One of the arguments the writers make is that instead of empowering women, the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements instead serve the interests of “the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries,” and of those who believe that women are “‘separate’ beings, children with the appearance of adults, demanding to be protected.” They write that “a woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being the sexual object of a man, without being a ‘promiscuous woman,’ nor a vile accomplice of patriarchy.”
They believe that the scope of the two movements represses sexual expression and freedom. After describing requests from publishers to make male characters “less sexist” and a Swedish bill that will require people to give explicit consent before engaging in sexual activity, the women write, “One more effort and two adults who will want to sleep together will first check, through an app on their phone, a document in which the practices they accept and those they refuse will be duly listed.”
They continue, “The philosopher Ruwen Ogien defended the freedom to offend as essential to artistic creation. In the same way, we defend a freedom to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom.” Though the writers do not draw clear lines between what constitutes sexual misconduct and what does not, they say that they are “sufficiently farseeing not to confuse a clumsy come-on and sexual assault.”
Translations of the letter were quickly picked up by Twitter on Tuesday, and responses ranged from supportive to hostile. Asia Argento, an actress who accused Harvey Weinstein of raping her, criticized the Frenchwomen’s letter on Twitter.
In France, tens of thousands of stories have landed on social media under the hashtag #Balancetonporc since the journalist Sandra Muller used it in October in a post on Twitter about an inappropriate come-on she received from a French executive.
The multitude of revelations in France has led to discussion of legislative proposals that would fine men for aggressive catcalling or lecherous behavior toward women in public, and lengthen the statute of limitations for cases involving minors. Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for gender equality, said that France’s parliament would also debate whether to establish a clear age below which a minor cannot consent to a sexual relationship. The decision came after French prosecutors declined to charge a 28-year-old man with rape after he had sex with an 11-year-old girl.
In March, Ms. Deneuve defended Roman Polanski, the director who pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old girl and who was accused by two other women of forcing himself on them when they were under age. While appearing on a French television channel, Ms. Deneuve said, “It’s a case that has been dealt with, it’s a case that has been judged. There have been agreements between Roman Polanski and this woman.”
In concluding the letter, the writers return to the concept of self-victimization and a call for women to accept the pitfalls that come with freedom. “Accidents that can affect a woman’s body do not necessarily affect her dignity and must not, as hard as they can be, necessarily make her a perpetual victim,” they write. “Because we are not reducible to our bodies. Our inner freedom is inviolable. And this freedom that we cherish is not without risks and responsibilities.”