Powerful men fall, one after another, in France’s delayed #MeToo

Written by Norimitsu Onishi

When Sandra Muller began France’s #MeToo social media marketing campaign in 2017, tens of hundreds of ladies responded to her calls to “#ExposeYourPig.”

But the backlash was overwhelming. Some of essentially the most distinguished ladies in the nation, led by Catherine Deneuve, denounced the motion in a letter that got here to outline France’s preliminary response to #MeToo. In 2019, Muller misplaced a defamation case in opposition to a former tv government she had uncovered on Twitter, with France showing proof against the bigger international forces difficult the dominance of men.

Last week, Muller gained her attraction. though there have been no new information, a major ruling by the appeals court docket underscored how issues have modified in the previous two years.

“Before the ruling, I thought there were stirrings,” Muller mentioned in a telephone interview from New York, the place she now lives. “Now, I have the impression that there’s been a leap forward.”

Since the start of the 12 months, a collection of highly effective men from a few of France’s most distinguished fields — politics, sports activities, the information media, academia and the humanities — have confronted direct and public accusations of sexual abuse in a reversal from principally years of silence. At the identical time, confronted with these high-profile instances and a shift in public opinion, French lawmakers are hurrying to set 15 because the age of sexual consent — solely three years after rejecting such a regulation.

The current accusations haven’t solely led to official investigations, the lack of positions for some men and outright banishment from public life for others. They have additionally resulted in a rethinking of French masculinity and of the archetype of Frenchmen as irresistible seducers — as a part of a broader questioning of many facets of French society and amid a conservative backlash in opposition to concepts on gender, race and postcolonialism supposedly imported from American universities.

“Things are moving so fast that sometimes my head spins,” mentioned Caroline De Haas, a feminist activist who in 2018 based #NousToutes, a gaggle in opposition to sexual violence. She described herself as “super optimistic.”

Haas mentioned that France was going by way of a delayed response to #MeToo after a “maturation” interval throughout which many French started to know the social dimensions behind sexual violence and the idea of consent.

That was particularly so, Haas mentioned, after the testimony in the previous 12 months of Adèle Haenel, the primary high-profile actress to talk out over abuse, and of Vanessa Springora, whose memoir, “Consent,” documented her abuse by pedophile author Gabriel Matzneff.

“The start of 2021 has been a sort of aftershock,” Haas mentioned. “What’s very clear is that, today in France, we don’t at all have the same reaction that we did four, five years ago to testimonies of sexual violence against well-known people.”

Last month, Pierre Ménès, one of France’s most well-known tv sports activities journalists, was suspended indefinitely by his employer after the discharge of a documentary that uncovered sexism in sports activities journalism, “I’m Not a Slut, I’m a Journalist.”

Just just a few years in the past, few criticized him for habits that they now don’t dare defend in public, together with forcibly kissing ladies on the mouth on tv and, in entrance of a studio viewers in 2016, lifting the skirt of a feminine journalist — Marie Portolano, the producer of the documentary.

“The world’s changed, it’s #MeToo, you can’t do anything anymore, you can’t say anything anymore,” Ménès mentioned in a tv interview after the documentary’s launch. He mentioned he didn’t keep in mind the skirt incident, including that he hadn’t been feeling like himself on the time due to a bodily sickness.

The record of different distinguished men is lengthy and getting longer. There is Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, France’s most well-known information anchor, who’s being investigated on allegations of raping a younger lady and who defended himself on tv by saying that he belonged to a technology for whom “seduction was important” and included “kisses on the neck.” He has denied the rape accusations.

There is Georges Tron, a former authorities minister, who was cleared in 2018 of raping an worker however was sentenced in February to 5 years in jail in an appeals court docket ruling that, in response to Le Monde, mirrored the truth that society’s “understanding of consent has unquestionably changed.”

There is Gérard Depardieu, France’s largest movie star, and Gérald Darmanin, the highly effective inside minister, additionally underneath investigation in rape instances that had been reopened final 12 months. Both have mentioned they’re harmless.

Olivier Duhamel, a distinguished mental, and Richard Berry, a well-known actor, have each been lately positioned underneath investigation after accusations of incest by relations. Berry has denied the accusations; Duhamel has not commented on the costs in opposition to him.

Claude Lévêque, the internationally recognized artist, is underneath investigation on suspicion of rape of minors and was publicly accused for the primary time in January by a former sufferer. He has denied the accusations.

Dominique Boutonnat, a film producer whom President Emmanuel Macron named president of the National Center for Cinema final 12 months, was positioned underneath investigation in February on allegations of tried rape and sexual assault of his godson and has mentioned he’s harmless.

“This recent wave in France, it’s a delayed reaction to the Matzneff affair,” Francis Szpiner, the lawyer representing Muller, mentioned, including that the downfall of the pedophile author and of Duhamel made individuals understand that highly effective men in France weren’t “untouchable.”

Camille Froidevaux-Metterie, a number one feminist thinker, mentioned that it was vital that the men now underneath investigation had been leaders in a range of fields. Revelations surrounding them have undermined the myths of Frenchmen as nice seducers and of a refined romantic tradition the place “we, French, in our interplay of seduction, know how to interpret nonverbal signs and we have this art of seduction, a gentle commerce between the sexes,” she mentioned.

“These are men who all embody, in some ways, the old patriarchal order of things — of men of power and men who have used and abused their power to sexually exploit the bodies of others, whether they be women or young men,” Froidevaux-Metterie mentioned, including, “Perhaps we are experiencing the first real shock to that system.”

France’s preliminary response to #MeToo was to reject it as an American distortion of feminism, the identical approach French conservatives are actually making an attempt to dismiss concepts on race and racism as irrelevant American ideas, mentioned Raphaël Liogier, a French sociologist who teaches at Sciences Po Aix-en-Provence and who was lately a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York.

As Deneuve and different ladies in 2017 denounced #MeToo as a product of “puritanism” and a risk to “sexual freedom,” conservatives pushed again by arguing that American ladies had been sexually repressed and truly much less free than Frenchwomen, Liogier mentioned.

“So, in fact, in France, our line of defense consisted of saying, ‘It’s not us, it’s the Americans,’” he mentioned, including, “Today, that line of defense has collapsed.”

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