, and already something was decided within me: that I was going to be a real little girl, playing a little girl’s role and not a boy’s role, because boys are boys and girls are girls. But my mother didn’t teach me that, society did. Kindergarten taught me that. I knew it was better to be a cute little girl with bows in her hair than a little tomboy. Women are the ones bringing up the children, but the responsibility they have is to make them into happy young men and women. And, to be a happy young woman, you have to adapt, because otherwise you will be rejected; and, to be a young man, you have to be a happy young man according to the rules or you will be rejected. So what they are doing is bringing up their children to fit into the world. The fact that women bring up children is not a guarantee of liberated adults, because they know that to be liberated from a society also means being rejected by society.