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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