2018 02 – News From France


Catherine Deneuve

Froggy was delighted to hear about the letter written by five French women (including Catherine Deneuve), signed by a hundred and published in Le Monde on 9th January and presented the following day on radio 4 news by the French correspondent of the Daily Telegraph as follows: ‘We are French, we believe in grey areas.  America is a different country and they do things in black and white, and they make very good computers, but we don’t think that human relations should be treated like that.’

There is a lot to say about relations between the sexes and much, it’s true, not definable in black and white terms.  The following is a brief summary of the letter.

In the context of professional life, some men abuse their power, and this is wrong.  But the campaign of denunciation has degenerated into a witch hunt on social media; in the real world some men are summarily disciplined or sacked without being given a proper trial where they could defend themselves.  They are invited to repent publicly, in a climate of totalitarian society.

Some expressions of male sexuality are unwanted but not criminal, and can just be seen as sad, or even reduced to the status of ‘non events’.  Sexual impulses are by nature on the attack and primitive.  Women are perfectly able to deal with that.  If they have the right to reject advances, men have the right to make them.  Women are not victims, or defenceless prey, mere children with adult faces, who need protection.

Human beings are not monoliths: “A woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being a man’s sexual object.”

The ‘me too’ form of feminism goes beyond the denunciation of abuses of power, and becomes a hatred of men and sexuality.  Finally, women who defend unfairly accused men are accused of being traitors and accomplices of criminals.

A man on the ‘Any Questions’ radio 4 programme the following Saturday said that the witch hunt may be going too far, but men had got away with abusive behaviour for too long, and the pendulum now swung the other way, but as a result things would eventually change for the better.  You can’t ‘make omelettes without breaking eggs’, in other words.  The question is, will it make things better?

The starting point of the ‘me too’ campaign was the Weinstein affair.  Hollywood is a highly special place.  It’s the fountainhead of American influence in the world, its soft nuclear power.  Its grandees are decorated by the state.  It’s the source of global fame and fortune.  That much power given to a few grandees rarely goes with great virtue.  Hollywood has always been known as the place where people sell their body and soul for a place in the sun, the place where people sleep with people they don’t like to further their ambitions.  Note that this traditional way of presenting things, even if you replace ‘people’ by ‘women’, presents the situation not as abuse but as calculation, active rather than passive.  The denouncers of Weinstein are now famous and powerful themselves.

Hence the ‘me too’ campaign should have applied only to other famous and powerful women who slept their way to the top.

Instead it tried to include all women who have been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual attention.  ‘700, 000 women agricultural workers support the Hollywood ‘me too’ campaign’ was one headline.

In fact, the message of support emanated from an unrepresentative group of journalists and others who had at some time worked as agricultural workers.  If there was such a thing as a united group of 700, 000 American agricultural workers, they would constitute a union, with union representatives able to enforce workers’ rights; female employees would have someone to complain to and procedures for redress in case of attempted abuse of power.

In Hollywood on the other hand, hundreds of marvellous beauties with acting talent compete with each other.  There is little a union could do to impose justice, if there was such a thing as justice in this context.

In the world of ordinary people, on the other hand, there is a lot unions can do to impose justice.  Powerful unions, and women joining unions, would make things better.  That would constitute change and worker power.

The ‘me too’ campaign is reminiscent of ‘Occupy Wall Street’: here today, gone tomorrow.

Some feminists charmingly attack Catherine Deneuve for being old and out of date, ignoring the youth of other writers and signatories of the letter.  But there is one old fashioned idea in the letter, that is, the belief that nature is a given that must be taken into account in one’s behaviour.

The letter says that ‘sexual impulses are, by nature, aggressive and primitive’.  [La pulsion sexuelle est par nature offensive et sauvage.]  ‘Offensif/offensive’ in French does not have the same meaning as in English.  It means ‘goes on the offensive, goes on the attack’.  There is no notion of it being bad, only aggressive.

So, human nature is a given that has to be taken into account and worked round.  Because it’s there, it limits your freedom to act.  That goes against two modern ideas, the first, that you should overcome nature as much as possible (same sex parents starting families for example, or men and women not being necessarily different because their biological make up is different).  The second idea is the ideal of absolute freedom.

The liberation of sexual conventions since 1968 has met with its limits; there is now a back tracking, and not everything goes any more.  But it’s very difficult to bring back limits once they have broken down.  In the past women took it upon themselves to keep men in their place; they took precautions, which are now seen as intolerable restrictions on their freedom to act.  Now the responsibility is placed entirely on men.  The Deneuve letter could start an interesting debate, if debate was possible.  But as the letter says, in this totalitarian climate, those who disagree keep their heads down for fear of victimisation.