Catherine Deneuve’s response to the #Metoo movement has divided French feminists

Many prominent women are concerned that France’s long history of ‘libertinage’ is threatened by what they see as a witchhunt against men.

The recent publication in French newspaper Le Monde, of an open letter by female writers and actors in defence of men’s right to pick up women, has left many people bemused. The letter, signed by 100 women including celebrated French actress Catherine Deneuve, said that the #metoo movement had gone too far and that it “chains women to the status of eternal victim”.

It’s not the first time this decade that globalising Anglo-US feminism and other national cultures have found themselves singing from different hymn-sheets. In 2011, charges of sexual harassment against then IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn elicited significantly less outrage in France than in Anglophone countries. At home the politician was publicly defended by such well-known figures as self-proclaimed philosopher Bernard Henry-Lévy, the respected criminal attorney and former minister of justice Robert Badinter, former socialist minister of culture Jack Lang – and even feminist Elisabeth Badinter, who has long scolded some French feminists for aligning themselves with a “victimising” American feminism.

Meanwhile, much of the criticism of DSK in the US media was difficult to extricate from nationalistically inflected expressions of cultural superiority, over which France and the US have a long history of coming to blows. The allusions in the recent French letter to puritanism, a concept synonymous with American values in France, suggest anxieties about protecting a way of life perceived to be under threat as a whole.

As French critic Noël Burch has noted, the tradition of libertinage is “an element of our cultural identity recognised the world over and no doubt the envy of many”. Writing in 2008, Burch suggested that an attachment to the cult of seduction motivated the signing of another document by several of the same women behind the present letter, whom Burch dubbed “literary salon feminists” – a petition published in Elle magazine in support of the ban of the Muslim hijab in French schools.

As he pointed out, what is revealing is that many of its signatories also lent their name shortly afterwards to a protest against the regulation of cruising in France, with the result that these issues arguably became de facto interlinked in public perception. What these women seemingly objected to in both cases was any threat to women’s and girls’ availability for “legitimate” public sexualisation in their everyday lives.

Among those involved in all these campaigns have been celebrity writers of sexually explicit novels, Catherine Millet and Catherine Robbe-Grillet, who were among five women responsible for the text of the Le Monde letter. Further noteworthy signatories of the Elle petition referenced by Burch included public intellectual Marcella Iacub and “extreme” filmmaker Catherine Breillat.

Iacub is well-known for having championed her former lover DSK in a memoir entitled Beauty and the Beast, in which she defended his “porc” (literally, pig) tendencies as vital and liberating in their very amorality. This is a somewhat ironic formulation when we consider the emergence, post-Weinstein, of the anti-harassment campaign #Balancetonporc meaning roughly “stop chauvinist pigs” (a brilliant pun on the classic pavement leer “balance ton corps” or “swing your body”).

Breillat is relevant to today’s debate through her professional association with the Italian actress Asia Argento. Argento starred in the director’s 19th-century period drama, Une Vieille Maîtresse (The Last Mistress) and is one of the most prominent figures to have accused Harvey Weinstein of rape. Une Vieille Maîtresse is the most explicit of three literary adaptations in which Argento has embodied libertinage in the historical contexts with which it is primarily associated – the others being La Reine Margot and Marie Antoinette, in both of which she plays a courtesan.

Argento’s case highlights the way in which life can imitate art, which is why it matters a great deal precisely how women are understood by cultural narratives as well as in professional and other social contexts, in the entertainment industry and beyond. It also serves as a reminder that France is not the only country to have pushed back against the present moment’s calls for change, emblematised by #MeToo. The Italian press’s reaction to Argento’s accusations has been so virulent that she has been forced to flee the country.

Nor, of course, have most French feminists sided with the group given a platform in Le Monde. France’s secretary of state for equality, Marlène Shiappa, as well as the former minister for women’s rights Laurence Rossignol and militant feminist Catherine De Haas and the organisation Osez le Féminisme (Dare to be Feminist) have been among critics of its position.

Feminism is far from being a monolithic body in any context – and questions of sexual “freedom” expressed through display and seduction have often proved controversial not only in France, as for instance demonstrated by the divisive issues raised by the 2011 Toronto SlutWalk.

Disconcertingly out of touch though the “salon feminist” position may be, you don’t need to be a puritan to recognise the wisdom of the biblical doctrine of “Let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone” in these matters. It’s easy to be a hypocrite if you aren’t careful.

Mary Harrod, Assistant Professor in French Film, University of Warwick

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.