French feminists have denounced an open letter signed by actress Catherine Deneuve and more than 100 other prominent women arguing that the #MeToo movement had gone too far.
The letter was published in France's Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday and said that men were being unfairly targeted by allegations of sexual misconduct. A man’s right to “pester” women is a fundamental sexual freedom, the letter said.
The column argued that the #MeToo movement, which in France took the form #BalanceTonPorc (Squeal on your pig), has created a feminism that takes the form of “a hatred of men and sexuality”. It went on to decry the “puritanism” resulting from the outcry over the raft of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood powerhouse Harvey Weinstein, which date back decades.
Women can be strong enough “not to be traumatised by gropers in the metro,” the letter said, and likened the atmosphere since the allegations against Weinstein emerged to a witch hunt. "Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone's knee or try to steal a kiss," it said.
The list of signatories was made up of prominent performers, scholars, writers and other known personalities in France, including Catherine Millet, whose explicit 2002 memoir, "The Sexual Life of Catherine M.", included descriptions of orgies attended by as many as 150 people in which she had sex with about a quarter of the people there.
Making pigs of themselves
French feminists were quick to respond.
"With this column they are trying to build back the wall of silence we have started breaking down," women’s rights activist Caroline De Haas and her roughly 30 co-signers wrote in their own open letter, titled “The pigs and their allies have reason to worry,” and published on the franceinfo website.
Dismissing victims of sexual violence or harassment as hating men, was “contemptuous” of the women who had suffered those experiences, the rebuttal said, adding signatories of the letter in Le Monde were trying to “slam back the lid” that had been blown off by the #MeToo movement.
"The (male chauvinist) pigs and their allies have reason to be worried. Their old world is fast disappearing," the letter added.
"This letter, it's a bit like the awkward work colleague or annoying uncle who doesn't understand what's happening," the activists said, dubbing the signatories “apologists for rape”.
Polanski's privileged pals
The authors of the franceinfo letter didn’t pull any punches, charging that most of the women who signed the letter in Le Monde were “recidivists in defending child abusers”, in reference to the support of Deneuve and others on the list had given to film director Roman Polanski, who has waged a nearely 40-year fight against extradition to the US on rape charges.
Italian actress Asia Argento, one of Weinsten’s earliest accusers, also lashed out. “Deneuve and other French women tell the world how their interiorised misogyny has lobomotised them to the point of no return,” she tweeted.
Argento was far from the only person to respond angrily on social media.
"Catherine Deneuve might have very different opinions about harassment if she weren't an extraordinarily beautiful, very rich white woman living in a bubble of heightened privilege. And had some empathy," tweeted New York Times cartoonist Colleen Doran.
Novelist Laila Lalami was even more pointed. "Would Catherine Deneuve be rushing to the defence of men who 'try to steal a kiss' if these men had been North African?" she tweeted.
The letter put Deneuve at odds with the growing chorus of voices within her industry. Just days before it was published, Oprah Winfrey earned a standing ovation at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony for a speech that applauded the women who had come forward with their stories of abuse.
“…We have all lived too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men,” Winfrey said. “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)