Back

Interview with Sophie Bienvenu

Born in Belgium and settled in Quebec for over 15 years, Sophie Bienvenu quickly established herself as one of the foremost writers on the local and international literary scene.

Her first novel, Et au pire on se mariera, received numerous awards and was adapted for the stage by the Ex-Libris company and the big screen by filmmaker Léa Pool. She has since written two other novels (Chercher Sam, 2014 and Around Her, 2016), a children’s book (La princesse qui voulait devenir générale, 2017) and a poetry collection (Ceci n'est pas de l'amour, 2016). She is currently writing the screenplay for the film adaptation of Chercher Sam and two TV series.

sowimage Crédit Sarah Scott

For the past few years, you have been calling for the use of the word autrice, rather than the more common auteure, to describe your profession. Why autrice?

When I started using it, it was a feminist statement. Why would we say auteure when the feminine form of -teur, is -trice? After noticing that it was being used by French feminists, I did some research and found out that in the 17th century, the Académie française – formed exclusively of men – decided to erase from the language all the feminine versions of powerful or public speaking professions on the pretext that there were reserved for men.

The word autrice, in use up to that point, disappeared with several others. Language is my profession; it’s important for me to use the right words because every word represents a choice. Using autrice is making sure that the feminine form is not only read but also heard. 

 

IN WHAT WAY DID BEING A WOMAN INFLUENCE YOUR WRITING?

 Without being an obstacle in itself, being a woman probably didn’t do me any favors. The literary world remains quite macho; it is clear in the number of publishing companies run by women or even the amount of writing done by women compared to the number of literary prizes awarded to them. 

Though great wealth can be found in the feminine experience, people are more interested in male characters with which they are used to identify, regardless of their gender. We easily identify with men, white people and straight characters because they are so widely represented that we perceive their experiences as being universal. However, when we write a story featuring a female character, it immediately becomes "chick lit".

When I started this profession, I didn’t really think about all that. As I was writing my first novel, I didn’t consider myself to be a feminist, but today I openly am. My personal journey has evidently influenced the way I write. The more I find out and evolve in my militancy, the more I feel the need to tell women’s stories and have a feminist and intersectional message in my works.

What do you mean by intersectional feminism?

For me, intersectionality is the encounter between feminism and anti-racism, two inseparable battles that are very important to me. While aware of the oppression I am subjected to as a woman, I acknowledge my privileges as a white person. It is my duty to use them to support the women who don’t benefit from those privileges and make sure that they also have a seat at the table.

Feminism means to claim the right of women to make their own choices. To say what they think, wear what they want and live as they see fit. There is no single choice that is valid or a single outlook on life. In my opinion, it is important to change perspectives; avoid judging what is good for other people through my privileged eyes and impose my values on everyone else.

I find white and occidental feminism hypocritical in the way it infantilizes women from different cultures and tries to control them on the pretext that it wants to free them, assuming that they are incapable of making decisions for themselves. Deciding on behalf of another woman has nothing to do with feminism. The right to choose should be granted to all women whether or not their decisions are ones we would make for ourselves. 

How do you broach the subject in your stories?

It’s important for me to talk about women in their plurality, complexity and difference. I make an effort to include a greater diversity of characters but most importantly, to do it correctly. For my next novel that takes place in the Caribbean, for example, I had discussions and will continue to have discussions with several Caribbean women in order to properly represent them. It’s not enough to write a character, color them brown and say that they are Caribbean.

In literature, too many female characters are stereotyped. In detective novels, there’s the sexy girl or the serious girl; these days, everywhere we look there’s the perfect, quasi-superhero female character. The way in which writing meets intersectionality is that there isn’t just one woman’s story; there are as many different women as there are stories to be told.

As you know, Yves Rocher Canada made a commitment to donate funds to the organization of your choice as part the Act Beautiful campaign. Why did you choose the Centre des femmes d’ici et d’ailleurs?

 It’s an organization that represents the society in which I would like to live. A place where women from all origins can come together, share and help each other. I love the idea that a woman coming from elsewhere without any points of references, resources or even speaking the language, can go to the Center and receive services suited to her needs. We often speak about the integration of new immigrants, but integration isn’t possible without breaking the solitude.

The Centre des Femmes d’Ici et d’Ailleurs is a place of mutual support for women with, rather than in spite of, their differences. And female solidarity is one of the most powerful and transformative thing there is.

Share