Article by Meredith Keeve a.k.a. the Wandering Parisian
In January of 2018, on the heels of the Weinstein affair Catherine Deneuve and 99 other famous French women signed a letter that was printed in Le Monde complaining that the definiton of harassment, as articulated by some in the #MeToo movement, was too broad. While these women clearly supported the victims of Weinstein’s egregious aggressions, they felt that flirtatious commentary – whether or not it was requested or provoked – should not be included in the definition of sexual harassment. A week later Deneuve came back into the public eye to apologize for offending those who had suffered traumatic incidents of harassment. So much for fighting the zeitgeist.
How do we define harassment?
Rape and sexual aggressions are unspeakable crimes. However, when it comes to harassment how wide a definition serves which, and whose, purpose? In these complicated and difficult times do we really want to define every heterosexual interaction as possible harassment? Barry Diller, the media mogul, revealed in a recent interview that he had fielded a complaint from a female member of staff that she was being “harassed” by her boss. To paraphrase in brief, the employee was brought before a select committee to disclose the nature of the problem. The problem, according to the employee, was that the boss had invited her for a drink.
Diller, again to paraphrase, was concerned that by defining such as ‘harassment’ that woman was, perhaps, making it impossible for the boss to discuss office politics or leadership or prospective career evolution in a setting outside the office. After such a complaint it seems unlikely that either party would emerge unscathed.
As someone who has long researched and written about France and French women the #MeToo movement seems particularly fraught with dangerous lines and cracks, where harassment begins and ends, what comments or behaviors may be considered inappropriate, and what may be considered occasion to prosecute. One of the things Francophiles tend to love about France is the wonderful, playful and often seductive relationship between men and women. The adversarial relationship between men and women so prevalent in the US seems very foreign to the French. The strangely elusive and mystifying relationship between men and women in the UK equally so.
Is all flirtation out of bounds?
French women love to be flirted with, and ditto for French men. What happens when #MeToo sets all prospective flirtation out of bounds?
And what about seduction, and French Lingerie – is all of that out of the window as well?
Can the modern women, whatever passport she carries, be bothered to put on corsets and garter belts/suspenders? Are push up bras to be burned, and stretch-everything, in its anonymous inclusivity, to be adopted across the board?
Shall we assume that all of the various means and methods of attracting sexual, or other attention, are off the table as hopelessly outdated? At 50+ I want to have a complete arsenal at my disposal – don’t you?