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France's celebrity pushback against 'MeToo'

France's celebrity pushback against 'MeToo'
From BBC - January 13, 2018

In the months since allegations of sexual abuse were levelled against US movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood stars have shared their experience and given their support to victims of sexual predators.

The unanimity of the response has been striking. At the Golden Globe awards last Sunday, an entire galaxy of stars came out wearing black in solidarity with victims.

This week the doyenne of French actresses, Catherine Deneuve, took a different view.

She was the most high-profile of 100 French women who signed an open letter criticising the #MeToo social-media campaign, and related drives to expose sexual harassment in France and elsewhere.

The campaigns, they said, had gone beyond exposing individual perpetrators, and had unleashed a torrent of "hatred against men and sex".

"Puritanism" was running rampant "like in the good old days of witchcraft", they argued, stating that the freedom of men to pester was "essential to sexual freedom".

Around the world - notably the US - jaws dropped and furious responses followed. In France itself there were strong reactions - both for and against - but the response was not front-page news and the tweetosphre was hardly set ablaze.

Those different reactions say something about the different way feminist struggles play out in France and the US.

"It's hard to imagine a US movie star not being comprehensively pilloried" for signing such a letter, says Emily Yoffe, contributing editor for The Atlantic magazine.

US actor Matt Damon, for example, drew fire for expressing much milder reservations about the #MeToo movement.

According to Lionel Shriver, one of the foremost US novelists, the prevailing unanimity in Hollywood is enforced by the risks of being off-message: "Given the nature of social movements these days, if you have reservations you keep your mouth shut."

In the social media age, Shriver adds, "You have one position that's acceptable and everyone piles on to it. If you get in a dissenting opinion, you are going to get slaughtered."

This has not deterred Shriver, who fully supports the Deneuve line and regards #MeToo as a "witch-hunt". "We are losing the distinction between serious sexual assault and even rape and putting a hand on a knee," she says.

"It's as if someone finding you attractive is an insult. I beg to differ: I am complimented if someone is attracted to me. The only question is: am I allowed to say no?"

But if pointing a finger to perceived excesses in the #MeToo campaign is so taboo, why is it that such views can be endorsed by a French celebrity such as Catherine Deneuve without much fuss on her home turf?

One reason, according to Anastasia Colosimo, a political commentator who teaches at Sciences Po in Paris, is the enduring influence in France of 1960s-type feminists, steeped in the free-wheeling ethos of the time.

"A key aspect of the struggle of the 1960s was the need to remove any guilt attached to feminine sexuality," she says. "Women openly said they had the same craving for sex as men."

The signatories of the Le Monde letter include the writer Catherine Millet, who is 69 and best-known for a 2002 memoir detailing her sexual life in graphic detail.

Among the others are Catherine Robbe-Grillet, the author of sadomasochistic writings, and Brigitte Lahaie, a 1970s porn star turned talk-show host.

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