Sex Harassment Campaign Called Puritanism by French Intellectuals

French actress Catherine Deneuve in 1995. (Georges Biard via Wikipedia)

(CN) – An open letter signed by movie star Catherine Deneuve and about 100 French intellectuals said the American campaign against sex harassment verges on Puritanism, prompting predictable outrage.

In the letter, published in Le Monde daily newspaper, Deneuve and about 100 actresses, writers, scholars and artists argued that the “legitimate protest against sexual violence” stemming from the Harvey Weinstein scandal has gone too far and threatens hard-won sexual freedoms. They said men should be free to hit on women and advocated against “puritanism.”

“This urge to send men to the slaughterhouse, instead of helping women be more autonomous, helps the enemies of sexual freedom,” the 100 women, including 74-year old Deneuve, one of France’s most famous screen stars, said in the Le Monde column.

“This vigilante (online) justice has punished men in their jobs, forced some to resign, when all they did was touch a knee, try to steal a kiss, talk about ‘intimate’ matters in a work diner,” they wrote.

“We defend a right to pester, which is vital to sexual freedom,” they said.


Marlene Schiappa, France’s junior minister for women’s rights, told France Culture radio: “There are in this open letter some things that are deeply offensive and false.”

The letter signed by Deneuve said some women may see being rubbed against by a man in the metro as an expression of “sexual deprivation” or a “non-event.”

Schiappa countered that “it’s dangerous to say such things,” and insisted that such an act constituted sexual assault punishable with up to three years in prison and a fine of about $90,100.

Writer Abnousse Shalmani, one of those who signed the open letter, said she was surprised by the “extremely violent reactions” it prompted.

“I consider myself to be a grown up. I am capable of receiving a sexual proposition and even more capable of saying no,” she said on Europe 1 radio.

Italian filmmaker and actress Asia Argento, one of the dozens of women who have alleged Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them, called the letter “deplorable” in a tweet.

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