Hermès flagship store located at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris
In 2005, Oprah Winfrey was a complete unknown in France. So unknown, that while in Paris on a shopping spree she was refused entry into the luxury store, Hermès. That was unfortunate (for Hermès) because Madame Winfrey had some serious cash to splash.
“We are closing,” said a staff member. “You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” It was around 6:45 pm. (In all fairness, the Hermès shop closes at 6:30 pm.)
An article in The Washington Post reported that “Hermes staff members failed to recognize Winfrey, as she was not in full glamour makeup with her TV hair.” That, actually, is incorrect. Oprah’s TV show never existed in France. The French truly did not know who she was.
But that was then, and this is now!
After Winfrey’s rousing Golden Globes speech, Le Monde newspaper heralded her (almost) as the next Joan of Arc.
I like Whoopi Goldberg’s comment best (from The View): “There’s a conversation that’s happening in this country now that says it’s dangerous for men to sexually harass women. It is no longer the norm not to tell. Women are saying to other women “How ya doing? Do you need me to back you up? We will stand with you.” It’s on a small scale, but the point is that women now know that it’s OK to have each other’s back.”
I find this encouraging and heartening.
And wouldn’t you know that in the same Le Monde newspaper a day later, a defiant article signed by one hundred prominent French women – spearheaded by Catherine Deneuve – has denounced the Me Too movement.
These women claim to be defending sexual freedom, for which “the liberty to importune is essential”. Importune? I had to look the word up in the dictionary. And then I looked at the original French version of the letter.
« Nous défendons une liberté d’importuner, indispensable à la liberté sexuelle »
“We defend the freedom to importune, which is essential to sexual freedom”
I struggled to understand.
- To make an earnest request of (someone), especially insistently or repeat.
- To annoy; pester; bother.
- To plead or urge irksomely, often persistently.
“We believe that the freedom to say “no” to a sexual proposition cannot exist without the freedom to bother. And we consider that one must know how to respond to this freedom to bother in ways other than by closing ourselves off in the role of the prey.”
But why must men ‘bother’? Why must men pester? I find this paragraph absurd, as if men cannot control themselves and are genetically programmed to bother women. And why should the onus be on women to appropriately respond to the advances/urges/pestering of men? This absolves men of all responsibility. As another collective of (authentic) French feminists pointed out: the authors of the open letter are conflating what they consider harmless flirtatious advances with abuse. They’re confusing seduction with sexual assault (a criminal offence.) This idea, in 2018, is stupefying. Where do the authors of this open letter live? In a cave?
I interpret “freedom to bother” as men relinquishing responsibility for their impulses, and doing whatever they feel like doing. Mais, non! This is all the difference between a civilized society and an uncivilized one.
The letter goes on:
“This accelerated justice already has its victims, men prevented from practicing their profession as punishment, forced to resign, etc., while the only thing they did wrong was touching a knee, trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about ‘intimate’ things at a work dinner, or sending messages with sexual connotations to a woman whose feelings were not mutual,” they write.
Forced to resign. What the hundred Frenchwomen are defending are men who decide it’s open season on certain women in the workplace. (notice how they portray the offending male as the victim.) We go to our jobs to work and earn a salary, not to fight off the unwanted attentions from male colleagues and superiors. Oh, and another thing? Our bodies are not public property. We don’t want our knees touched, our faces kissed, or ‘intimate’ things of a sexual nature said or sent to us.
Pardon my puritanism.
Women who pay for the transgressions of men. And what about women who are forced to resign? Is this of lesser importance than a man losing his job? Deneuve and her privileged posse do not address this in their letter. They do not mention that women must often pay for the transgressions of men.
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 women, compared to men, experience far more serious effects from interruptions to their work path. One in three American women attests to sexual harassment on the job, in all sectors.
In a November 2017 blog post I wrote this:
Comment from Juliet in Paris – Harassment has impacted me economically (not to mention emotionally) and interrupted my career trajectory. Because of harassers, I have endured multiple stretches of unemployment during my working career. Here in France and over a period of twenty years, I have left five different companies due to harassment, bullying or “interference” from men. (Four of those companies were law firms, one was a renowned international news agency.)
Some women harassed or molested in the workplace have made this baffling comment: “I didn’t want to do or say anything that might lead to him losing his job.”
KNOW THIS: that man you’re talking about? He has no compunction about you losing your job. None whatsoever.
While I had to leave, lose all my benefits, and sign on to unemployment insurance, they continued to work, utterly uncaring, unrepentant and unpunished for their actions.
Deneuve and company, your open letter is the last gasp of a patriarchal, outmoded, archaic France – of which you are part – and thank god it’s being (slowly) swept away. Welcome to the 21st century.
“A new day is on the horizon.” said Oprah.
Since my arrival in this country over two decades ago, I have noticed (and complained about) the absence of French female solidarity which in turn aids and abets the deeply entrenched sexism here.
Here’s an article in yesterday’s The Guardian entitled, Madame Deneuve, whatever happened to female solidarity in France? In it, the author writes – There are occasions when it seems French women simply don’t get the notion of sisterhood or female solidarity.