• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Hero of French fathers, or 'macho misogynist'?

Dan MacGuill · 21 Feb 2013, 20:56

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?

Story continues below…

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 luxury hotel told to pay up after guest molests cleaner

A cleaner who was molested at a Paris luxury hotel by a Qatari guest has reportedly been awarded €57,000.

Frenchman leading Brexit negotiations starts new job
Photo: AFP

Frenchman Michel Barnier officially starts work as the European Commission's Brexit negotiator on Saturday in an appointment that British media called a "declaration of war".

VIDEO: Frenchman goes on iPhone-smashing rampage
Photo: YouTube Screenshot

Meet France's angriest Apple customer.

Nuit Blanche: Get set for an all-night party in Paris
Photo: La Nuit Blanche

Will YOU be heading down to the Seine on Saturday?

France told there's no more money for TGVs
High speed TGV trains parked in Lille. Photo: AFP

A report from the French senate has recommended that three planned high speed rail networks be scrapped.

Frenchman surfs again after shark bites off his leg
All photos: AFP

Meet the amputee Frenchman who is surfing again he was attacked by a shark.

Paris motorists to fund city's public transport system
Photo: AFP

Motorists in the Ile-de-France region will be hit by a tax rise in order to finance the city's trains and buses.

More French women becoming mothers after 40
French mums are getting older. File photo: Pexels

French mums are getting older, but the overall birthrate has fallen.

Paris police bust high-rolling gang of pram thieves
Photo: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

A gang of thieves has been caught after they pinched an estimated €100,000 worth of prams.

French banned from 'Mona Lisa smile' on photo IDs
You can forget a smile like this on your passport photo.

The French are going to have to remain grumpy-looking, at least on their passport photos.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
It's official: France finally gets its new map
National
VIDEOS: France's raunchiest TV commercials of all time
Sexism at the wheel: France wants more women drivers
Society
Lifestyle
VIDEO: Is life on a French café terrace really this bad?
Society
Only in France: 'Drive slowly - grape juice on the roads'
Society
Saudi princess 'told guard to kill Paris decorator'
Education
Why are foreign students in France 'Europe's unhappiest'?
Education
The troubles with French universities laid bare
Culture
The crazy French writing phrases you can't get your head around
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
2,736
jobs available