Ne me touche pas… the shift in sex and power sweeping France

The British newspaper, The Observer, sister publication to The Guardian, has printed a very long piece in today’s Sunday paper on the abuse of (sexual) power in this country. All I can say in response is, ‘It’s about time!’ (The article should be translated into French and printed in all of the French newspapers.) The shocking transgressions that I have not only witnessed, but been a casualty of myself, over the three decades that I’ve been living and working in this country are enough to make your hair curl.

In the past, I’ve written a few blog posts on this very topic. I stick to my opinions. The author of The Observer article, an English woman living in France, has the same points of view. For example, I wrote this in 2017:

The Harvey Weinstein debacle is sending wide and wonderful ripples across the ocean towards Europe and beyond. It’s two decades too late, of course, but better late than never. What can I possibly say that hasn’t already been written, tweeted and decried, other than when I came to France in the early 1990s, I was stunned and appalled by the blatant machismo and sexism that prevailed in this country. It needs to be said that France is not and never has been a trailblazer in the feminist department. (Do not confuse emancipation with equality or empowerment.)

Growing up in Canada, I took it for granted that Europe would be as enlightened as my home country in terms of gender equality. I was wrong. I found French women to be passive and compliant, and French men chauvinistic and entitled. The most glaring reality, though, was this: the complete and utter lack of solidarity between women. I didn’t understand – and still don’t – why this is so.

As I see it, this absence of sisterhood insidiously aids and abets the deeply entrenched sexism here. The consequence is that when you do speak out against harassment, you find yourself terribly alone. No-one supports you. (I speak from personal experience.) So it’s true: in order to combat this thing, this sickness, you need to be strong. Because you’re taking it on alone.

Way back in 2013, I wrote a post about the DSK scandal here in France, or rather in New York City. You remember: Dominique Strauss-Kahn – French politician and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund – slated to be the next president of France who ended up in Rikers Island prison for allegedly assaulting a hotel chambermaid. You couldn’t dream this stuff up. Here’s an excerpt:

Two events brusquely jolted the French out of their reverie vis-à-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. On a Sunday morning, 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? Surreal images, played 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 clang of a Rikers Island prison gate to shrivel a sex offender’s dick.

And this, a few years ago:

According to a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine, one in three American women attests to sexual harassment on the job, in all sectors. Harassment impacts women economically. Women who have been harassed are far more likely to change jobs than those who didn’t. These shifts can upset a career trajectory. Researchers found that, compared to men, women experience far more serious effects from interruptions to their work path.

Comment from Juliet in Paris – Harassment has impacted me economically (not to mention emotionally) and has interrupted my career trajectory. Because of harassers, I have endured multiple stretches of unemployment during my career here in France working as a bilingual secretary. Over a period of two decades, I have left five different companies due to harassment, bullying or “interference” from men. (One of my harassers, a senior Partner in a global law firm, was a woman.) Four of those companies were law firms, one was a renowned international news agency. In each case, I was either financially compensated (insufficiently) or tossed out into the street. My crime? I dared to stand up and talk back to my tormenter. And so I was the problem, not the abuser. I was called insubordinate. I looked the word up in the dictionary, just to double-check its meaning: defiant of authority; disobedient to orders. And I wondered, if I were a compliant or obedient person, how should I be expected to respond to my tormenter?

In each case, I found myself utterly alone. Not one single office colleague – who were themselves targets or witnesses of the harasser – nor the Human Resources departments who were 100% cognizant of the recurring problem – supported or defended me. They all turned their backs and closed their eyes. Enablers, all of them.

My friend Monique has been through exactly the same experiences. Today she happily runs her own B&B business; happy because she’s the boss and runs her own show.

Both of us (and millions of other women) have taken an economic hit and endured financial and emotional strain due to unemployment caused by harassers. Where are they today, the harassers who tormented me, Monique and hundreds of other women? Doing very well indeed. Still working, still raking in the big money. Utterly uncaring, unrepentant and unpunished for their actions.

Here’s the link below to the article in today’s The Observer. It makes reference to this clip in which the 12-year old Charlotte Gainsbourg (now a well-known French actress) sits with her pawing singer-songwriter father in the mid-1980s. The title of the song that Serge wrote for his daughter is LEMON INCEST. It was a big hit on French television (at least with men.) You won’t be able to watch it in its entirety, it’s too disgusting.

5 thoughts on “Ne me touche pas… the shift in sex and power sweeping France

    • The Me Too movement was a long time coming, Marla. It swept across countries – mainly rich Western countries, unfortunately – allowing millions of women (women like me!) to speak openly about their experiences and feel they’re actually being listened to. 5 years ago I would never have mentioned any of this.

      But Me Too needs to spread further, it needs to become a GLOBAL phenomenon. Unless there’s a sea change, the world’s poorest women and girls will continue to experience workplace abuse, exploitation, and all other forms of abuse. Down with patriarchy! Thanks for commenting.

      • You’re absolutely correct. It would be nice if citizens across the globe felt as passionate. It’s definitely something to strive for!

  1. Thanks so much for this enlightening post. So what you’re essentially saying is that because of abusers, you lost your job more than once and found yourself on the dole.

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