Le Pont Cœur Noir (The Black Hearted Bridge)

One of the several bridges in France with locks on them.

One of the several bridges in France with locks on them.

A few weeks ago, my family and I traveled to Paris over Spring Break. We toured the Louvre, Orsay, Pompidou, Rodin museum, Notre Dame, and of course the Eiffel Tower to mention a few of my favorites. We stayed in an apartment in the cinqième arrondissement (the fifth district or region of the city) next to the Seine – about a five minute walk from Notre Dame.

I will try not to get caught up in describing the atmosphere of Paris too much. There have been far greater men and women who have spent the better part of their lives trying to encapsulate the city’s entirety who, I am sure, can do a much better job than myself.

That being said, it is important to understand how the city is geographically “set-up.” At the city’s heart there is L’Île de la cité, literally the isle of the city. This naturally occurring island in the middle of the Seine is the old city. This is where Paris was when it was first established centuries ago. The island is less than a mile in length but is home to many historically significant places, the crowning jewel being Notre Dame. Because the Seine runs through the city, separating Paris into the isle, left, and right banks, there are thirty seven ponts (bridges) that have been constructed over the river. Of these, four are strictly pedestrian.

 Now, no one knows how it first began, but there has been a growing trend where two lovers secure a padlock onto the side of one of those thirty seven bridges and photograph/video tape yourself throwing the keys into the Seine to symbolize their everlasting love. I suppose it is a sort of urban way of carving your name into a tree. At first, native Parisiens hated the locks, thinking that it was an act of vandalism. So the Parisian government decided to remove all of the locks around the city’s bridges. The following month however, the locks came back more conspicuous than ever. After a while, the government gave up and several pedestrian bridges are covered with these symbols of everlasting, young love.

One day, when my parents and I were walking across Pont des Arts to visit the Louvre, we noticed the locks. There must have been hundreds of them in all different colors of all different sizes adorning the bridge. After finding out what they meant, it made you feel a little happy. Although they were not the most beautiful things in the world, it made you cheerful to think that they all represented a relationship between two people who loved one another.    

As we were looking at the bridge with its many locks, we noticed there there were several large, black, metal hearts with QR codes pasted on them. I did not know what they meant at first and thought that they were part of some dating service. When we reached the end of the bridge however, there was a banner explaining what they represented. To my surprise, the hearts were not some display of everlasting love or cheesy advertising gimmick, but represented the many women that were and are victims of an abusive relationship in France.

According to French police statistics, 9,842 women and girls were reported to have been victims of domestic violence at the hands of their “lovers” and/or “friends” in 2009 with 5,261 being underage. And these are only the reported incidents.

Although I focus this post on France, this gender equality gap can be seen in many more developed countries around the globe. Granted MDCs do not have nearly as severe of gender based violence and crimes as LDCs, these statistics go to prove that even if a country, like France, is considered more developed, it does not necessarily mean that there is total gender equality.

by Philip Richardson


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