‘I’m sick of the way my fellow Frenchmen treat women’

Sex jokes, watching pornography in the office and degrading comments to female colleagues - one male French employee has spoken out about the shocking culture at his workplace.

'I'm sick of the way my fellow Frenchmen treat women'
Sexual harassment is endemic in some workplaces. Photo: Rawpixel/Depositphotos

Overhearing a constant stream of sexist comments is just an average day at work for one 36-year-old electrician employed at a large French company in the south of the country.

He said: “In any other country a person would get a written warning or even be dismissed for behaving in this way at work, but the French don't seem to understand that.”

In the aftermath of several stories about sexual harassment in France, we asked our readers whether the problem is really any worse in France than other countries.


Sexual harassment in the workplace. Photo<a 56387987="""" href="Depositphotos 

We received plenty of responses from women talking about their experiences, but also from one man who wanted to share his disgust at how too many of his fellow Frenchmen act towards women, both in the workplace and on the street. We've have not published his name to protect him from reprisals from his employers.

He said: “I’ve lived in two other countries for over eight years and travelled to a few other countries in Europe.

“You do hear sexual  jokes there but not to the extent you do in France. In France the sexual ‘jokes’ are taken to another level, very descriptive and socially inappropriate, disrespectful and unethical. 

“Just recently, a new female colleague asked for guidance on a specific task she needed to do, two of my male colleagues then went on to say “oh you will have to suck our dicks if you want our help”, along with gestures.

“This rude banter continued for about 10 minutes. Everyone else in the room finds this kind of banter funny, and no one really bats an eyelash. 

“Our superiors all know that some people in our section have a bad reputation when it comes to verbal sexual harassment but no does anything about it. No one ever gets reprimanded about it. Its just generally accepted, even by the women. 
“I find that whenever a women tries to be part of the conversation she is immediately cut off by a rude sexual comment. No matter how innocent her comment is it will always be turned into something explicitly sexual or degrading. 
“All of this is fueled by them watching pornographic videos and images on their phones at work, sharing it with others and being viewed as odd if you don't participate. 
“Sexual comments are made towards women, every day within hearing distance of them, for example, “oh look at that tight butt” or “oh look at her tits”, all in close proximity of the person – obviously for them to be able to hear.”  
As well as witnessing sexist behaviour in his workplace, the electrician also says it is common in the streets in France.
“In general in France, if a group of men gather in the street and a woman passes by, a sexual comment will be made loud enough for the woman to hear – especially in the big cities like Paris, Marseille and Lyon. 
“My wife, who is not French, is often shocked when sexual comments are made even in front of children, with no regard. It seems that children are taught from a young age that it is acceptable to speak this way.” 

His views were backed by many readers of The Local who responded to our survey on their experiences of sexual harassment in France.

One woman reported: “One time, waiting to cross the street, a man walking by behind me put his hand up my dress and squeezed my butt, then kept walking. Men also don’t take no for an answer here, I’ve been stalked and harassed when refusing to give my number.”

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The Paris Metro was singled out as a place where sexual harassment is common. Photo: AFP

Another Paris resident added that she thought that France was the “worst of any Western country, though also Germany (Berlin) has become creepy. In Italy there is the same level of uninvited attention, but presented in a way that feels more charming than threatening.”

Also in Paris, a reader added: “French men are a nightmare – they treat women in general like sport. The women here are so used to it they barely question it. I am not a fan.”

Angela, 30, who lives in Paris said: “I had a phone call where the caller was unknown calling from Private Number and saying my name and masturbating. This is the first time this has happened to me.”

Emily, who lives in Avignon, added: “I experience sexual harassment on average maybe once a week, usually in the street or on the train to work.”

But other readers said they felt that although French men were more overt in their attentions, they were not threatening;

A Paris woman added: “French guys won't hesitate to ask for your phone number and compliment you. But they usually stop if you don't cooperate.”

And Bonnie Bruent from Le Havre said that in her view: “The French are more polite and less aggressive than the men in other European nations.”

Our survey came in response to an article from a French journalist, who wrote a piece asking whether sexual harassment in France is really worse than elsewhere, and why the MeToo movement had received such a frosty reception in France.

BBC journalist Hélène Daouphars said: “In terms of abuse against women, the statistics in France aren't good. According to a study for France's High Council for Women's Equality in 2015, 100 per cent of women who use public transport in the Paris region say they have faced sexual harassment.

“And according to another 2015 study by the Défenseur Des Droits institute 80 per cent of working women say they regularly face sexist decisions or attitudes at work – but 60 per cent decide not to say anything because they fear what consequences that could have on their careers.”


New app aims to protect women in France against sexual harassment

An app to help protect women against sexual harassment in the streets is now being rolled out across France after a successful trial in Marseille.

New app aims to protect women in France against sexual harassment
Photo: AFP

The Garde Ton Corps (protect your body) app was developed by yoga teacher Pauline Vanderquand in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence after she and her friends experienced harassment and assaults on the streets.

She told French newspaper Le Parisien: “It all started with a personal story. I was followed in the street, I asked for help at an institution and they wouldn't let me in. A little later, a friend was assaulted. I got really fed up, the next day I started the app project, too many stories of harassment were coming back to me.”

After help from the police and mairie (town hall) in Aix she then expanded the app to Marseille, where 20,000 people downloaded it in in the week of its launch in March.

Lockdown then delayed her plans, but the app is now available across France to download on Android, and will be available for iPhones later in August.

READ ALSO The 8 smartphone apps that make life in France a bit easier


The app has several functions.

The first 'I'm going home' allows users to transmit the geolocation of your route home to trusted people in your contacts book, using the phone's location services.

The second 'help me' is for use in an emergency situation, if there is a problem a pre-loaded alert message is sent via test-message to selected contacts in your address book, giving your location and the amount of battery left on your phone.

For those in selected locations there is also the 'safe places' option, which gives a list of establishments, usually bars, that have partnered with the app offering themselves as a safe space where women can go if they are being followed or harassed in the street.

Pauline has already partnered with several establishments in Aix and Marseille and is now working on getting Paris bars signed up to the app, helped her by ambassador in the area Anita Mas.

Bars or other establishments register themselves with the app as a 'safe space' and users can then find the nearest safe space to them in case of problems.

The app is free to download but bars and other partners pay a fee to register themselves, which goes towards helping the development of the app.

Amokrane Messous, manager of the Le Mondial bar in the 10th arrondissement, is one of those who has signed up.

He said: “The concept is interesting because in this neighborhood, after a certain time, there are security problems. Some people may feel uncomfortable. For women, it's a real plus to know that they can find a safe place.”

READ ALSO Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?


Street harassment is a long-standing problem in France, with public transport a particular problem.

A study in 2017 showed that at least 267,000 people, mostly women, were sexually abused on public transport in France over a two-year period.

In 2018 France brought it a new law that punishes sexual harassment in public spaces.

The new law allows for on-the-spot fines for behaviour including comments on a woman's looks or clothing, catcalling, intrusive questions, unwanted following and “upskirting” – taking pictures under a woman's dress without her knowing.