Cartoon by Harm Bengen

Why Did Catherine Deneuve and Other Prominent Frenchwomen Denounce #MeToo?

The New Yorker: One morning last summer, I was out doing errands near my apartment, in Paris. I had a phone call to make, so I stopped and leaned against a wall. Before I knew what was happening, a man was running his hands over my breasts and my belly, which felt like an especially private part, since I was eight months pregnant. I couldn’t move or speak, out of fear that he had somehow damaged my baby. The man was halfway down the block before I gathered myself and screamed after him the crudest curses I could muster. I went to a police station and reported what had happened, hoping only to create a paper trail for whomever he attacked next. It was a vile and insignificant experience. I hadn’t thought about it again until I saw, yesterday, that a hundred Frenchwomen, including the actress Catherine Deneuve and the writer Catherine Millet, had signed an opinion piece in Le Monde, defending “a freedom to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom.”

“A freedom to bother”—it was the first time I’d heard that one. (The word that the women used, “importuner,” ranges in connotation from bugging someone to really disturbing her. Whatever the level of offense, the behavior is clearly unwanted.) Was this some bold new European liberty, like the right to be forgotten? One didn’t have to read far to figure out that the statement was just another apologia for sexual assault and harassment. “Rape is a crime,” the piece in Le Monde began. “But hitting on someone insistently or awkwardly is not an offense, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression.” When the second sentence of an argument makes a turn against the wrongness of rape, you know you are not in for a subtle debate.

Deneuve and her co-signers run through a series of tired arguments, conflating the censure of sexual violence with censorship, and misconstruing #MeToo feminism as “a hatred of men and of sexuality.” The movement, they write, renders women “eternal victims, poor little things under the influence of demon phallocrats, as in the good old days of witchcraft.” (Daphne Merkin chose a different period setting for an Op-Ed in the Times, writing, “We seem to be returning to a victimology paradigm for young women, in particular, in which they are perceived to be—and perceived themselves to be—as frail as Victorian housewives.”) The Le Monde hundred find the concept of informed consent ridiculous. They defend Roman Polanski, sound a few notes on the dog whistle of “religious extremists,” and talk about the touching of knees while remaining silent on men demanding blowjobs and masturbating behind locked doors. It’s the small jabs that betray a hostility to the entire #MeToo project, not just its excesses. “A woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being the sexual object of a man, without being a ‘slut,’ nor a cheap accomplice of the patriarchy,” they write. “She can insure that her salary is equal to a man’s, but not feel forever traumatized by a frotteur in the Métro.” Ladies, one of these clauses is not like the others! Consensual sex is no more akin to being rubbed up against in the subway than drinking wine is to being roofied. A woman can fight for equal pay and not like assault, or tuna-fish sandwiches. There’s no connection >>>