International Women’s Day: Snapchat’s homage to France’s female icons

An augmented reality project in the photo-sharing app lets users see famous French women alongside statues of men

When users open the app they will see augmented reality (AR) images of famous French women, including Simone Veil, Josephine Baker and Simone de Beauvoir
Published Last updated

Photo-sharing app Snapchat is paying homage to France’s female icons by allowing them to be shown alongside famous statues of men.

The initiative is timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8.

When users open the app they will see augmented reality (AR) images of famous French women, including Simone Veil, Josephine Baker and Simone de Beauvoir.

They can then go to cities across France and when they take a picture of the male statue, the female AR image will appear alongside.

Donatien Bozon, director of the Snapchat augmented reality studio Augmented Reality Studio - Snap Inc., which has created the project, said: “Women are under-represented, and make up 10% of the statues in the public space.

“We have tried to associate a ‘woman of letters’ with a ‘man of letters’, a resistance fighter with a resistance fighter,” he said. “Augmented reality can have a real usefulness in the world of culture.”

The women featured include:

Simone Veil, next to Charles de Gaulle in Paris

Simone Veil (1927-2017) was a politician and magistrate who served in several governments in France. She is well-known for her moves to advance women’s rights as health minister: the law that legalised abortion in France is named after her (the Loi Veil).

As a Holocaust survivor (Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen), Ms Veil argued for European cooperation to preserve peace. She was also highly active in Holocaust memorial campaigns, and served as president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah from 2000 to 2007.

She was elected to the Académie Française in 2008, and received the highest merit in France, the Grand Croix of the Légion d’honneur, in 2012.

She and her husband were buried in the Panthéon on July 1, 2018, an honour reserved only for France’s greatest figures. President Emmanuel Macron read a eulogy to her.

Read more: Simone Veil: a force for good, for women, for France, for all

Read more: Thousands honour Simone Veil as she enters Panthéon

Simone de Beauvoir, next to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Lyon

Simone de Beauvoir (1908 to 1986) was a feminist activist and philosopher, and her work had a significant impact on feminist thought. Raised as a Catholic, she questioned her beliefs at 14 and later became an atheist.

She was especially well-known for her work The Second Sex (Le Deuxième Sexe, 1949). She also won the 1954 Prix Goncourt, as well as many other awards throughout her life.

She was a contemporary, peer, and later long-term partner of Jean-Paul Sartre. The two are buried together in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

Read more: Life and times of ‘world’s first’ radical feminist

Josephine Baker, next to Jean Moulin in Metz

Josephine Baker was an American dancer, singer, and actress, who became naturalised as a French citizen in 1937, after marrying Frenchman Jean Lion.

Her career brought her to Europe and France, where she became the first black woman to appear in a major film (the silent Siren of the Tropics in 1927).

She caused a sensation with her now-iconic banana skirt dance in 1927, which became an emblematic image of the Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age, in the golden years before the Wall Street Crash and World War Two.

Ms Baker is also known for her civil rights activism in the US, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

She was the first Black woman to be inducted in the Panthéon, although her burial ground itself is in Monaco. Instead, a cenotaph in her name is installed in the Panthéon crypt.

Read more: US-born French icon Josephine Baker to enter France’s Pantheon

The event will also feature:

  • Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (Marseille, next to Pierre Puget) - An 18th and 19th-century portrait painter. Known for scandalising the Paris art world by painting herself smiling with visible teeth. Her 1788 work Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan was auctioned for $7.2m (€6.75m) in 2019.

  • Françoise de Grafigny (Bordeaux, next to Montesquieu) - Novelist, playwright, and salon hostess, best known for 1750 comedy Cénie. A peer and hostess of writers including Prévost, Rousseau, and Voltaire.

  • Manon Tardon (Nantes, next to Général Leclerc) - French Resistance fighter from Martinique, awarded a Croix de Guerre for her work in World War Two. One of the only women present for Germany’s surrender.

  • Olympe de Gouges (Strasbourg, next to Maréchal Kléber) - Playwright and women’s rights activist in 18th-century France. Executed by guillotine in Place de la Concorde in 1793.

  • Hubertine Auclert (Lille, next to Léon Trulin) - Leading feminist and militant campaigner for women’s suffrage. Buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

AR Studio has created AR experiences via Snapchat in Paris before, but this is the first project to take place nationwide.

Mr Bozon said: “The beauty of it is that we have no pressure, no financial objectives [with this project].”

Snapchat currently has 27 million monthly users in France, of 750 million worldwide, and 80 employees in the country. Yet, its founder and CEO, Evan Spiegel, recently said that the company was facing “headwinds”, partly due to the publicity market.

The group recorded a net loss of €288million in 2022.