Men should have the right to “pester” women. “This urge to send men to the slaughterhouse, instead of helping women be more autonomous, helps the enemies of sexual freedom.” So says a column published in French newspaper, Le Monde, and signed by more than 100 powerful French women.
It strongly criticises the #MeToo movement as puritan, and argues women are being infantilised by a need to protect and separate them. The translation of the letter by the New York Times quotes it as saying: “a woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being the sexual object of a man, without being a ‘promiscuous woman,’ nor a vile accomplice of patriarchy.”
Which, of course they can. They can also do both those things without being sexually harassed or assaulted.
The women who signed this letter appear to believe that #MeToo, and the French counterpart, #BalanceTonPorc (Expose Your Pig) have become a kind of vigilante justice where innocent men are being punished for perfectly acceptable behaviour.
Listen: Tracey Spicer joins Holly Wainwright and Rachel Corbett to deep dive on why the #metoo movement has kick-started a new way of thinking worldwide.
The French women, including famous actress Catherine Deneuve, have provoked a kind of weary eye-rolling among many women who engaged in the movement. Just like women who say they’re not feminists, they just believe men and women should be treated equally, the women who’ve started this “backlash” appear to have fundamentally, willfully misunderstood.
#MeToo is not a “witch hunt” (that was Woody Allen’s argument, so let’s just consider that for a second), it’s not a way to infantalise men and women or force people into consent contracts that steal all the fun from sex. It’s not a tool of the humourless, frigid, man-hating feminists who just don’t want anyone else to have a love life if they can’t. #MeToo is a movement that highlights and calls out inappropriate and criminal sexual behaviour.
It isn’t coming for you if you smiled at your crush in line at the cafeteria. It’s not after you if you asked them out and they said yes. It’s not going to have an issue if you both have a good time and decide to go out again. #MeToo isn’t anti flirt, it’s anti-harassment. It isn’t anti sex, it’s anti rape. These things aren’t interchangeable.
If one person in the situation says no, or seems unenthusiastic, or is there under false pretences and trying to leave, or is your subordinate at work and fearful they’ll lose their job, it’s not flirting. It’s not sex. It’s not “a bit of fun”.
The idea that men can’t tell the difference between predatory and pleasant is insulting to everyone. The idea that women who don’t want to be hit on repeatedly, touched, flashed or trapped in hotel rooms by their bosses or their colleagues are anti-sex is just dumb.
Asia Argento, one of the women who has accused Harvey Weinstein of assault and harassment, tweeted her response to the French women, and it was killer.
“Catherine Deneuve and other French women tell the world how their interiorized misogyny has lobotomized them to the point of no return,” she tweeted, along with a link to an article about the letter.
Argento is right. It’s the old ideas about what men’s roles and women’s roles are that seem to be the impetus for Deneuve and co’s despair. That men can’t just “pester” a woman with no consequences is a sign of puritan madness to them.
But it’s 2018. Women aren’t locked away in their father’s houses waiting for a man to marry anymore. They aren’t expected to refuse the advances of even the boys they like for appearance sake. They don’t have to be virgins when they marry, they don’t have to stay married to a man they don’t want to be married to, they work in fields that just 50 years ago would have been almost unheard of, penetrating the highest echelons of business, academia, arts and government. Not in large numbers, but they are there.
The role of women and the way women wield their sexual power has fundamentally changed over the course of Deneuve’s life. Now, women have agency. They can say no. They can say yes. They do say both of those things. And because they’re allowed to say yes now, maybe it’s time we abandon the idea that a woman who says no just wants you to try a little harder. Push a little further, get a little more in her face, or whatever.
She doesn’t have to pretend anymore.
Pester is another word for harass. Harassment is a crime. #MeToo is an attempt by women around the world to expose and put an end to the mountains of harassment and abuse they face every day. It’s not a witch hunt. It’s not puritan. It’s not ruining the lives of innocent men.
It’s inevitable that some people will want to twist #MeToo and its associated consequences because they are afraid of what change will mean, how it will affect the world as we know it, what will happen next. But we shouldn’t be afraid, because anything that lifts women up and gives them a voice should be celebrated.
So, don’t worry Catherine Deneuve. The sexual revolution didn’t end, it just got more equal.