PARIS — My adopted home is the land of the shoulder shrug, of the insouciant “bof,” of a “these-things-happen” cynicism—a place where there’s a small industry of books on seduction and far more shame attached to discussing money than to discussing sex. So it was surprising to see the Weinstein scandal explode so intensely in France.
But there are darker sides here—daily indignities and workplace harassment, to say nothing of troubling rates of women being harmed or even killed by their partners in France—and it seems to have taken Harvey Weinstein’s downfall to bring it out. While the hashtag #MeToo has released an emotional wave of testimonials by women around the world, in a kind of online group therapy, France’s answer, #BalanceTonPorc—“rat out your pig”—which went viral this week, takes things a step further.
Started last weekend by Sandra Muller, a New-York-based French journalist, the hashtag essentially invites naming names. That could be a slippery slope. (Lawyers have asked Muller to delete a tweet in which she named the name of a French executive who she said had told her, “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night.”)
But the fact that the #BalanceTonPorc hashtag has taken off here—the country where the wild life of Dominique Strauss Kahn, the once presidential-contender and managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was something of an open secret before his political career was destroyed by allegations he had sexually assaulted a hotel maid in New York—marks a shift. It’s the flip side of an old dynamic: The French may still consider Americans too moralistic when it comes to sex, but when it comes to sexual harassment, it took an American scandal—and good old-fashioned investigative reporting—to open a debate France has needed to have for some time. It reminds me of how the European press loved picking up American press reports of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, perhaps because it gave them cover to confront something they knew was pervasive but might never have taken the initiative to tackle on their own (with the notable exception of Ireland’s press).