The revered French actor Catherine Deneuve has hit out at a new “puritanism” sparked by sexual harassment scandals, declaring that men should be “free to hit on” women. Deneuve was one 100 female French writers, performers and academics who wrote an open letter to French newspaper Le Monde deploring the wave of “denunciations” that has followed claims that the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein raped and sexually assaulted women over decades. They write the “witch-hunt” that followed threatens sexual freedom, and remind the reader that “rape is a crime, but insistent or clumsy flirting is not an offense, nor is gallantry macho aggression.”
The full letter, translated into English, is available to read here.
Bravo to Ms Deneuve. It’s stimulating to see a classical French perspective on sexual politics after months of having American notions of female “empowerment” shoved down our throats, and it’s refreshing to remember that those in the entertainment industry don’t all buy in to Hollywood’s puritanical virtue signalling.
She is right. Since the #MeToo movement took off a few months ago an invisible barrier has been erected between men – the powerful perpetrators of abuse – and women – their meek and mild victims.
As a woman who has (fortunately) never been subjected to the kind of harassment which set off the #MeTooers, I’m left bemused by the delicate way I’m now being treated by men who I consider equals.
After some vaguely flirty chatter at a party, I woke up to a string of texts apology texts from a guy clearly terrified I might report him to the police for making me “feel uncomfortable”. On a bus the other day, a drunk young man who was (respectfully) complimenting me was dragged away by a grovelling friend worried I might be offended. And most bizarrely of all, a male friend – with whom I normally have good “banter” – apologised for using the word “banter” in my presence, in case I was of the view that it’s a term “used by men to justify inappropriate behaviour”.
These minor incidents are symptomatic of a bigger issue: men are becoming afraid of women. For one brand of idealist feminists, this may sound ideal but for the rest of us – who work and socialise with men – it’s a nightmare.
Setting aside the arguments themselves, though, the very fact that the eloquent, articulate and oh-so-French letter was written and published at all is cause for celebration. The American method of articulating womanhood (perfectly exemplified by #MeToo) suits some women, but it doesn’t suit all – and it’s good to remember that there is feminism outside the narrow constraints of Hollywood right-thinking.
With the help of a confident President (who, incidentally, has just given a horse to President Xi as a symbol of “French excellence”), it seems that the French are finally recovering a confidence in their cultural identity which has been hidden for several decades. And if Ms Deneuve’s letter is anything to go by, I, for one, am looking forward to seeing more of it.