They defend a freedom to bother

Bien sûr, c’est normal. There are Christina Hoff Sommerses and Ella Whelans in France too, and they join their anglophone sisters in saying this has gone too far.

Just one day after Hollywood offered a show of support for the #MeToo movement on the Golden Globes red carpet and stage, a famous actress on the other side of the Atlantic lent her name to a public letter denouncing the movement, as well as its French counterpart, #Balancetonporc, or “Expose Your Pig.”

Catherine Deneuve joined more than 100 other Frenchwomen in entertainment, publishing and academic fields Tuesday in the pages of the newspaper Le Monde and on its website in arguing that the two movements, in which women and men have used social media as a forum to describe sexual misconduct, have gone too far by publicly prosecuting private experiences and have created a totalitarian climate.

“Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression,” the letter, dated Monday, begins.

But the claim is not that “insistent flirting” is [necessarily] a crime, but rather that it’s one branch of the systemic subordination of women, that it hampers women at work, that it violates workplace rules, that it’s a form of bullying, and so on. The idea isn’t that all the harassing men should be thrown into prison, it’s that the harassing should stop.

(Also, “gallantry” – give me a break.)

“As a result of the Weinstein affair, there has been a legitimate realization 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.”

They contend that the #MeToo movement has led to a campaign of public accusations that have placed undeserving people in the same category as sex offenders without giving them a chance to defend themselves. “This expedited justice already has its victims, men prevented from practicing 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,” they write. The letter, written in French was translated here by The New York Times.

The only thing they did wrong was treat work colleagues who had the bad luck to be women as if they were merchandise laid out on a shelf for consumption. It’s several decades too late to pretend that men just have no idea that women at work want to be treated as colleagues rather than sexual opportunities.

They believe that the scope of the two movements represses sexual expression and freedom…

They continue, “The philosopher Ruwen Ogien defended the freedom to offend as essential to artistic creation. In the same way, we defend a freedom to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom.” Though the writers do not draw clear lines between what constitutes sexual misconduct and what does not, they say that they are “sufficiently farseeing not to confuse a clumsy come-on and sexual assault.”

But #MeToo doesn’t confuse a clumsy come-on and sexual assault either. It’s entirely possible to say both: an unwanted sexual overture is not assault, and an unwanted sexual overture is out of place in a work environment. A thing can be bad without being a crime; we can call things bad without thereby saying or implying they are crimes. I don’t think anyone has called for Charlie Rose or Leon Wieseltier to be prosecuted. That doesn’t mean what they did was harmless.

In concluding the letter, the writers return to the concept of self-victimization and a call for women to accept the pitfalls that come with freedom. “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,” they write. “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.”

Dear god. That’s truly sad. That’s what people tell themselves in concentration camps – “my inner freedom is inviolable.” Women don’t have to put up with accidents that can affect their bodies; women are allowed to say no, stop treating us as if we were there for your sexual coffee break.

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