An open letter published in Le Monde on Tuesday has drawn sharp criticism from a group of militant French feminists. Caroline De Haas, a founder of women’s org Osez Le Feminisme, authored a strongly-worded riposte and has been making the rounds of local media today to discuss what has become a major and divisive headline in the past 24 hours. De Haas suggested to France Info that the signatories of the Le Monde piece were “using their media visibility to trivialize sexual violence.”
In the initial Le Monde op-ed, 100 women, including Catherine Deneuve, slammed what they termed “expeditious justice” against men spurred by the #MeToo movement, and rejected what they see as a new puritanism in the wake of the sexual harassment and assault scandals (known locally and collectively as “L’Affaire Weinstein“). They also defended a man’s “freedom to importune.”
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In her written response, co-signed by 30 fellow self-proclaimed “militant feminists,” De Haas today wrote, “It’s not a difference of degrees between flirting and harassment, but a difference in nature. Violence isn’t heightened seduction.”
De Haas, who has worked in politics and public relations, laments, “Every time women’s rights progress, and consciousness awakens, resistance appears.” Such resistance generally takes the form of, “‘That’s true, but…’ On January 9, we had ‘#MeToo, it was good, but…’”
She swats away the idea that #MeToo risks “going too far” and “falling into excess… We’re already deep in excess.” The journalist who coined the French #MeToo equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc (“expose your pig”), also chimed today, saying the Le Monde piece was “from another century.”
On the subject of flirting, De Haas wrote: “The signatories of the Le Monde article are deliberately confusing a relationship of seduction, based on respect and pleasure, with violence. To mix everything is quite practical. It allows everything to go into one basket. If harassment or aggression are ‘heavy flirting’ then it’s not too serious. The signatories are wrong.”
Osez Le Feminisme made headlines last January when it threatened to protest France’s César Awards over Roman Polanski’s appointment as honorary president of the ceremony and later established a petition against his appearance at the opening of a retrospective of his works. Yesterday, the group’s official Twitter account called the Le Monde piece “revolting” particularly in the current climate as women “are defending the impunity of aggressors and attacking feminists.”
De Haas’ editorial today wraps up on the subject of responsibility: “Many of the women (who signed the Le Monde piece) are often quick to denounce sexism when it comes from men in working-class neighborhoods. But a hand on the ass when it’s put there by men of their own milieu, according to them, falls under the ‘right to importune.'”
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