Sexist Or Just French: Catherine Deneuve

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OMG, OMG, OMFG. I had a whole other Sexist or Just French article I’d labored over for weeks but then this story came out and I am foaming at the mouth that this is the bullshit we women, especially marginalized women, have to deal with FROM OTHER WOMEN in 2018.

Not just any women. White women. Entitled women. Women of, shall we say, a certain age. The same kind of women who voted in a pussy-grabber for POTUS, though these particular women are French and consider themselves liberal and educated.

To summarize: 99 bitches plus Catherine Deneuve penned an open letter in Le Monde denouncing the “witch hunts” that have followed the Weinstein bombogenesis. They defend the pitiable, defenseless men being persecuted for gallantly hitting on women who aren’t interested. They want everyone to understand that sexual freedom necessitates a man’s “importunate,” offensive advances. That the feminism behind #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc is man- and sex-hating, not to mention pearl-clutchingly puritanical. They even mocked Swedes for proposing a law that requires explicit consent between participants. What next, they cluck, a checklist app of what people are and aren’t willing to do sexually? (Which, if these doddering women knew anything about sexting, they’d know discussing your sexual predilections is some pretty hot foreplay.)

Why don’t we start with a little ageism? Deneuve is 74 and some of the other prominent letter signers are also in their 60’s and 70’s. I commend women of this generation who dealt with sexual harassment without having a name for it, much less any kind of recourse. They must view younger women as special snowflakes who whine about things they themselves endured without complaint. Most of my #MeToo experiences happened with me having no awareness it was sexual assault. I accepted the status quo of older, powerful men playing grab-ass with young, powerless women—and learned how to fend them off. Now I know better. Isn’t the point of progress so our children and our children’s children don’t suffer the same indignities we did? Are we to remain narcissistically compassionless: “Suck it up, precious. I survived and so can you.” Can we not do better for the people around and after us?

Power and privilege dovetail so predictably and stupidly in this open letter. These prominent women want other, voiceless women to refuse to be victimized. Claim your power! Forcing men (by law or Twitter excoriation) to keep their fucking hands and dicks to themselves means you’re being a weak-ass woman. So what if a man rubbing his hard penis against you on the metro is a crime? So what if your boss recounts his favorite sex positions during a work dinner? It shouldn’t ruin your day (or your meal), much less traumatize you. It’s only your body, after all, and not your freedom—which “lies within and is untouchable.”

I’d really like to know the last time Catherine Deneuve was on the metro and had a disgusting dude whip his dick out in front of her. Or if she ever felt persecuted on a film set by a grotesque producer the way Salma Hayek was. Deneuve has been one of France’s biggest movie stars for over five decades. Her ice-blonde liberty, sexual and otherwise, is undoubtedly sacrosanct.

A story from the Buñuel family archives: For the scene in Belle de Jour where Catherine’s character, Séverine, is tied up and has mud thrown at her… no one on set dared hurl mud at the pristine Deneuve. My husband’s dad (the son of Luis Buñuel) eventually had to step up and do it. So let’s talk about power and who wields it.

What Deneuve and Co. fail to recognize are 1) The privilege of their wealth, whiteness, beauty, fame and position and 2) Powerlessness doesn’t equate to weakness.

In the context of white patriarchy, I have always been powerless—a twice-over immigrant woman of color who grew up poor—but I have never been weak. Thanks to education, beauty, age and a few other factors, I have slightly more power now, but it amounts to nothing next to my tall, white, handsome, well-off husband with a famous film provenance. Next to someone like Deneuve? She and I may as well be a different species. Still, anyone will tell you how strong and fearless I am. Weak does not describe me nor the millions of women who are and have been sexually harassed, assaulted and raped. And who are brave enough to speak out.

Which brings me to race. Someone on our Facebook page asked why I would mention skin color when ALL women have been subject to the whims of men. #YesAllWomen, but it’s obvious the most vulnerable are women of color, LGBTQ, disabled, poor and undocumented women. What these Frenchwomen’s careless words give license to are not the clumsy seductions of a would-be Lothario to an aging bourgeoise at the Hotel de Crillon, but the continual subjugation of the underclass—like a hotel maid who can’t afford to lose her job by protesting a wealthy guest’s indecent proposal. Or a Mexican actress who has to agree to do a nude scene or have her film shut down.

Something unfailingly (but not only) French: Not understanding that sexual harassment and assault have nothing to do with sex but with power. Seduction is consensual and not coerced. Seduction is not sexual assault and we feminists do know the difference. It is also lazy, moronic and reductive to describe feminists as sexless man-haters. What is this, the ‘80s? Old, white Frenchwomen love to talk about 1968, women’s rights and sexual freedom, but they are utterly clueless when it comes to the intersection of race, sex, equality and power in the 21st century.

This is where France deserves some bashing. For a country that celebrates its liberté and egalité (I’m not touching fraternité), it inhabits an antiquated binary when it comes to men and women. The strictures of masculinity and femininity are so narrow, the emphasis on being part of a cisgender couple so pervasive, it’s no surprise Frenchwomen who’ve aged out of the pickup scene want to make sure wildfire feminism would never, god forbid, prevent a man from hitting on them.

Because that is what the letter seemed most concerned with: Men feeling safe enough to “bother/disturb” (the definition of “importuner“*) women. I can’t believe I’m actually writing that. How about we first make girls and women feel safe from the bothering? While these #MeToo backlashers reminisce about the good ol’ days when men were pedophile-rapists and still celebrated at the Cinémathèque (oh wait, that was two months ago), I’m remembering myself as a nineteen-year-old study abroad student in Paris who gave up on miniskirts because the constant harassment wasn’t worth it. Where was my sexual liberty then? Or does that liberty not extend to young Asian women in France? By the way, I rarely faced that kind of lascivious scrutiny in “Puritanical” America, no matter what I was[n’t] wearing.

I’m marked as a “militant” feminist here—though hardly by the standards of my American activist friends—and incredibly I love [good] sex and [good] men. One of the most seductive things a man’s ever done? He asked if I wanted him to take off my pants instead of assuming he could. Like that maligned Swedish sex list.

I suppose to Catherine and her squad, that’s not the way a “real man” seduces because the “sex drive is savage.” By polarizing femininity and feminism while conflating sexual assault with seduction (and yes, they’re doing that, not us feminists), these women are not only impeding progress, they’re making the world more dangerous for their less-rich, less-white and less-privileged sisters. That is unforgivable.

J’accuse, you complicit traitors.

* Strangely (or not), importuning in English also means to offer one’s services as a prostitute


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About Author

Maggie Kim

Maggie Kim is a writer, musician and the founder of LES LOLOS.

19 Comments

  1. K I am at work (prepping for a meeting with a notoriously gross dragueur from another department) but 1) so happy you wrote something about this, this post is fire, 2) I have SOME THOUGHTS I will be returning to share as soon as i have a second. Way to effing kill it!

  2. THIS is what I’ve been saying all along. But just to add, you don’t have to be a minority (colour/race/sexuality) to be hit on. You literally just need to be female. Just that. And you’re a target. But as you mentioned, certain females may get a pass because of their place in society. Though I’d bet many have had their share of harassment, and either: 1) consider it…normal; 2) have been told to “shut up and take it,” (you know, the daughters of the 100 women); 3) it’s all they know in their circle; or, 4) accept it as an exchange of power; or, 5) suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. In any case, not okay to speak for the rest of the women in the world!

    What I disagree with in this 3-ring circus is Catherine Deneuve getting the brunt of the hate. I get it, she’s the famous one. Who’s heard of the other 99 women, outside of France (or maybe even Paris?). So what about them? Name and shame, I say. Let’s keep it balanced, no?

    One such person, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet – French journalist, supposedly, though I never heard of her (I live in London) – is retweeting and trying to align her name with Deneuve’s in a d̶e̶s̶p̶e̶r̶a̶t̶e̶ attempt to be relevant, methinks. I tweeted her that I disagreed with her stance, her letter, and her interview on ITV (This Morning programme), and mentioned her in another tweetversation that she, along with Deneuve and the other 98 women, should all be held accountable, and she blocked me. I’ve never been blocked in my entire social media existence! lol I was respectful, just disagreed with her position. But I guess the likes of her can’t take the heat, and only want to dish it out.

    Brilliant article. Thanks for speaking up! #MeToo (I know, it’s not twitter here…)

    • Maggie Kim

      Thank you, Bella. Deneuve gets the brunt because of her fame… that’s the A-list price you pay, I suppose. I’m not saying at all that only minorities get harassed, but assault rates are definitely higher for minorities. It’s funny you mention Moutet. I heard on BBC the day after the letter came out. And she sounded like such an idiot then and even worse by blocking you now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

      • Thank you, Maggie. I didn’t know Moutet had also been on the BBC, but watching her bitter rambling about women maybe can complain about harassment at the workplace but at a bar? I mean, it’s a bar, so isn’t that expected…type of logic had me – and the chat show panel – fuming. She’s something else, a nobody most everyone never heard of, who is trying to align herself with Deneuve and raise her stock.

        Are these Deneuve’s friends, or how does she even get to be in a mix of a nobody journalist,” a former porn star, and a has-been S&M fetishist who has regrets she’s never been raped (Catherine Millet, that is). Did Deneuve foolishly get roped into this without reading the extent of the atrocities in the letter, did she have a desire for career suicide, or does she generally lie down with dogs? (e.g., Polanksi and Depardieu, not actual pet dogs, which I love)

        If you’re interested in watching the interview with Moutet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=RTSDNJ9uqXE

  3. Kim, thank you for you fantastic article against the resent article in le monde! I am French/American, I have experience hasseeman in both country but in Paris it is very public, streets, restaurant, metro m, night club.
    Also in France it time for the population to understand what the meaning of Feminist mean!
    Being Feminist is comparable about loving good sex and good man!

    • Maggie Kim

      Thank you, Joanna, for your comment. Yes, it would be nice if people understand that feminism doesn’t mean man-hating…

  4. Reading this article was like a soothing balm to my frazzled nerves. C**** de STFU is exactly what is wrong w/ feminism, and you hit the nail on the head: She conflates being sexy with wanting to be powerful at the expense of someone else.

    During a recent conference I attended we discussed #metoo at length. It’s not too often that I find myself surrounded by geniuses debating social issues, so naturally, I was taking notes like god was being interviewed on the meaning of life. Here’s some of what I learned:

    1/ Men can usually tell if you are interested in their advances, and problems occur when they choose not to react to signs of disinterest.
    2/ Women are too often not prepared to reject advances when the feeling is not mutual. Sometimes we rely on subtle hints to avoid the risk of offense when we should feel empowered to speak our truths.
    3/ Not all advances are intended as aggressions, and some represent genuine interest by curious, and perhaps oblivious, people.
    4/ Men don’t always respect a woman’s right to refuse advances and see it as an affront to their sexual rights.
    5/ Men are not the only offenders! Sometimes women take it too far, this too needs to be addressed/corrected.
    6/ We should all be aware of context when making advances and call out ambiguous situations to assure the flirt-ee of their right to refuse w/o repercussions.

    Men: You can be a more enlightened generation by recognizing that this issue is not about your right to flirt, but rather, your right to flirt responsibly, reciprocally, and respectfully.

    Women: You can get better by not being afraid to be honest. Use humor, use assertive language, or whatever is your go-to, but don’t hide when you are uncomfortable.

    Everyone: Teach this ^ to your kids, and focus on empathy as the means to driving this message home. We can all learn something by putting the shoe on the other foot.

    • Maggie Kim

      Thank you! Your points are fantastic because they’re practical ways for both men and women to feel empowered when it comes to respecting boundaries, which clearly everyone has a problem with.

  5. First things first: YES MAGGIE THANK YOU for channeling the incoherent rage/wtf impulse I’ve had since seeing the tribune. The thing is a trash fire of entitlement and internalised misogyny, which furthermore commits the sin of being totally unoriginal: feminists are wrong because we’re frigid man-haters*? Edgy, Catherine!

    So…this got long. Sorry. If Maggie doesn’t care to indulge me on this I’ll understand.

    Ultimately I don’t have much of substance to add, since the post already explains perfectly everything wrong with a ragtag collection of primarily white (so, so white), wealthy, middle-aged-and-older French women essentially telling us, “this is what gets US off, so you’d better do it too, and be okay with the consequences.” As the original post points out, this attitude has horrific implications for women (POC, LQBTQ…) who are already systematically abused, marginalised and treated as literally disposable. Not that the authors seem to have considered those people AT ALL.

    Deneuve’s recent apology notwithstanding, the sheer compassionless entitlement oozing out of the letter is breathtaking. Those of us who are deeply NOT okay with “le droit d’importuner” (barf) are apparently meant to sacrifice ourselves to these people’s need to enact a very specific model of heterosexuality without ever seeing it called into question, LEST SOCIETY COLLAPSE along with Roman Polanski’s boner. Who’s being reactionary and hysterical, again?

    I guess what I really want to share is the deep shock of recognition I felt reading the piece. Because every part of it—the attitude, the verbiage, the excuses for men with no social skills and no conscience–is astoundingly consistent with what I’ve been told every time I’ve spoken up here (always to women older than myself) about being harassed at school and work. To cite just a few highlights over the past 8-odd years:

    > When a professor at Sciences Po was making gross remarks about my birth control pills and touching my knee under tables, I was told “well I understand that as an American you have a very puritanical attitude towards your body, but in France we’re very comfortable with sex.” Apparently loving my body and sexuality means having zero standards for who touches or sleeps with me…? “You object to this blotchy old alcoholic bending you over a table? Zut alors, how joyless your life must be!”

    > When I asked a manager for advice on dealing with a freelancer who was sending me bizarre emails about “just [thinking] you’re really great and btw is it ok I’m taking screenshots of you during our Skype meetings”, she didn’t deny it was weird, but told me sourly it was my fault for using too many exclamation points in my emails, and anyhow “there are certain things in professional life you just have to learn to deal with.”

    > And of course that old classic, the work superior who went to my line manager complaining I was “difficult” and “not a team player” after I refused a one-on-one work trip with him subsequent to him hitting on me and commenting on how my complexion “excited” him during a work function. Manager’s response when I objected: “well, you know the way he is. Can’t you just do what he wants if you want him to stop complaining?”

    Of course I am now known throughout our department as an obnoxious militant feminist not to be invited to after-work network-y things. Fascinatingly, this stops precisely no one from staring down my shirt, asking about sexual positions at business lunches, etc. Best of both worlds! Woo! Vive la liberté !

    If I had observed my female classmates, colleagues, acquaintances consistently being SUPER INTO this sort of behaviour, I might be more receptive to the argument “the 100” are making. But the most sickening, bonkers realisation I’ve come to is that French women and girls DON’T like this sort of thing any more than I do. I’ve spent hours swapping horror stories with female colleagues, some of them crying from frustration or embarrassment, only to have them say, “but it will never stop, men are like that, what can you do.” That Deneuve and her ilk presumed not only to speak for these women but to impose their model of sexuality on them is infuriating and almost sinister.

    The ideas expressed in the article are not unique to France. You see them in the Anglophone manosphere all the time, for example (which should give these oh-so-liberated Left-bank types pause for thought). But just like conversations in the US about safe sex / respecting your body / “it’s OK to say no” can cover for deeply destructive attitudes, I am fed up with French people who use their supposedly “liberated” sexuality as a fig-leaf for the fact they as a society also DGAF about sexual assault or women’s agency. It’s just so…half-baked. Their belief that the conflation of assault and sex is evidence of their libertine sophistication, and not of a simplistic and retrograde relationship to sexuality, is pathetic to witness in the native country of Simone de Beauvoir.

    (For commenters who may want to come at me with rants about the U.S. being a reactionary shithole society which also hates women: WE KNOW. More than one society can have the same sorts of problems at the same time. France can also be awful. The two are not mutually exclusive. If you lack the critical thinking skills to wrap your mind around that, I don’t have much to say to you.)

    Girls’ education, women’s suffrage (to say nothing of the struggle to end disenfranchisement of women of colour), legal divorce—every single advance we’ve made as a society in favour of women was heralded as the end of the fucking world (and of fucking, full stop). And each of those changes WAS the end of the world, in its then-current configuration, because the smooth functioning of that configuration depended on the dehumanization and subjugation of women. The threat Deneuve et al think they’re holding over our heads—that if we get our way, sex and sexuality, and with them society, will mutate away from the current “predator/prey” model they find so peachy-keen—is precisely the goal we are aiming at.

    TL;DR: Catherine Deneuve et al are Vichy France with tits (to cadge a phrase from Catilin Moran) and absolutely nothing in their poorly-reasoned, reactionary article could conceivably convince me to stop insisting on a world where I don’t have to put up with being masturbated on in the metro by Gérard the lonely photocopy boy.

    * See also, “I’m not racist, you’re anti-white!” from a previous comments section.

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