Women like Deneuve, Bardot and Lahaie are attached to the French myth of freedom. After all, they’ve risen to the top by playing by the patriarchy's rulesby Lucy Wadham / February 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
“Rape is a crime, but…” So begins a letter sent to Le Monde, signed by over 100 women from the highest spheres of French society—authors, artists, performers and academics—deploring the wave of “denunciations” triggered by France’s version of the #MeToo movement, #BalanceTonPorc (call out your pig).
The letter goes on to affirm that a new British and American-style puritanism has been unleashed on France by the sexual harassment scandals. Men, they wrote, must be “free to importune” women and should not be punished for “stealing a kiss.”
Among the signatories are actress Catherine Deneuve, author Catherine Millet and radio host Brigitte Lahaie. A week later, Brigitte Bardot told Paris Match she too agreed with the letter. She condemned her fellow actresses as ‘teases’ (allumeuses) who provoke male producers in order to get parts, asserting that, “in the vast majority of cases [the actresses] are hypocritical, ridiculous, and uninteresting.”
Bardot’s views on the matter are—as a long-standing supporter of the Front National—unsurprisingly reactionary. It is the tone that raises questions: why such scorn for the victim?
This backlash against a movement, widely perceived in France as long overdue, has shocked and baffled social commentators in Britain and America, who have blamed old age for the signatories’ perceived collusion with the patriarchy.
I would argue that age is not the thing. There are plenty of French women of their generation speaking out against the climate of impunity that has long enabled men in positions of power—men like former IMF-chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose Presidential hopes were dashed by a hotel chamber-maid’s allegations of abuse —to get away with routine sexual harassment, even assault.
For me, the clue both to Bardot’s hostility and to the motivations of the authors of the Le Monde letter can be found not in the incompatible values of their generation, but in France’s enduringly hierarchical society—and, in particular, these women’s status within it.
Read Dawn Foster on why ending harassment means changing the nature of work
Take Brigitte Lahaie, another signatory who displayed an equally shocking insensitivity when invited on to French television with militant feminist Caroline de Haas.
Lahaie, a former porn actress whose radio talk-show focusses on matters of sex and love, began by denouncing this new chapter in feminism as a campaign of “hatred for men and…