It's not every day that I feel moved to respond to the last cries of a dying generation of women who belong ardently to first and second waves of feminism, but then Catherine Deneuve had to go and raise a cry from the dead, so here we are.
The backlash against the global #MeToo movement was imminent. Every single woman who participated, recognized it, understood it, or know even the tiniest thing about feminism knew it was coming. Every single time there has been a movement for a cultural shift toward equality, the backlash can be written into the footnotes. That this backlash is spearheaded in part by women is testament to the ferocity and treacherous nature of the patriarchy, and of some women as its blind defenders.
Catherine Deneuve and her friends say a whole slew of ridiculous statements in their open letter, including that women who speak out against sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape in the work place are puritanical and that we shouldn't admonish men for a few stolen glances, stolen kisses and persistent touching/flirtation/etc. Once I managed to un-roll my eyes and swallow the disgust, this is what I thought.
1. Ms. Deneuve and her fellow french women are part of an elite group of mainly white, upper class women who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. They benefit tremendously from embodying the trope of a sexually free woman who holds and wields power in the work place while simultaneously being the sexual object of the men she works with (that is an actual quote, if you can believe it). This is how Ms. Deneuve and her friends may have acceded to their powerful positions, and this is the 'normal behaviour' of the powerful men with whom they interact. In their view, the #MeToo women should just accept this 'fraternization' as the normalized consequence of being a woman. Men will be men, after all, and any disruption of this state, or pushback against this behaviour will jeopardize their positions, the circles and benefits Ms. Deneuve and her friends have accessed. Ms. Deneuve has no wish for equality for all women, just the women who can play the game of patriarchy properly. What Ms. Deneuve fails to understand is that there is a new generation of women who no longer want any of this crap, and who do not want to go through it in order to access power, or access resources, or to simply do their jobs. And these women will never tell other women to suffer in silence, will never accuse women who speak up of being 'perpetual victims' (again, repurposing feminist terminology for upholding the status quo is such a brilliant move if it weren't so transparent), and will recognize the strength it takes to speak truth to power when the repercussions are so dire.
2. Ms. Deneuve and her compatriots seem to believe that men and women hold equal power within the work place and this sexual banter in which they engage is consensual on all sides. This is so wrong and as far from the truth as is humanly possible. I don't have time to list the innumerable stats on inequality in the workplace (I'll let Harvard do some of that for me, and you can Google the rest if you so choose), in pay, in post, in rank, in upward mobility, etc etc etc. So if we begin from the understanding that nowhere in the world do women have the same opportunities or hold the same power as men, then we understand that these work place 'flirtations' (I, personally, did not know that assault in the form of groping, sending naked pics, exposing genitals or rape constituted flirtation) are actually one-sided power plays that have real consequences. Ms. Deneuve and her friends seem to ignore, not care or simply disbelieve that women are regularly demoted, fired, or blocked from upward mobility because they do not respond appreciatively to harassment or assault. Recent HR moves to denounce harassment have been shown to do, well, nothing, and indeed, women are more likely to be fired or punished for speaking out, with one study finding a dismal 75% of women who did report had experienced retaliation.
3. Ms. Deneuve and her slew of blind colleagues do not seem to make any room for experiences that do not mirror their own. Expanding on the above understanding that women are not equal to men in the workplace barely scratches the surface of the experiences of women from lower classes or from 'minority' backgrounds. Research and testimony has shown that these women often suffer more harassment, more consequences from speaking out and are more likely to suffer in silence. We also now know that women who are subject to sexual harassment in the work place leave these jobs on average 6.5 times more than other women, leading to an insidious increase in the pay gap. This has real-world economic consequences, worse for women of colour and from lower classes. Ms. Deneuve mirrors a disbelief that this type of noxious environment has consequences, but we know now that it causes far more harm than previously thought. That is also one of the lovely things about being in power: Ms. Deneuve and her blinder-wearing friends allow themselves not only to dictate how things are, but also how other women should react to them, choosing to believe only what works for their own limited worldview.
4. Last but not least, Ms. Deneuve and her echo-chamber actually coin a new term, "a freedom to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom." As in, men have the right to bother women in order to flirt with them, and women, in their sexual freedom-ness, must accept that there is a risk to it all. No - but really, absolutely not. That is one step away from, she was asking for it, what with that sexual freedom of hers. That is not what I will be teaching my son to do and certainly not what I will be teaching my daughters to accept. No one has the right to 'bother' anyone else, nor 'insistently' flirt as Ms. Deneuve also thinks is okay. Especially not in the workplace, where millions of women go in order to provide for their children, to put a roof over their own heads, put food on the table, care for their families, and subsist on minimum wages or wages that reek of pay gaps. That work place must be free of harassment, of assault, of abuse and of rape. If it is not, power structures remain entrenched, and men continue to exert horrific power over women's lives with disastrous consequences.
Work places, for the majority of women on this planet, are not movie sets with glamorous costumes, where women are glorified playthings prancing about under the guise of sexual freedom (a sexual freedom to the benefit of whom, might be the question to ask) as Ms. Deneuve might imagine. And as the #MeToo movement has illustrated, even on on these movie sets, women are fed up. No one wants to go through this harassment any more. Not even the movie stars getting paid the big bucks (but less than men still).
Remember, the patriarchy would not exist without a special group of women policing the roles, experiences and self-expressions of other women, ensuring they stick to the roles that women are 'supposed' to embody. Unfortunately for Ms. Deneuve, and as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, there is also a special place in hell for women who do not help other women, so while the door is open, Ms. Deneuve, for you to see the light of the #MeToo movement (and we won't make you go through harassment to get in), I doubt strongly you'll have the sense to walk through it.