Sexual harassment in France: ‘When someone wolf-whistles you… you can give him a slap’

It's not the cat-callers who are the problem, it's the abuse by powerful men, says ex-French Minister.

Sexual harassment in France: 'When someone wolf-whistles you... you can give him a slap'
Rachida Dati. Photo: AFP

Former French minister Rachida Dati on Wednesday urged tougher action against sexual harassment, saying efforts should target powerful abusers rather than “street harassment.”

With the issue in the headlines after a string of allegations against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein going back decades, Dati demanded
political efforts targeting “men in power” who she said should face “really heavy” punishment.

“This story (concerning Weinstein), shows as ever how the elites protect their own backs,” she told France's BFMTV.

“We criticise those in the suburbs — those boys who stop girls dressing the way they want. But here we have something much more serious,” said Dati,
minister of justice under former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“People want to legislate on street harassment. But frankly when someone wolf-whistles you … you can give him a slap if you want.

“What annoys me is this abuse by powerful men towards women who sometimes have no choice” but to give in, said Dati, a lawmaker in the European
Parliament and also active in Parisian politics.

Dati, who has long called for action against sexism and elitism in French politics, also referred to the case of French former International Monetary
Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned in 2011 after becoming embroiled in a sexual assault case brought by a hotel maid.

Dati said she was incredulous that widely rumoured allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour had not come to light earlier via the media.

“Weren't journalists aware of his behaviour? Let's be honest, everyone was talking about it.

“Punishments really have to be harsh, very harsh against abusers who use their power or their money,”concluded Dati.


Men in France to face on the spot fines for sexually harassing women


The woman behind France’s #MeToo in court accused of slander

The woman behind France's answer to the #MeToo campaign exposing abusive behaviour by men was to appear in court on Wednesday accused of slandering a media executive who she said had made lewd remarks.

The woman behind France's #MeToo in court accused of slander
US based French journalist Sandra Muller. Photo: AFP

Sandra Muller, a US-based French journalist, is being sued for defamation by senior French TV executive Eric Brion at a Paris court over a Twitter post accusing him of humiliating her with vulgar comments.

Both Muller and Brion, a media consultant and former head of TV channel Equidia, are expected to be in court when the hearing starts on Wednesday afternoon.


Muller started a viral hashtag in French in October 2018, #balancetonporc (“expose your pig”), which called on Frenchwomen to name and shame men in an echo of the #MeToo movement that began in response to allegations that toppled movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

In her Twitter post, she told of how Brion had humiliated her, saying: “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night.” 

The post led to an outpouring of tales of harassment and assault, which were hailed as ending a culture of permissiveness in France towards unwanted advances.

After apologising for his remarks, Brion nonetheless decided to launch legal action against her.

He is asking for €50,000 in damages, €15,000 in legal fees and the deletion of the tweet where his name is mentioned.

“This is someone who acknowledged initially unacceptable conduct, who said sorry, and then suddenly decided to go to court,” said one of Muller's lawyers, Francis Spinzer, before the start of the trial.

But Eric Brion contends that two tweets in particular sent by Muller presents him as a “sexual predator”, said his lawyer Nicolas Benoit.

“It is denunciation. At no time did he have the chance to defend himself.”

In an op-ed in Le Monde newspaper late last year, Brion admitted making “inappropriate remarks to Sandra Muller” at a cocktail party.

But he also accused Muller of “deliberately creating ambiguity about what happened” by linking it to the response to the Weinstein affair.

He complained of the severe personal and professional consequences of what he said was a “conflation of heavy-handed flirting and sexual harassment in the workplace”.

Many Frenchwomen made public their experiences of abusive behaviour by men in the wake of the #MeToo and #balancetonporc movements.

But there has also been controversy.

Last year a group of prominent French women, led by film star Catherine Deneuve, complained that the campaign against harassment had become “puritanical” and they defended the right of men to “hit on” women.