‘Revolting’: French feminists hit back at actress Deneuve over defense of sleazy men

French feminists and female politicians have been left outraged over Catherine Deneuve's defense of sleazy men in an open letter published on Tuesday which denounced the #Metoo campaign and argued it has resulted in "a hatred of men and sexuality".

'Revolting': French feminists hit back at actress Deneuve over defense of sleazy men
Catherine Deneuve with Roman Polanski in 2017. Photo: AFP
In an open letter in Le Monde newspaper they claimed that the “witch-hunt” that has followed threatens sexual freedom and has prompted “a hatred of men and sexuality”.
“Rape is a crime but insistent or clumsy flirting is not, nor is gallantry a macho aggression,” said the letter signed by women including Catherine Millet, author of the explicit 2002 memoir 'The Sexual Life of Catherine M' and French actress Catherine Robbe-Grillet.
Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long for French feminists including rights groups, politicians, activists, as well as the public to hit back at the actress best known for her role as a bored housewife who spends her afternoons as a prostitute in Luis Bunuel classic 1967 film, “Belle du Jour”.
Sexual harassment: Thousands of French women take to streets to say #MeToo
Militant French feminist Caroline De Haas responded to the letter with her own which was co-signed by 30 activists. 
“The women who signed the letter in Le Monde are for the most part repeat offenders in the defense of pedophiles and apologists for rape.
“They are once again using their media visibility to trivialize sexual violence. They hold contempt for the millions of women who are suffering or have suffered violence,” said De Haas.  
The feminists' letter responded to specific points in the original for example the worry that the current wave of feminism “risks going too far”. 
“As soon as the equality advances, even half a millimeter, good souls immediately alert us to the fact that we risk falling into excess. Excess, we are right in it. It is the world in which we live. In France, every day, hundreds of thousands of women are victims of harassment. Tens of thousands of sexual assaults. And hundreds of rapes. Every day,” the feminists said. 
And to the suggestion that flirting doesn't count as sexual aggression, they had their answer ready. 
“The signatories of the letter deliberately confuse a relationship of seduction, based on respect and pleasure, with violence.”
“This is not a difference between flirting and harassing but a difference in nature. Violence is not 'heightened seduction'.” 
French feminist collective Osez le Feminisme also responded to the letter with outrage, tweeting: “Revolting. In the face of current awareness, women are defending the impunity of the aggressors and attack feminists.”
Spokesperson for the group Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu said in an interview with BFM TV: “What a shame! What a mess! There are so many more important things to do at this moment — more solidarity!”
She went on to say that the contrast between the letter and “Time's Up” — the movement against sexual harassment founded in 2018 in response to the Weinstein effect and #MeToo — was terribly cruel.
Also on Twitter, the former Minister of Women's Rights Laurence Rossignol regretted “this strange dread of no longer existing without the gaze and desire of men” which “drives intelligent women to write huge nonsense.”
French politician and prominent member of the Socialist Party Ségolène Royal also joined the wave of criticism, expressing her disappointment at Deneuve. 
“Too bad our great Catherine Deneuve is part of this appalling letter,” tweeted Royal , addressing her “thoughts to victims of sexual violence, crushed by the fear of talking about it.”
For some however, the letter merely highlighted the difference between “Anglo Saxon” feminism and “French feminism”, which was tweeted by French writer Agnes Poirier (see below).
Poirier later added: “Am rather against 'the right to pester', however, many good arguments in 100 French women’s public letter.”
And reaction to the letter wasn't confined to France, with people around the world stepping in to condemn (and some praise) the words of the 100 high profile French women. 
Italian actress, singer, model, and director Asia Argento, one of the early accusers of Weinstein tweeted: “Catherine Deneuve and other French women tell the world how their interiorized misogyny has lobotomized them to the point of no return”. 
The #Metoo campaign began in the US in response to the plethora of abuse allegations against film mogul Harvey Weinstein and was quickly copied in France, where many women used the #Balancetonporc (expose your pig) hashtag to share tales of harassment.
But for the signatories of the letter, “Instead of helping women, this frenzy to send these (male chauvinist) 'pigs' to the abattoir actually helps the enemies of sexual liberty — religious extremists and the worst sort of reactionaries,” the collective of women who signed the letter said.
Author of 'The Sexual Life of Catherine M', Catherine Millet. Photo: AFP
At the end of October Deneuve made her position clear on the recent wave of allegations and the campaign which followed.
“I do not think it's the most appropriate way to get things moving,” she said. “I find that the terms being used are very excessive. I really don't think it will solve the problem.”
“After 'Calling our your pig' what are we going to have, 'Call our your whore?'” she said.
Deneuve sparked an outcry last March for her fulsome support of French-based director Roman Polanski, who is still wanted in the United States for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
While his victim Samantha Geimer wants the case dropped so she can get on with her life, Deneuve told French television that “she always found the word 'rape' excessive” in the circumstances.
The French broadcasting watchdog later called her comments “retrograde”.

“We can not flirt anymore.” The signatories of the tribune deliberately mix a relationship of seduction, based on respect and pleasure, with violence. To mix everything is very practical. This puts everything in the same bag. Basically, if the harassment or aggression is “heavy drag” is that it is not so serious. The signatories are wrong. This is not a difference in degree between dragging and harassing but a difference in nature. Violence is not “increased seduction”. On one side, we consider the other as his equal, respecting his desires, whoever they are. On the other, as an object available, without making any case of his own wishes or his consent.


Strike calls in France on International Women’s Day

Men and women are being called on to finish work at 3.40pm on Monday to highlight the gender pay gap, one of many actions and demonstrations taking place around France to mark International Women's Day.

Strike calls in France on International Women's Day
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

Several organisations and unions are calling for a strike to denounce pay inequality.

“On March the 8th, we will be on strike along with women all over the world to refuse to pay the price of the crisis with our jobs, our salaries, our bodies,” several unions including the CGT, FSU and Solidaires said in a press conference.

The objective is to denounce the gender pay gap that continues to impair women’s rights, but also to denounce the unfair burden that the past year’s health crisis has put on women.

“The lockdowns have been very heavy burdens on women for the past year, whether it’s in the health, work or home environments, increase in domestic violence. Not to mention the large amount of predominantly female jobs that have continued to maintained a level of normality during the lockdown,” the co-secretary general of FSU, Murielle Guilbert, told Les Echos.

The below map shows the actions planned around the country on Monday.

In Paris, a demonstration will start in Port-Royal at 1pm and move towards the Place de la République.

Organisations including Osez le féminisme, Les Effrontées and Unef have called women as well as men to go on strike on Monday from 3:40pm, in order to denounce the gender pay gap.

For a full list of actions around the country, click here.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised by a junior minister for having only one woman among his closest advisers.

“I told him ‘Mr President, you are not giving a good example,” Elisabeth Moreno, a junior minister in charge of gender equality, told French media on Sunday.

She declined to say how the 43-year-old reacted, but she praised him for making gender equality a public priority and for ensuring balanced governments throughout his time in office.

Every cabinet since Macron came to power in 2017 has featured equal numbers of men and women, although both prime ministers have been male and the majority of the top cabinet jobs are currently held by men.

Macron has also been criticised for appointing Gérald Darmanin as his interior minister – the man nominally in charge of the country’s police force – while he is under investigation for rape.