Deneuve feminist row sparks yet more soul-searching in France
Catherine Deneuve's bashing of the "Me Too" movement rippled around the world and has unleashed soul-searching at home over a culture that has long accepted flirting, welcome or not, with a Gallic shrug.
Published: 12 January 2018 09:01 CET
France's most revered actress was among 100 prominent women to sign a letter in Le Monde this week defending a man's right to “bother” women, complaining that the campaign against harassment had become “puritanical”.
For hordes of young feminists taking to the internet, 74-year-old Deneuve's defence of men who flirt insistently — even when such attentions are unwanted — are the words of a generation that has had its time.
“Their world is disappearing,” some 30 activists wrote in a riposte, comparing the letter to “a tired old uncle who doesn't understand what is happening”.
Deneuve and dozens of other performers, writers and academics argued that women should not have to feel guilty about being an object of sexual pleasure.
Women complaining of being traumatised after a man rubs up against them on the metro, they added, should just get over it.
And the idea of someone being forced to resign “just” for touching a woman's knee or trying to plant a kiss is for them outrageous.
For some readers abroad, these comments fit comfortably with cliches of France as a nation that revels in the art of seduction.
But New Yorker correspondent Lauren Collins was among those urging foreigners to resist attributing the letter “to some innately French point of view”.
She noted that France's answer to the “Me Too” hashtag, “BalanceTonPorc” or “Squeal on your pig”, had led to a similarly prolific outpouring of tales of harassment — though far fewer high-profile figures have been named and shamed.
France, where surveys suggest at least half of all women have suffered some form of harassment, is no stranger to public debates over how to tackle everything from persistent catcalling to rampant domestic abuse.
The government announced new legislation against harassment in October, with President Emmanuel Macron denouncing a society that was “riddled with sexism” in November as the Me Too campaign gained pace.
In 2011 rape accusations against former IMF chief Dominic Strauss-Kahn revealed that the Frenchman had long had a reputation as a sexual predator — raising questions over how such behaviour went quietly tolerated for so long.
Sociologists say that if there is anything specifically French about the Deneuve row, it is the letter's defence of apparently “gallant” men who, its signatories argue, should be freely allowed to pursue the opposite sex.
“We're a bit 'poisoned' in France, in inverted commas, by this idea of gallantry as an expression of French culture and civilisation,” cultural historian Michelle Perrot told AFP.
For supporters, this idea of the red-blooded Frenchman who seeks to charm every woman around him is held up as positive, she said.
“It's an interesting and brilliant myth, but it covers at its heart a specific kind of domination of men over women in our country.”
Francoise Picq, a historian of feminism, said this culture of “gallantry a la francaise” had roots that go back centuries.
“Since the Middle Ages, we've called this 'courtly love' — a poetic tradition of writing verse about women, of putting them on a pedestal,” she said.
She blasted this tradition as “perverse”, discouraging women from rising up and encouraging them to see themselves instead as prized possessions.
On the contrary, Deneuve and her co-signers argue that it is the Me Too movement that encourages women to see themselves as victims.
The actress has found support in many corners, including from some men.
“What I like is that women are speaking out to say what men have not been able to say for months — that we are not all pigs,” the writer Frederic Beigbeder told France Inter radio.
But the letter has exposed something of a generational divide, with many younger feminists saying she does not speak for them.
The open letter written in riposte to Deneuve, and published by France Info online, has gone similarly viral.
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.
Published: 8 March 2021 08:57 CET
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.
📣 le 8 mars, c'est des évènements dans toute la France 📣
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.
French daily @libe has caused uproar by choosing a letter written by a rapist on its on #WomensDay front page. "Samuel", 20, initially contacted the newsroom through an email titled "J’ai violé. Vous violez. Nous violons" (I have raped. You rape. We rape). https://t.co/WhwDs7M7Mu