Select Page

Feminism in France is as old as the revolution. It’s just not feminism as many of us know it. The anti-#MeToo letter signed by French national treasure Catherine Deneuve and 100 other well-known women has sparked an international furore that perfectly encapsulates the chasm between feminist ideologies.

In essence, it comes down to the question of whether women should be, or want to be, regarded as sex objects. French women including Deneuve, some of whom say they are feminists, view being desired as a sexual object as an intrinsic part of being female, as well as part-and-parcel of sexual freedom and the intricate pattern of human relationships. It’s part of what’s famously known as the “French cultural exception”.

The signatories are quite specific about where they stand on this sex object question: “A woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being a man’s sexual object, without being a ‘whore’ or a vile accomplice of the patriarchy,” they write.

They should have stopped there, because most women, including French women, would surely draw the line at what follows: “She can make sure that her wages are equal to a man’s but not feel eternally traumatised by a man who rubs himself against her in the subway, even if that is regarded as an offence. She can even consider this act as the expression of a great sexual deprivation, or even a non-event.” Really? A bit of frottage on the Metro is nothing to make a fuss about, or is even a service to the sex-starved?

France gave feminism Olympe de Gouges, the revolutionary guillotined in 1793 for her pamphlet “declaration of the rights of women and citizens”, as well as Simone de Beauvoir, whose treatise on the historical oppression of women, The Second Sex, is credited with launching second-wave feminism. But French feminism remains a paradox.

There are occasions when it seems French women simply don’t get the notion of sisterhood or female solidarity. The anti-#MeToo letter is one of them, with its defence of men’s right to “importune”, grope or rub themselves against women, and the suggestion that most women can’t distinguish between a clumsy pass and persistent harassment. Read More …