#MeToo frenzy deprives men of ‘indispensable freedom’ to hit on women – Catherine Deneuve
A hundred prominent French women, including actress Catherine Deneuve, have denounced the #MeToo campaign, saying it patronizes women and summarily punishes men for minor misdeeds, which only plays into the hands of “puritans.”
In an open letter published in the newspaper Le Monde, the women acknowledged that while the campaign helped expose many cases of “sexual violence that women are subject to, particularly in their professional lives,” it had now gone too far.
“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,” reads the letter. “Instead of helping women this frenzy to send these ‘pigs’ to the abattoir actually helps the enemies of sexual liberty – religious extremists and the worst sort of reactionaries.”
“It is the characteristic of Puritanism to borrow, in the name of a so-called general good, the arguments of the protection of women and their emancipation to bind them to the status of eternal victims, poor little things under the influence of the demon patriarchy, as in the good old days of witchcraft.”
The women who signed the letter also criticize the #MeToo campaign for throwing around accusations about men who are immediately branded sex offenders “without being given the opportunity to respond or defend themselves.” The signatories compare the situation to a “totalitarian society” in which men are being forced to make “public confessions ... and having to rack their brains and apologize for ‘inappropriate behavior’ that might have happened 10, 20 or 30 years before.”
The letter goes on to say that grown-up and independent women should be able to tell the difference between menacing behavior and an awkward pick-up, and that to assume otherwise denies basic sexual freedom.
“Rape is a crime but insistent or clumsy flirting is not, nor is gallantry a macho aggression,” the letter reads, claiming that in a healthy society men should have the “indispensable freedom to offend and bother” women.
The most high-profile signatory of the letter, 74-year-old Catherine Deneuve, has rarely been associated with the feminist movement, although she did sign the Manifesto of the 343 Sluts back in 1971 and admitted to having had an illegal abortion. The Manifesto helped reignite public debate and abortion was finally legalized in 1975.
Last year, Deneuve sparked a controversy for voicing her support of film director Roman Polanski, who is wanted in the United States on charges of statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Deneuve told the channel TMC that describing Polanski’s actions as rape was “excessive.”
The letter triggered an angry reaction from actress Asia Argento, who was among those accusing Weinstein of sexual assault. “Catherine Deneuve and other French women tell the world how their interiorized misogyny has lobotomized them to the point of no return,” she tweeted.
Some 30 leading French feminists also slammed the letter's signatories in their own column, which was published on the Franceinfo website on Wednesday.
“With this column they are trying to build back the wall of silence we have started breaking down,” the feminists' letter reads, adding that those who criticize the #MeToo movement sound like “the tiresome uncle at the family dinner” who does not understand that the world is changing. It goes on to state that "as soon as there is some progress with (gender) equality, even by half a millimeter, some good souls warn that we may be going too far."
Responding to the letter signed by Deneuve, Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa told France Culture radio that it is "dangerous to put it this way," noting that the government is already struggling to convince young women that they are not to blame when someone gropes them, and that they should turn to the police in such cases.
The #MeToo movement started in 2017 from the scandal surrounding Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, who had been accused of a range of exploitative and abusive behavior, including assault and rape, by more than a hundred different women, including many famous actresses. The scandal had a ripple effect, leading to more women and even some men coming forward with allegations about other Hollywood figures such as actor Kevin Spacey. In France it spawned its own hashtag, #Balancetonporc or “expose your pig.”