‘Why we believe #MeToo is a witch hunt’

#NotMe: Deneuve has also campaigned against the death penalty and the ban on abortions. © Getty
by Catherine Deneuve and others

A celebrated actress who first found fame playing mysterious and glamorous roles in the 1960s. She is a superstar in her country. She signed the letter below alongside 100 French women, most of them artists, academics or journalists.

The actress Catherine Deneuve has apologised to victims of sexual assault after endorsing a public critique of the #MeToo movement. The letter triggered a global outcry. Read it here…

Rape is a crime. But persistent or clumsy flirting is not an offence, nor is gallantry a macho attack.

The Weinstein affair was followed by a legitimate awakening to the sexual violence visited upon women. This was necessary. But this freeing up of the debate is now going into reverse: we are being called on to say the right things, to silence voices that anger us — and women who refuse to comply are regarded as traitors, accomplices!

This new puritanism uses arguments for the protection and liberation of women in order to lock them into a state of eternal victimhood, in the name of a supposed greater good. It’s like the good old days of witch hunts.

We do not identify with this feminism which presents itself as a hatred of men and sexuality.

Indeed, #MeToo has triggered a campaign of public denunciations and accusations against individuals, who are classed as sex offenders without being given the chance to defend themselves. This summary justice has already claimed victims: men who have been penalised in their workplace or forced to resign, despite having done no worse than touch a knee, try to steal a kiss, make “intimate” comments at a work dinner, or send messages of a sexual nature to a woman who did not reciprocate.

Far from helping women to achieve autonomy, this mania actually serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, religious extremists, and those who believe that women are a “separate” species — children dressed as adults who demand protection.

Meanwhile, men are called on to feel guilty and rack their brains for a decades-old instance of “inappropriate conduct” which they ought to repent. These public confessions, the invasion by self-proclaimed prosecutors of people’s private lives, have given rise to a totalitarian climate.

The philosopher Ruwen Ogien defended the right to offend as an intrinsic part of artistic creation. Similarly, we defend the right to pester as an intrinsic part of sexual freedom. Nowadays, we are sufficiently educated to know that sexual impulses are, by nature, offensive and primitive, but we are also sufficiently clear-sighted to know the difference between clumsy flirting and sexual assault.

Above all, we are aware that humans are complex: in the same day, a woman can lead a professional team and take pleasure from a man’s sexual attention, without being a “whore” or a vile accomplice of the patriarchy. She can ensure that her salary is the same as a man’s, but not feel traumatised for life by a man who rubs himself against her on the train — even if that is considered an offence.

As women, we do not identify with this feminism which, above and beyond calling out abuses of power, presents itself as a hatred of men and sexuality. We think that, for there to be a right to say no to sexual advances, there must be a right to pester. And we believe that it is essential to respond to this right to pester without playing the victim.

Those of us who have chosen to have children consider it best to raise our daughters such that they will be sufficiently well-informed and aware to live their lives to the full, without letting themselves be intimidated or blamed.

The accidents that can befall a woman’s body do not necessarily affect her dignity, nor should they inevitably turn her into a victim forever, however tough they may be. For we are more than our bodies. Our inner freedom is inviolable. And this freedom we hold so dear is not without risks and responsibilities.

This letter was originally published in French by Le Monde. It has been translated and abridged by The Day’s editors.

You Decide

  1. Should there be a “right to pester”?

Activities

  1. Write your own letter to a local paper, setting out your thoughts on the #MeToo movement. If you feel confident, try to get others in your class to sign it.

Word Watch

Weinstein affair
Since last October, dozens of women have accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of everything ranging from harassment to rape. These claims paved the way for similar allegations against scores of other famous men.
Summary justice
The handing out of sentences and punishments without going through the proper legal process. It is closely related to the concept of vigilante justice: when ordinary citizens take the law into their own hands.
Totalitarian
A totalitarian society is one in which citizens are given few or no freedoms and required to be loyal to the state. Examples include North Korea today or George Orwell’s fictional world in 1984.
Ruwen Ogien
A French philosopher who died last year. He wrote widely on morality and advocated a range of personal liberties, such as the right to gay marriage and the freedom to prostitute oneself.
Salary is the same
The issue of the gender pay gap hit the headlines recently when the BBC’s China editor resigned in protest over the issue. See The Day’s article in Become An Expert for more.

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