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14 January 2018

Early this week, Le Monde published an editorial signed by a hundred French women in favour of sexual freedom and seduction French style. According to the signers, who included actress Catherine Deneuve and writer and art critic Catherine Millet, the wave of accusations against Harvey Weinstein that gave way to the #MeToo movement (and in France, to #BalanceTonPorc – Expose Your Pig) has unleashed a witch-hunt and a surge of puritanism that victimises women and considers them ‘fragile objects’. The manifesto was immediately criticised on the social networks, and in other French and international media.

These women do not feel identified with #MeToo; they agree with the liberation of speech but are concerned about ‘going too far’. They say that rape is a crime but insistent or clumsy or flirting is not and, in short, that #NotAllMen. That rubbing against someone on the tube should be forgiven as it’s a sign of sexual deprivation, that we’re all old enough to know how to get out of uncomfortable situations, and that ‘the trauma of rape can also be overcome’, as expressed by our colleague Catherine Millet, who has also said that she wished men still rubbed against her on the tube, since she’s now so old that it no longer happens. Apparently, the role of women in this game of French seduction maintained by the manifesto, a game rooted in the asymmetrical relation between the sexes, is simply being an object of desire. They speak of pleasure but not of consent. What’s left of the right to not be harassed?

The women signing the manifesto reveal a total lack of solidarity with those women who have suffered and continue to suffer abuse; a total lack of empathy with the victims of sexual aggression as a result of the lack of awareness of the violence suffered by countless women for the mere fact of being women. But what this manifesto really reveals is that #FriendsWillBeFriends, and that the members of a same class tend to protect one another. It reveals that these cultivated and powerful women, who are listened to and respected for the fact of being public figures in the world of art and culture, have raised their voice to defend their kind, white men in positions of power. It reveals that seduction French style, like secularism French style, acts as a weapon to try and keep subordinates quiet and obliging — sometimes women, at other times racial minorities.

Le Monde and its editorial are one other expression of the internal solidarity of the elites, a defence mechanism set up whenever they need to protect their privileges. Those who don’t travel by tube, those who have no fear of losing their jobs or not making ends meet, tell us that an inappropriate gesture or remark are no big deal. If American actresses have lent their image to silenced voices, women from the French cultural elite have done the opposite, as they had done in the past defending Roman Polanski, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and so many others who are not so famous.

In a few sentences published in a Facebook post, Andrea Alvarado Vives, from feminist fanzine Bulbasaur, undid the myth of France as a morally progressive country. The truth is that they’re not that advanced when it comes to gender equality — women didn’t obtain the right to vote until 1944 and they still adopt their husbands’ surnames when they marry. Before the accusations that consider feminism a form of puritanism comparable to religious extremism, such as those launched by the one hundred sexually liberated French women in their manifesto, it’s time to be intersectional and recall the recent controversies concerning single-sex activities of the Mwasi (Afro-feminist collective) and Lallab (association of Muslim women), denounced for discrimination when the truth is that they have traditionally been the victims of discrimination and marginalisation.

Glòria Guso is an art historian and a researcher in the social sciences. She was born in the periphery of Barcelona but lives in Paris and her second home is Germany. For her PhD thesis in sociology she studies the international mobility of the visual arts professionals. She writes, coordinates, edits, documents and criticizes.

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