French cinema icon Catherine Deneuve has attacked the “puritanism” triggered by the recent surge of sexual harassment allegations, arguing men should be “free to hit on” women.
The Oscar-nominated 74-year-old actress, best known internationally for playing a bored housewife who spends her afternoons as a prostitute in the 1967 film Belle du Jour, is among about 100 French female writers, performers and academics who have signed an open letter published by the newspaper Le Monde.
It said that campaigns like #MeToo and its French equivalent #Balancetonporc (Call out your pig) that have stemmed from the Harvey Weinstein scandal have gone too far and threaten hard-won sexual freedoms.
“Legitimate protests against the sexual violence that women are subject to, particularly in their professional lives”, had turned into a”‘witch-hunt”, it claimed.
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“Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily, is not – nor is men being gentlemanly a macho attack,” the letter said.
“Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss.”
Men had been dragged through the mud, they insisted, for “talking about intimate subjects during professional dinners or for sending sexually-charged messages to women who did not return their attentions”.
“What began as freeing women up to speak has today turned into the opposite – we intimidate people into speaking ‘correctly’, shut down those who don’t fall into line, and those women who refused to bend” to the new realities “are regarded as complicit and traitors”, they said.
“Instead of helping women, this frenzy to send these (male chauvinist) ‘pigs’ to the abattoir actually helps the enemies of sexual liberty – religious extremists and the worst sort of reactionaries,” the women asserted.
“As women we do not recognise ourselves in this feminism, which beyond denouncing the abuse of power, takes on a hatred of men and of sexuality.”
They insisted that women were “sufficiently aware that the sexual urge is by its nature wild and aggressive. But we are also clear-eyed enough not to confuse an awkward attempt to pick someone up with a sexual attack.”
It is not the first time Deneuve has slammed social media campaigns to shame men accused of harassing women.
“I don’t think it is the right method to change things, it is excessive,” she said last year. “After ‘Calling out your pig’ what are we going to have, ‘Call out your whore?'”
Actress Rose McGowan, who claims she was raped by Weinstein (which he denies), tweeted in response: “THIS IS NOT A WITCH HUNT.”
The letter comes after Hollywood stars offered a show of support for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes on Monday by dressing in black and making powerful speeches tackling sexual harassment and gender inequality.