If you thought the French were sexually or socially progressive, this should disabuse you of that myth forever. A day after the #MeToo movement was ratified on the stage of the Golden Globes Awards, actress Catherine DeNeuve, one of 100 prominent French women writers, performers, and academics published an open letter in the newspaper Le Monde, condemning the movement to call out inappropriate male behavior, calling it “hatred of men,” and advocating a man’s “right to bother.” New York Times:
They contend that the #MeToo movement has led to a campaign of public accusations that have placed undeserving people in the same category as sex offenders without giving them a chance to defend themselves. “This expedited justice already has its victims, men prevented from practicing their profession as punishment, forced to resign, etc., while the only thing they did wrong was touching a knee, trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about ‘intimate’ things at a work dinner, or sending messages with sexual connotations to a woman whose feelings were not mutual,” they write. The letter, written in French was translated here by The New York Times.
They continue, “The philosopher Ruwen Ogien defended the freedom to offend as essential to artistic creation. In the same way, we defend a freedom to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom.” Though the writers do not draw clear lines between what constitutes sexual misconduct and what does not, they say that they are “sufficiently farseeing not to confuse a clumsy come-on and sexual assault.”
A full translation of this epistle yields these gems:
Above all, we are aware that the human being is not a monolith: A woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being a man’s sexual object, without being a “whore” or a vile accomplice of the patriarchy. She can make sure that her wages are equal to a man’s but not feel forever traumatized by a man who rubs himself against her in the subway, even if that is regarded as an offense. She can even consider this act as the expression of a great sexual deprivation, or even as a non-event.
As women, we don’t recognize ourselves in this feminism that, beyond the denunciation of abuses of power, takes the face of a hatred of men and sexuality. We believe that the freedom to say “no” to a sexual proposition cannot exist without the freedom to bother. And we consider that one must know how to respond to this freedom to bother in ways other than by closing ourselves off in the role of the prey.
That last sentence says it all. As usual, it is the woman’s fault if things go wrong. “One must know HOW TO RESPOND to this ‘freedom to bother.’” Yeah, the guys have a right to go there and if you don’t know how to handle it, it’s on you. Needless to say, this is not a unique perception.
It claimed that “legitimate protest against the sexual violence that women are subject to, particularly in their professional lives,” had turned into a witch-hunt.
“What began as freeing women up to speak has today turned into the opposite – we intimidate people into speaking ‘correctly’, shout down those who don’t fall into line, and those women who refused to bend [to the new realities] are regarded as complicit and traitors.”
The signatories – who included a porn star-turned-agony aunt – claimed they were defending sexual freedom, for which “the liberty to seduce and importune was essential”.
As a culture the French are more reactionary than progressive, and I base that viewpoint upon the semester abroad I spent in France in the fall of 1974, when the feminist movement was at its peak and I would listen to Frenchwomen dressed in haute couture and living cushy lives talk on television saying how all was just fine in the world and they were anti-feminist. Today’s letter in Le Monde, however, goes beyond reactionary all the way to retrograde.
As usual, the French have a saying appropriate to this occasion: “Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose,” which means, “The more things change, the more they are the same.”