“Rape is a crime. But heavy or clumsy flirting isn’t a misdemeanour, nor chivalry a macho aggression.”
This is the introduction to the op-ed published in Le Monde on Tuesday, which was signed by 100 French actresses, journalists, novelists and artists including Catherine Deneuve. It describes a new “puritanism” born in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #metoo movement (#balancetonporc in French) and regrets that women not willing to take part in the movement are seen as “traitors and accomplices”.
To them, the movement, a “legitimate wake-up call of the sexual violence that women live with, especially in their professional lives” has turned into a “witch hunt”. “We stand for the freedom to importune and seduce, which is essential to sexual freedom,” they write, and wish that women who are harassed in public transport such as the metro see their aggression as “the expression of sexual misery, or a non-event”. And then there’s the kicker: “We don’t recognise ourselves in this feminism that, beyond the denunciation of power abuses, embodies a hatred of men and sexuality.”
As a feminist, as a millennial, as a Frenchwoman, I feel betrayed and I am angry. It is clear by linking “feminism” to “hatred of men” that none of the signatories of this op-ed understands what feminism means. But because it is Catherine Deneuve, and she is famous enough, the piece has been widely covered at home and abroad, and that makes me ashamed of what the world will think of France.
I often hear that the French are “a generation behind”. It’s not always untrue – our president thinks he’s Tony Blair, after all. But Catherine Deneuve’s vision of a society where men should be free to “importune and seduce” women without them (God forbids!) complaining or even just talking about it indulges a broader, international idea of “French culture”. From the defenders of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French politician dogged by accusations of harassment (which he has consistently refuted), to every clichéd French seducer in fiction, France really doesn’t need another op-ed telling men they are right when their “seduction” crosses the line.
Catherine Deneuve was born in 1943, and her acting career peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, most notably abroad with Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour. Today, she doesn’t speak for France, and she certainly doesn’t speak for French feminism.
It is therefore all the more infuriating that it is her voice, and her message, which reveals no understanding of what feminism, and indeed the #metoo movement, actually stand for, that will be heard all around the world. All because she is an “iconic” actress.
There are many brilliant French women the world should look at, and listen to. These women have valuable insights into feminism, sexual assault, and sexism, about where things are for women in France today and what can be done about it. Unfortunately, these kick-ass French artists, journalists, novelists, filmmakers, actors and philosophers don’t get international media coverage because they are – for now – lesser known than Deneuve. So hey! Let’s change that.
There’s Léa Bordier, a filmmaker and YouTube who interviews women about their own body, how they view it, live with it and have learned to accept it, or not.
There’s Virginie Despentes, the author of King Kong Theory, who writes “as an ugly one for the ugly ones; the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckables, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls that don’t get a look-in in the universal market of the consumable chick.”
There’s Diglee, an illustrator whose work honours female artists and authors throughout time.
There’s Elsa Dorlin, a philosopher and expert in the history of French sexism and racism.
There’s Sara Forestier, an actress, director and screenwriter who regularly speaks up about sexism.
There’s Emilie Jouvet, a photographer and filmmaker who directed the first French LGBT porn film, and whose projects focus on women’s sexualities.
There’s Titiou Lecoq, a journalist who for a couple years now has been recording every single case of domestic abuse resulting in death, and writing about it, listing the name and story of each of the women who were killed by their partner or ex, in France, each year. In 2017, there were 109.
There’s Mirion Malle, an illustrator who draws comics to deconstruct sexism in pop culture.
There are the journalists at Magazine Cheek, a digital website covering the news with a feminist voice.
There’s Ovidie, a director and former porn actress who directs feminist porn films and writes about sexuality.
There’s Solange Te Parle, a Canadian YouTuber who speaks (in French) about life, relationships, culture, sex and feminism in her funny and disturbingly honest videos.
And these are just a few. Click on all these links if you speak French. Even click if you don’t. These are the real voices of France’s women, and they’re already so much louder, and more powerful, than Deneuve’s op-ed ever could.