A cultural misunderstanding (Illustration above by Luci Guttierez)
The NewYorker - a most wonderful weekly litterary magazine - created an uproar with the usually funny column "Shouts and Murmurs" in this edition by Riane Konc "How to Dismiss Harassment like a French Woman". The satire is a response to Catherine Deneuve's open letter, signed by a hundred other French women, calling the #MeToo campaign a “witch hunt.”
Catherine Deneuve (Top) Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot also attacked the movement, claiming that actresses who complain of sexual harassment are only looking for publicity. “The vast majority are being hypocritical and ridiculous,” Bardot told the magazine Paris Match.
From there Ms. Konc takes her cliché'd conception of French women, skewering every false perception one by one. The quoted thoughts of those two actresses were enough to have her somber into jokes on body hair: "French women accept that body hair is a natural part of life, just like a boss unzipping his pants in the office, or the refusal to pronounce consonants at the end of words" or better yet: "For some reason, celebrated French women keep making tone-deaf statements challenging the existence of harassment and abuse. If we really want to figure out why, doesn’t it feel sort of irresponsible to not at least look into the whole eating-snails thing?". Funny? I think not.
Gerard Araud, the French Ambassador, commented on Twitter that "The NewYorker is an excellent magazine more than a little francophile but here bad humor becomes "mauvais goût" (bad taste), followed by a host of other miffed followers.
It reminds me of the French bashing in 2003, when the (then) Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin criticized the US for the invasion of Iraq. This created such an outrage that people were reported to have poured French wine down the toilet and French Fries were renamed "Freedom Fries". At the time, we lived near a fine food store named "Gracie's Market". There seemed to be an unspoken ritual that went on there in the mornings between several French patrons of the Italian expresso bar. There were 2 professional French chefs, a butler and myself, on occasion. The morning after the remark was made, there was a brouhaha in the aisles. One of the chefs was red with anger. He called over the French speaking manager, Mohamed. - "If they don't change the name back on the coffee, I will close our account immediately"! - "And you know how much we spend here, right?" Curious, I asked what the fuss was all about. The store had changed the "French Roast" labels on the coffee to "Freedom Roast"! Needless to say, the labels were quickly switched back.
Back to the French Women and Harassment: Catherine Deneuve's op-ed was awkward and Americans did not appreciate what she said. She later clarified she did not approve of predators or violence against women in any form, she was addressing unwanted "passes". Ok, still not welcome at this time, but I do want to point something out about Ms. Deneuve that a lot of women of my generation will not forget. She had the courage, back in 1971, to sign “The 343rd manifesto” (also called "343 bitches", by some bitter politicians) ,edited by Simone de Beauvoir and published in the magazine “Le Nouvel Observateur", signed by 343 French women, from actresses to writers and musicians, admitting they had abortions, which were then, punishable by law. The petition caused a lot of controversy but thanks to all those women, the "Veil law" took effect (named after Simone Veil, who brought it to vote) and changed the face of French women's rights forever. Whatever Ms. Deneuve says now, many will not forget what she did then.
Ms. Konc cannot know the feeling of those times, being much younger. She casually jokes about things no one should laugh about, on either side of the Atlantic. People will say foolish and insensitive things (re: Brigitte Bardot), but that does not give license to "bash" all French women, especially those who also have things to say, and for those who suffer harassment differently.