Every time I’m in France I shift my accent. It’s become somewhat of an internal battle. I open my mouth to speak and all the sounds gather at the tip of my lips and fall out in a series of heavily articulated vowels and consonants that sound like a faux mix of what I call a Canadiana-Parisiana accent.
I do it because I want to be understood.
When people from France hear me speak, they usually ask “From Montreal?” quickly followed with a “But we can understand you so well, so maybe not?” Then ensues the 100th conversation I’ve had about there being Francophones in Canada outside of Québec. Yes, even in Regina, Saskatchewan. And they’re called Fransaskoises. Beyond the monotony of this repeated conversation, I’m struck by the fact that though I keep trying to stick to my natural accent, somehow I can’t.
My ‘internal accent battle’ most recently reared its head when I went to Marseille. Marseille—where people don’t seem to give a fuck about fuck. Granted I only spent three days there so who am I to generalize the whole population of Marseille, but in my defense those three days made quite the impression. People from Marseille have a fabulous accent that lilts unexpectedly then quickly crashes on aspirated consonants, to come out lilting again. I love it. During my travels I’ve heard a lot of people in France make fun of this accent. Maybe that’s part of the reason why the people of Marseille don’t seem to give a fuck about a fuck. They’re used to being made fun of and simply need to keep on living?
I was there for the Marseille Web Fest as my production company She Said Films had received a travel grant to attend film festivals to promote our web series Running With Violet. I was excited to go represent my company and I was prepared to stick to my Fransaskois accent this time! But the option to adopt the not giving a fuck vibe of Marseille was removed from me as, alas, I found myself in an extremely sexist festival.
It should not have been a surprise that a film festival would be sexist following the outpouring of stories concerning Harvey Weinstein and other big shot male celebrities accused of sexual harassment, misconduct and rape. But my wish for a better world incited in me a feeling of “How dare they (Marseille Web Fest) still only have men speak?” during all of their panels and master classes. One man in particular—from Warner Bros—spoke like he had never worked with a woman in his life, like a woman working at his level didn’t even exist (and maybe she doesn’t exist, and therein lies another problem). After his talk my “I don't give a fuck!” attitude was officially thrown out the window.
I was in shock—and I want to stop being surprised. That way when I’m in such a situation again I won’t end up reeling from surprise but rather stay focused on what to do or say. Goals for the inevitable next time.
I thought more and more of the Marseille ‘don’t give a fuck about a fuck’ attitude and I wondered how to really dig deep and channel that shit! “If I was a woman from Marseille, a Marseillaise, and I seemingly didn’t give a fuck about a fuck, what would I do right now?”
I might do like the employee I saw at the McDonalds in the St. Charles train station telling a costumer that she wouldn’t serve him because he was being disrespectful and she no longer felt like serving him. End of discussion. She stared him down. The man left in a huff and she kept on working, undisturbed.
If I was a Marseillaise I might do like the chef (woman) I saw working with another chef (man) clearly several years younger than her. He kept reprimanding her about things being cleaned improperly, then asking her to smile, then asking her to be faster, then poking her in the side to make her laugh when it looked like it hurt. The woman then told him (loudly!) that if he was going to keep treating her this way that she would leave. The man seemed confused. She grew more agitated. The man started laughing at her. She then made a big show of leaving the restaurant and walked out. A few people applauded. He should have been the one to leave—at least she spoke her piece.
During one of the Master Classes at the Marseille Web Fest, one of the men presenting stopped himself mid-sentence because someone was ‘grossly gesticulating’ at him. He said “What! What! What’s happening? Harassment can occur in many forms you know.” He was feeling harassed, I think. I’ll give it to him that it was something of relative awareness to be referencing the ‘Weinstein talk’ happening these past few weeks, but the person ‘grossly gesticulating’ at him was in fact the translator who needed him to speak louder so that he could translate what he was saying from English to French for all the festival attendees who didn’t speak English. So good that the speaker referenced harassment, but too bad it was done in such a sloppy way. What did he really mean? “I’m a man in power and can also be harassed?” “I want to join the harassment conversation?” “I feel uncomfortable about all this harassment talk and now verbal diarrhea is coming out of my mouth in order to process my discomfort?”
Beyond that one messy moment of pseudo awareness, after three days of hearing from only men about ‘the industry’ and ‘the work’ I was left feeling enraged. I hate feeling rage because as any ‘good Canadian’ I’ve been taught to say “sorry,” not “I don’t give a fuck about a fuck.” But as I had also just spent three days listening to women in Marseille speak their truths—loudly—I felt emboldened.
This is what emboldened looks like for me right now: diplomatically calling out the Marseille Web Fest online and tagging organizations like womenonscreen and WIFT to join their voices to mine. A woman commented on my Facebook post with “Feeble pleas will not change anything.” I understand that some people will see my diplomatic calling out as not enough and that if it’s not enough then it’s not worth doing. But I think small steps are most definitely still worth doing. And maybe one day I’ll have a bigger action. Maybe one day I’ll meet the festival director again and repeat what I wrote face to face. And I’ll speak to him with my thick Fransaskois accent and let him work hard at figuring out what it is that I’m saying. And I’ll say it again and again without shifting my accent and if the words still aren’t landing, I might just pull a ‘Marseillaise’ on him and tell him off.
I wish I had spoken up at the festival while I was enraged. I wish I had told the man from Warner Bros that his master class was horrible. I wish I had grabbed the mic and in front of everyone asked the festival director why there were no women speaking at his festival?
I also wish that not all of the burden for change was on me as one of the few women present at the festival. On women in general. I wish I had felt that I had allies with me in the room.
I’m practicing speaking my truth. This time it took the more polite written form of being posted on social media, but next time I want to be more bold: face to face, loud… and in my own accent.