Catherine Deneuve and Others Denounce the #MeToo Movement

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. “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 passage appears to refer to the some of the names on a growing list of men who have been suspended, fired or forced to resign after having been accused of sexual misconduct in the last several months.

One of the arguments the writers make is that instead of empowering women, the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements instead serve the interests of “the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries,” and of those who believe that women are “‘separate’ beings, children with the appearance of adults, demanding to be protected.” They write that “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.”

They believe that the scope of the two movements represses sexual expression and freedom. After describing requests from publishers to make male characters “less sexist” and a Swedish bill that will require people to give explicit consent before engaging in sexual activity, the women write, “One more effort and two adults who will want to sleep together will first check, through an app on their phone, a document in which the practices they accept and those they refuse will be duly listed.”

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.”

Translations of the letter were quickly picked up by Twitter on Tuesday, and responses ranged from supportive to hostile. Asia Argento, an actress who accused Harvey Weinstein of raping her, criticized the Frenchwomen’s letter on Twitter.

On the other side of the spectrum, Christina Hoff Sommers, who coined the term “victim feminism,” tweeted a quote from the letter and her remarks on it.

In France, tens of thousands of stories have landed on social media under the hashtag #Balancetonporc since the journalist Sandra Muller used it in October in a post on Twitter about an inappropriate come-on she received from a French executive.

The multitude of revelations in France has led to discussion of legislative proposals that would fine men for aggressive catcalling or lecherous behavior toward women in public, and lengthen the statute of limitations for cases involving minors. Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for gender equality, said that France’s parliament would also debate whether to establish a clear age below which a minor cannot consent to a sexual relationship. The decision came after French prosecutors declined to charge a 28-year-old man with rape after he had sex with an 11-year-old girl.

In March, Ms. Deneuve defended Roman Polanski, the director who pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl and who was accused by two other women of forcing himself on them when they were under age. While appearing on a French television channel, Ms. Deneuve said, “It’s a case that has been dealt with, it’s a case that has been judged. There have been agreements between Roman Polanski and this woman.”

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.”

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