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28 Sep, 2019 16:59

French #MeToo trial shows there is no winner in the battle of the sexes

French #MeToo trial shows there is no winner in the battle of the sexes

The man whose case launched France’s #MeToo movement has won damages in a defamation case, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best, celebrated on the ruins of cultural norms and legal practices that the movement has destroyed.

Journalist Sandra Muller launched #balancetonporc (“expose your pig”) in October 2017, naming and shaming TV executive Eric Brion as a man who made crass comments about her at a party. Brion, who acknowledged the comments were “boorish” and apologized for them, later sued Muller for defamation, saying that the tweet had destroyed his reputation and livelihood. 

A French court agreed earlier this week, ordering Muller to pay Brion €20,000 (about $22,000), delete the offending tweet, and post a court-ordered explanation instead.

Muller’s original tweet came on the heels of the “Me Too” campaign in the US, accusing the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of a veritable train of abuses, from sexual harrassment and inappropriate comments to assault and rape. Weinstein was eventually arrested and charged in May 2018, and the case against him is still pending.

So what kind of monster was Brion, in order to be put in the same category? According to Muller, he tried to flirt with her at a cocktail party by saying “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night.” He later apologized via text message. 

I did make misplaced comments to Sandra Muller during a drunken cocktail party very late one night, but only once,” Brion told the court. “I liked her. I told her so, heavy-handedly. And only once, I must point out. I don’t want to exonerate myself from my boorishness at the time. I reiterate my apologies.

Brion’s lawyers argued that he had the “right to flirt,” and that his life should not have been destroyed due to an “unstoppable machine” set in motion by Muller’s tweets. 

Also on rt.com #MeToo frenzy deprives men of ‘indispensable freedom’ to hit on women – Catherine Deneuve

Over 100 prominent French women agreed, publishing an open letter in the newspaper Le Monde in January 2018 that denounced the movement as witch-hunting “Puritanism” helping not women, but “enemies of sexual liberty – religious extremists and the worst sort of reactionaries.”

Rape is a crime but insistent or clumsy flirting is not, nor is gallantry a macho aggression.

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,” read the letter. One of its signatories was the legendary Catherine Deneuve, whose admission of an illegal abortion contributed to the procedure’s legalization in France back in the 1970s.

Her younger colleague Laetitia Casta also chimed in a few days later, saying that “hostility and hatred of men won’t move things forward.” 

Also on rt.com ‘Hatred of men won’t help’: French actress Laetitia Casta speaks out against #MeToo

It appears the French courts agreed with the sentiment, ruling in Brion’s favor. Even assuming the verdict does not get overturned on appeal, however, it is at best a Pyrrhic victory for the former TV executive. If he has truly been unable to find work since, the damages are hardly equal to lost income, and chances are that prospective employers will still give him a pass out of fear of being hounded by social justice activists. Social media mobs don’t usually care about facts established in court, after all.

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, the notions of due process and presumption of innocence quickly found themselves tossed overboard when it came to #MeToo allegations. The most high-profile instance of this has been the attempt to torpedo the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court back in September 2018. Most recently, legendary opera tenor Placido Domingo found himself “disinvited” from events in the US over #MeToo claims made in the media, not even in court. 

Also on rt.com Innocent until proven guilty? Not for Placido Domingo: Americans race to condemn, Europeans hesitant

The practice of airing one’s grievances in public rather than through due process has even claimed lives. A Canadian video game developer by the name of Alex Holowka committed suicide lat month, after social justice activist Zoe Quinn accused him on Twitter of rape and abuse allegedly committed years ago. Quinn’s own tweets from the time period in question contradicted her narrative, but by the time someone dug them up, Holowka had already been fired from his job and had taken his own life.

Quinn briefly retreated from Twitter, then returned as if nothing had happened and continued to bask in the adoration of her fans.

Also on rt.com Game creator’s suicide after feminist Zoe Quinn accuses him of abuse shows peril of Twitter trials

What may have started as a legitimate rebellion against the infamous Hollywood “casting couch” has morphed into a weapon of mass destruction in the culture war, turning men and women into enemies told to fear and doubt each other’s every move – wrecking, in the process, cultural and legal norms painstakingly developed over the centuries to ensure justice for all. 

By Nebojsa Malic, senior writer at RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.