PARIS—After the backlash, comes the backlash to the backlash. It’s been fascinating to follow the torrent of responses in France this week to an open letter in Le Monde signed by French actress Catherine Deneuve and 99 other women, effectively saying that the #MeToo movement had gone too far and that women should own up to their own sexual agency. (I wrote about the letter here and you can find a full translation here.)
“Sexual Freedom Threatened, REALLY?” ran the headline of Thursday’s Libération, a left-wing daily, beneath photos of three signatories: Deneuve, Catherine Millet, the author of The Sexual Life of Catherine M., and Brigitte Lahaie, a talk-show host and former porn actress. The implication was, why should we listen to these women? “To entertain the idea that a groper on the metro ‘is the expression of a great sexual misery, or a non-event’”—as the Deneuve letter had—“presumes that you live on a planet without rush hour and have enough power and/or hours on the couch to relativize it at your leisure,” the paper wrote in an editorial.
Marlène Schiappa, France’s undersecretary of state with a portfolio for equality between men and women—surely a thankless task—went further, calling parts of the letter “profoundly shocking and even false.” “We already have tremendous difficulty making young women understand that when a man rubs his sex up against a woman in the metro without her consent, that’s a sexual assault, punishable with up to three years in prison and a €75,000 fine,” she added. Women should understand that there is absolutely “no shame” in coming forward with such claims, Schiappa said.