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.
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