I logged on to Elle magazine yesterday, hyped and ready to fire off a feisty email to the editor complaining about the offensive remarks made by French film director, François Ozon, at the Cannes film festival, when – to my surprise and delight – I saw that an uproar had already begun and the e-mails were pouring in from irate women. Hooray! French women have finally woken up! This is indeed good news. Up until now, it was always someone of a different nationality (usually me) who had to complain about the sexist attitudes in this country. Why? Because French women had a tendency to keep quiet over such matters. (I’m convinced it’s because of a system of patriarchal Catholic rule which indoctrinates docility and lies at the foundation of French schooling here.)
I don’t do docile.
So what were the offensive remarks of François Ozon, Parisian film director? While in Cannes promoting his new film entitled Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful), a story about a 17-year girl from an affluent Parisian family who decides to prostitute herself “for fun“, Ozon said to reporters: “It’s a fantasy of many women to do prostitution.”
Oh, really? And whose fantasy might this be? Yours or women’s?
I don’t recall fantasizing about being a prostitute when I was 17. I was too busy going to high school, working part-time two evenings a week and all day Saturday at Woolco department store and having fun like any normal, balanced 17-year old. Recreational marijuana-smoking was about as far as I went, not recreational prostitution.
The feminist group FEMEN tweeted that it would like to present Ozon with the “2013 Golden Asshole Award”.
What’s most insulting, aside from the obvious, is Ozon’s apparent frivolity as he trivializes prostitution. Tragically, men, women and children the world over must resort to prostitution in order to survive. Drive a car one night through the notorious Bois de Boulogne, situated 20 minutes from my apartment, and you’ll see prostitutes who, I’m guessing, would be baffled by Mr. Ozon’s film. Had Ozon taken the subject matter seriously, he could have done a different kind of film that addresses the reality of prostitution: at least it would be credible. But he doesn’t have the honesty to do such a project. His empty film depicting a minor as a whore because she wants to “feel alive”, is sheer voyeurism; pure macho fantasy founded on nothing more than salaciousness. Lay claim to your own fantasies, Monsieur Ozon; don’t foist them onto women and say they are ours.
Two events brusquely jolted the French out of their reverie vis-a-vis their archaic attitudes towards women: the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York in May 2011 and the arrival onto French soil of the feminist Ukrainian group, FEMEN, at about the same time (see my March 7 post re these brave topless warriors.) On a Sunday morning exactly two years ago, over croissants and steaming bowls of café au lait, the entire nation stared with collective incredulity at their TV screens. What were they looking at? Images playing over and over for all the world to see of their well-known countryman and respected economist – who was not only the head of the IMF in Washington, but candidate to be the next president of France! – handcuffed, unshaven and flanked on either side by burly New York policemen before being shoved into the back of a car and driven off to prison on charges of alleged criminal sexual assault. This was reality TV at its most horrific. It was, as the French press called it, an electroshock.
There’s nothing like a pair of handcuffs and the threat of Rikers Island prison to dampen male ardour.
Flash-forward two years: it took about half a year for the French to come out of denial. During that time we had to endure endless TV talk shows (what, again?) and long, tortuous, psycho-babble written in weekly magazines dissecting what was so obvious to us, the outsiders, and seemingly oblivious to them. Two-thirds of the country believed that it was a Sarkozy-orchestrated plot; that – in collusion with the French-owned Sofitel hotel where the assault took place – Sarkozy had planned the whole thing in an attempt to sabotage DSK’s presidency bid. And then, after denial comes derision. Now an Abel Ferrara film called Welcome to New York portraying Strauss-Kahn and his sex-crazed antics has been made starring Gérard Depardieu and Jacqueline Bisset. No-one knows the release date of this film, but when and if it finally comes out, you can be sure that movie theatres will be packed in France.
Had the Strauss-Kahn / Nafissatou Diallo calamity occurred in Paris it would’ve been swiftly silenced, just like Strauss-Kahn’s prior transgressions had been silenced by the practice of a mafia-like code of honour here called omerta. For decades (we later learned) DSK had been groping and harassing women. Either none of the victims had come forward to complain, or they had come forward but were jeered at and dismissed by the macho men’s club that runs the Gallic corridors of power. The wake-up call that France sorely needed to shake itself out of its dusty, last-century torpor were those TV images of DSK in handcuffs played over and over with the eyes of the outside world looking on: judging and criticizing unacceptable French behaviour that had carried on, unchallenged, for centuries; unchallenged by both men and women. Better late than never, I suppose.