Why the French are balking at the #MeToo movement
That’s according to LeanIn.org's new study. Time
PARIS — In France, #MeToo is giving way to #JoieDeVivre.
While Me Too has certainly had an effect in France, particularly among young people, many say the movement is veering too far toward American puritanism that could threaten the French way of life and its cultural leanings toward sexual freedom.
France is still a country that clings to its deeply rooted ideas about men and women. And there is a central place of seductiveness in French culture and politics.
“I don’t want to imply that the French are in favor of harassment, but rather that there is a part of our culture where seducing is important and well-regarded,” said Raphaël Hun, 38, an artisanal food entrepreneur based in southern France.
He pointed to the stark contrast in the public reaction to scandals involving presidents of each country. U.S. President Bill Clinton was impeached after he lied about his relationship with a White House intern, while the French shrugged off news that President François Mitterrand had two children from extramarital relations.
Hun's comments reflect a common view in France.
Sex is not considered taboo in France as it is in the United States. Come-ons — welcome or not — are considered a part of life.
Legendary French film stars Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot set off a firestorm last month when they criticized the Me Too movement. Bardot called it "hypocritical and ridiculous," and Deneuve defended men's right to "hit on women." Their comments even prompted a parody sketch of the two women on Saturday Night Live.
Deneuve and other high-profile French women signed an open letter published in January in the French daily Le Monde, arguing that the Me Too movement — and its French counterpart #BalanceTonPorc or “Out Your Pig” — had turned into a witch hunt threatening sexual and artistic freedom.
“What we are once again witnessing here is puritanism in the name of a so-called greater good, claiming to promote the liberation and protection of women, only to enslave them to a status of eternal victim and reduce them to defenseless preys of male chauvinist demons,” Deneuve and her co-authors wrote.
To be sure, sexual harassment exists in France, and people are outspoken against it.
French social media exploded with thousands of examples of predatory behavior after journalist Sandra Muller used #BalanceTonPorc to denounce a television executive’s inappropriate advances. A group of supporters later used the hashtag to create a website where women could come forward anonymously about sexual harassment.
Author and sociologist Christine Marsan said many in France are growing uneasy with the public naming of men accused of sexual misconduct, saying that resembles the atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the dark days of the pro-Nazi Vichy regime that ruled France during World War II.
“#BalanceTonPorc feels excessive because it’s an invitation to denounce someone — to name and shame," she said. “On the other hand, #MeToo is more balanced and positive because it invites women to speak out and break the taboo, to show that sexual harassment is unacceptable.”
Regardless of whether French women consider #BalanceTonPorc too harsh, many say they refuse to remain silent about harassment.
“As a woman, I have had to face shocking behavior like a man rubbing against me in the metro and, during a stint working in television, inappropriate behavior by a prominent personality,” said Parisian fashion designer Eve de Rothiacob, 42.
Still, the backlash has arguably gone too far.
Deneuve felt compelled to distance herself from one person who signed the open letter when Brigitte Lahaie, a former pornographic actress turned radio host, claimed on national television that rape victims enjoyed the experience.
In a letter to Liberation newspaper, Deneuve reiterated her position but made clear that she didn’t sanction violence. “I think the solution lies in educating both our sons and daughters,” Deneuve wrote. “But also, potentially, in setting up procedures in the workplace so that prosecution is immediately set in motion in cases of harassment. I believe in justice.”
Despite laws against sexual harassment, many French victims, as in the United States, hesitate to come forward because they fear their complaints won’t be taken seriously.
Only 65 out of 1,048 cases of sexual harassment in France led to a conviction in 2014, according to a 2016 study by French pollster IFOP using the latest figures available.
“Women who complain to the police often face questions about their motives, their clothes or whether it’s really a case of sexual harassment,” said attorney Arnaud Touati in Paris. “I think it’s on this front that the movement can have a positive impact and bring change.”