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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

French & Francophone Studies

Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



This study examines how the female circus artist is represented in twelve pieces of French literature ranging from the late nineteenth century to the modern day. The books are divided into three categories by author type: first, authors without a circus background; second, male authors involved in the circus world; and third, women involved in the circus world. Although predicted that the first section would reveal the largest use of stereotypes and misogyny, the second would show the sexist expectations of the circassienne onstage and off, and the third would call out these stereotypes and suggest improvements, there was less variety found than expected. Only two authors—one from each of the first two categories—used circassienne stereotypes in an extremely negative manner, authors who were unfamiliar with circus but did research as well as the majority of the male authors familiar with circus bluntly stated some of the bias but did not offer solutions, and the majority of the female circus artist authors also stated the bias they faced but were limited in their opportunities to challenge stereotypes.

Eleven of the books focus on artists from traditional circus, and only Circassienne looks at contemporary circus. Whereas there is a variety of literature about the contemporary circus scene in Quebec, Circassienne was the only book found to be written by a French circassienne that deals with normalizing the life of a circus artist in who lives in a house, sends their children to school, and creates pieces designed to expose children to contemporary circus as well as pieces with calls for activism.

Overall, it was found that the situation for the female circus artist in traditional circus in France has not greatly changed in the past century. She is still expected to be feminine, to wear revealing costumes, and to flirt with the audience, often serving as the “female element” in an otherwise male-dominated group of performers. Reducing sexism in circus and the fight for gender equality remain part of the agenda of circus going forward, and progress is being seen faster in contemporary circus than in its traditional counterpart.


First Advisor

Luke Bouvier

Second Advisor

Thomas Vacanti