I always thought that if any woman was to speak out against the #MeToo campaign that swept around the world in the light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, she would be French. I don’t know why to be honest; it is probably just a dubious stereotype I have seeded in my brain with regards the French and their attitude to sex.
However tenuous my links to French women and liberal sexual abandon are, it was indeed a French woman, the actress, Catherine Deneuve, who lit the blue torch paper marked ‘Spark Outrage’ when she signed a letter (along with 99 other French women) that effectively rubbished the #MeToo campaign.
Deneuve (who starred in films such as Belle Du Jour and The Last Metro) along with her fellow French ladies, has expressed an opinion that the male of the species have the right to hit on women, which, if we honest, is something most of the heterosexual men reading this, will have done at some point in their lives.
The letter (translated by The New York Times) describes the French women as denouncing #MeToo and indeed, the French version #BalanceTonPorc (Expose Your Pig) claiming that in effect, the movements had pushed reasonable boundaries too far, claiming, “Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression”.
Personally, I can understand that clumsy flirting could be innocent, but I am not certain what they mean by gallantry? Rescuing a woman from a predator then asking her for a bit of ‘ow’s your father’ as a reward?
The letter then went on, saying, ‘As a result of the Weinstein affair, there has been a legitimate realisation of the sexual violence women experience, particularly in the workplace, where some men abuse their power. It was necessary. But now this liberation of speech has been turned on its head.’
“That’s fair enough comment”, I thought.
However, then letter the went further: ‘This expedited justice already has its victims, men prevented from practising their profession as punishment, forced to resign, etc., while the only thing they did wrong was touching a knee, trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about “intimate” things at a work dinner, or sending messages with sexual connotations to a woman whose feelings were not mutual.’
‘Accidents that can affect a woman’s body do not necessarily affect her dignity and must not, as hard as they can be, necessarily make her a perpetual victim. Because we are not reducible to our bodies. Our inner freedom is inviolable. And this freedom that we cherish is not without risks and responsibilities.’
“Ooooh, I’m not so sure about that”, I thought. Touching a work colleagues knee or attempting to steal a kiss sounds overtly lecherous to me and not something I would not recommend, unless of course, you are prone to slap in the face or worse still, a court case.
However, although some of what is in the letter is quite frankly, ridiculous, invoking thoughts of Sid James and Barbara Windsor, it is an opinion and an opinion that should come into the debate as there is no doubt in my mind that there will be innocent men (and indeed women) living in terror of being punished for a clumsy word that in hindsight, might have been offered out of context.
There is no doubting that Harvey Weinstein is disgusting predatory pig of man but the vitriol justifiably aimed at him should also come from innocent men who are in a state of confusion and are probably not doing their jobs properly through inner fear of what they might say, or how they might make a glance at a female colleague.
We have come a long way since I first worked in an office environment, as it was a time when sexist behaviour was almost normal. I have known several women who were put in awful positions by men who used promotions and pay rises as what they perceived as a reasonable form of getting a woman to date them and they all got away with it back in the 80’s and 90’s. It seems archaic but it was rife in big institutions and because it is no longer tolerated, men (and some women by the way) have changed their behaviour for the better.
Anyone who says that isn’t a good thing has a got a problem in their head and should seek guidance.
However, does that mean we should we live a world that, because of the type of cretinous behaviour by men like Weinstein, the definition of chivalry must be redefined as predatory behaviour, rather than being kind and honest? Should all men be categorised as having the same predatory potential as Weinstein?
I don’t think so but I really don’t know to be honest. When I look back on my working life and reflect on how many people came together in an office environment, it does make me wonder that if any form of flirtation (asking a colleague out for a drink, or complimenting on how they look) becomes open to accusations of predatory behaviour, there will be a lot of single people knocking around in the future.
Of course we have to continue to evolve and swerve the archaic potholes that are on the path to righteousness but to sanitise everything we do or say through fear of standing in front of judge and jury watching our lives collapse around us, cannot be healthy for men or women.
Do we want a world there will be no opinion or chivalry without the prospect facing damnation and shame on social media? A world where people attend oscar ceremonies saying “WE SEE YOU…WE ARE COMING FOR YOU!” as decent men live in perpetual fear of making one false move?
I’m not so sure.
Very polite, honest, and kind behaviour, especially by men towards women