• France's news in English
 

Hero of French fathers, or 'macho misogynist'?

Published: 21 Feb 2013 20:56 GMT+01:00

Who's Serge Charnay?

Serge Charnay is a 42-year-old man from Nantes in western France who spent three nights and four days suspended on a crane this week, to protest for the right to visit his six-year-old son Benoit.

Tell me more.

Well, Charnay has been engaged in a bit of a one-man mission for the last 18 months, after he was accused of kidnapping his son in 2011, and denied all visitation rights since then. When he and wife got divorced in 2009, a family court gave Charnay custody of Benoit on one out of every three weekends. But in 2011 Charnay took his son to Ardèche, a picturesque region of south-central France, but didn’t bring him back for two whole months. He had already been warned after a similar incident in 2010 and his ex-wife accused him of kidnapping Benoit. Charnay lost all custody rights and was later sentenced to a year in prison, and served four months, for threatening his ex-wife and attacking her father.

So what happened this week?

Last Friday morning, February 15th, Charnay climbed a 43-metre crane in Nantes, unfurled a banner reading “Benoit – two years without his dad”, and painted “Save our children from the courts” onto the front of the crane itself.

He refused to come down until a meeting had been held between France’s justice minister Christiane Taubira, and a number of organizations dedicated to the rights of fathers. Charnay sent intermittent texts to the media, and held phone conversations with journalists on live TV. He declined offers of food, water and medicine, but for a few hours on Saturday he did have the company of his friend Nicolas Moreno, another father seeking custody of his two sons.

How did it all end?

Well, on Monday a meeting did take place between Minister for Justice Christiane Taubira, Minister for Families Dominique Bertinotti, and a few fathers’ rights organizations, primarily two groups called SOS Papa (‘SOS Dad’) and SVP Papa (‘Please, Dad’).

The meeting didn’t resolve the problems of French parental custody laws – France Inter radio called it ‘stormy and disappointing’ – but it was enough to persuade Serge Charnay to descend from the crane which had, for one week, become France’s most photographed structure.

What has the reaction been like in France toward Serge Charnay?

Sharply divided. Over the weekend, there was a lot of sympathy for him, and the ‘courage’ of his dramatic gesture. He had the backing of the SVP Papa group, for example. However, as revelations began to emerge on Sunday and Monday about Charnay’s past legal violations, and a possible propensity towards violence, the tone of media reports began to shift.


Photo: Charnay at an SVP Papa protest in Nantes on February 20th. Frank Perry/AFP

Some have associated Charnay with an anti-feminist, or even misogynist streak within the fathers’ rights movement, and the wider ‘masculinist’ movement. On Tuesday, a video emerged on the internet of SVP Papa members from the north of France singing a song with crude, vulgar lyrics and the chorus “toutes les femmes puent, il n’y a que les hommes qui sentent bon” (literally, “all women stink, only men smell good.”)

As soon as he came down from the crane on Monday afternoon, Charnay launched an attack on what he called “the women who govern us.” One of them, family minister Dominique Bertinotti responded by saying, “I can’t prevent misogynistic, macho opinions – there are too many of them out there,” according to weekly magazine L’Express.

What’s been the impact of his actions this week?

He has started a debate in France – about parental custody in particular, and the rights and roles of men and women, in general. It has since been revealed for example that in France, 72% of divorces result in sole custody of children for the mother. On Wednesday, L’Express posed the question, “Serge Charnay: tearful father, or masculinist figurehead?”

He has also inspired other men to similar protests. On Saturday night an estranged father in the western town of Saintes climbed on to the roof of his apartment in protest, and threatened to jump off, before safely descending at 1am. The next morning, yet another father, who had been denied contact with his son for three years, scaled a crane in Strasbourg and stayed there for two hours.

What one moment sums him up?

It has to be his descent – to sparse applause – from the crane in Nantes on Monday afternoon. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either a tragic moment of delusional self-defeat, a triumphant illustration of one man’s love for his child, or the inevitable end of a manipulative misogynist’s 15 minutes of fame.

What do others say about him?

“Serge Charnay is solely responsible for the breakdown of his parental rights, and his so-called fight mustn’t be confused with that of the many fathers who are unjustly kept away from their children,” Sandrine Caron, lawyer for Charnay’s ex-wife was quoted as saying in French daily Le Monde.

What does he have to say for himself?

“What annoys me most is that the cause of dads is not heard, and that the women who govern us make fun of us. We’re going to have fight them even harder. These lovely ladies still think we can’t change a baby’s nappy or take care of them,” Charnay was quoted as saying in Rue 89.
 

The Local's 'French face of the week' is a person in the news who - for good or ill - has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French face of the week is not necessarily an endorsement.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Paris: Phone porn fears after pupils fondle girls
Smartphones are becoming increasingly popular among pupils in France. Photo: AFP

Paris: Phone porn fears after pupils fondle girls

A prestigious Paris secondary school has been hit by scandal after schoolboys resorted to groping girls after having watched porn on their phones during their lunch breaks. The incidents have prompted a debate around the impact of porn and whether smartphones should be banned in schools. READ  

Opinion - Britain in Europe
'It's time to talk up what Europe has brought UK'
it's time to talk up what Europe has done for Britain, says the president of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce in Paris. Photo: Flickr/Kelham Neelanraju

'It's time to talk up what Europe has brought UK'

As a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU looks set to be announced in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, the President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce in Paris, Bob Lewis appeals for the pro-European voices to be heard. READ  

Anger as France looks set to scrap train lines
Numerous train lines linking cities across France could soon be removed. Photo: AFP

Anger as France looks set to scrap train lines

A controversial report published in France on Tuesday urges the government to scrap numerous train lines that link the country’s cities as well as several night trains. It's been described by critics as an "aberration'. READ  

The ten Paris streets you just have to walk down
How many of these unforgettable streets have YOU seen? Photo: Loïc Lagarde/Flickr

The ten Paris streets you just have to walk down

Paris is best explored on foot - so we asked the experts at Localers walking tours to come up with a list of the most unmissable streets in the French capital. See how many you have walked along. (No, the Champs Elysées is not one of them). READ  

Pupil rings French PM Valls for homework help
Prime Minister Manuel Valls speaks on the telephone. Photo: AFP

Pupil rings French PM Valls for homework help

A 16-year-old Parisian pupil ignored Wikipedia and Google and decided instead to call the personal mobile phone of France's prime minister Manuel Valls in an attempt to get some inside help for a school presentation on politics. READ  

Amazon to pay taxes on sales in France
Amazon is among several large companies under the spotlight in Europe over tax deals. Photo: AFP

Amazon to pay taxes on sales in France

US online retail giant Amazon announced that it has begun declaring sales made in France, meaning it will no longer only be paying European taxes in Luxembourg. READ  

British woman bites off French reveller's thumb
The incident took place on the streets of Brest, western France. Photo: Andrew Nash/Flickr

British woman bites off French reveller's thumb

A fight outside a nightclub in a town in western France took a turn for the bizarre when a woman from the UK reportedly bit a local woman's thumb clean off. READ  

Alps murders: Ex-soldier emerges as chief suspect
French prosecutor Eric Maillaud speaking to reporters shortly after the murders. Photo: AFP

Alps murders: Ex-soldier emerges as chief suspect

A new book about the brutal 2012 murders of a British-Iraqi family and a French cyclist in the Alps has revealed that a former soldier in the French Foreign Legion has been identified as the number one suspect. READ  

US fighter jets escort Air France flight after threat
An Air France flight from Paris to New York had to be escorted by US fighter jets after a bogus terrorist threat. Photo: Lcarus/flickr

US fighter jets escort Air France flight after threat

US warplanes were scrambled to escort an Air France passenger jet flying from Paris to New York on Monday, following one of several threats against commercial aircraft that proved to be unfounded. READ  

French baker 'tried to kill girlfriend with rolling pin'
Photo: Freeimages

French baker 'tried to kill girlfriend with rolling pin'

A baker has been arrested near the southern French city of Nice for allegedly attempting to kill his waitress girlfriend with a rolling pin, prosecutors said on Monday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Take a tour of the best Metro stations that Paris has to offer
National
Soon there'll be a fixed fare for a taxi ride from the airport into Paris
National
Drug dealers in Marseille are offering customers loyalty cards
Soon there'll be no minimum for using your bank card in France
Features
Eurovision is around the corner - and we don't fancy France's chances
Features
Fancy starting a business and living in Paris? There's help available
National
Are you fearing a Brexit? Maybe it's time to become a French citizen
How hard-up French are tempted by money to take migrants to the UK
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Education
More English words (including 'le selfie') sneak into French
Charlie Hebdo to give €4.3m to attack victims
National
French Protestants bless gay marriage
Opinion
Why elitism is dragging France down
Features
RECIPE: How to make your own picnic-perfect meringues
Business & Money
French tax declaration deadline: Key things to remember
VIDEO: Can YOU pronounce the trickiest word in French?
France tops holiday wish list for children
National
Study: Women do bulk of housework in France
National
VIDEO: Police use force on Calais migrants
National
This man is France's Instagram king. But who else makes the top list?
Features
Free museum entry, film festivals, sports... see What's On this in May
Culture
Behind the curtain: A closer look at the Cannes Film Festival
National
It's a boy! Baby born on Air France flight to Paris
Features
Love-locked: Whatever happened to Paris's beautiful bridges?
'Forget the UK election, expats should be able to vote in France'
Thomas Piketty backs Miliband for Britain but not Hollande for France
Gallery
The most spectacular sunset pictures from around France
National
France tells migrants in Calais to 'forget the UK and stay here'
Who's to blame? Trial after Frenchman dies downing 56 shots
Society
VIDEO: See what's beneath the surface of the French Riviera
National
French teen suicide after sex video web bullying
France launches bid to buy Europe's biggest and most spectacular dune
Business & Money
Why May 2015 is the best month in years to work in France
Five great outdoor bars in Paris to check out this summer
Double standards? French Muslim barred from class over long skirt
National
France goes on the defensive after UN experts say 'racism is trivialised'
Five reasons we should be worried about France's new snooping laws
International
The French don't seem to care about the UK election and that's normal
Culture
Only in France? Naked comedian stuns French culture minister
Migrant camps spring up in the heart of Paris
International
France bags another fighter jet deal but should Paris thank the US?
Society
French elevator protocol: Greeting, flirting and yes, even sex
Travel
Getting from CDG airport to Paris by road should now be a lot quicker
Politics
Why all the dodgy ties? A French view of the UK general election
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se