Ethics Quote Of The Month: The French Anti-#MeToo Letter

This translated open letter received a lot of publicity last week, in part because the famous French actress Catherine Deneuve signed it (that’s her, above, with Harvey Weinstein) , along with writer/psychoanalyst Sarah Chiche,  author/art critic Catherine Millet, actress/writer Catherine Robbe-Grillet, journalist  Peggy Sastre (author/journalist) and writer/journalist Abnousse Shalmani. It was signed by over a hundred other women.

The entire letter is important, and should be read by anyone interested in this issue—and everyone should be interested. All of the letter is ethically dead on, except one crucial element: workplace harassment is not trivial, as the letter mistakenly suggests. The letter states near the beginning:

“This summary justice has already had its victims: men who’ve been disciplined in the workplace, forced to resign, and so on., when their only crime was to touch a woman’s knee, try to steal a kiss, talk about “intimate” things during a work meal, or send sexually-charged messages to women who did not return their interest.”

The French just do not get this. I have seen it, fought it, and trained companies about it: supervisors using the workplace as a dating bar harms women, even when the particular target is receptive. It is a crucial component of the glass ceiling and fuels sexual discrimination, every one of those behaviors mentioned above can create a hostile workplace. Men who engage in such conduct, if the conduct can be proven, should be disciplined, as a matter of policy and ethics.

The rest of the letter is excellent.

Rape is a crime. But trying to pick up someone, however persistently or clumsily, is not — nor is gallantry an attack of machismo.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal sparked a legitimate awakening about the sexual violence that women are subjected to, particularly in their professional lives, where some men abuse their power. This was necessary. But what was supposed to liberate voices has now been turned on its head: We are being told what is proper to say and what we must stay silent about — and the women who refuse to fall into line are considered traitors, accomplices!

Just like in the good old witch-hunt days, what we are once again witnessing here is puritanism in the name of a so-called greater good, claiming to promote the liberation and protection of women, only to enslave them to a status of eternal victim and reduce them to the defenseless prey of male chauvinist demons.

Ratting out and calling out

In fact, #MeToo has led to a campaign, in the press and on social media, of public accusations and indictments against individuals who, without being given a chance to respond or defend themselves, are put in the exact same category as sex offenders. This summary justice has already had its victims: men who’ve been disciplined in the workplace, forced to resign, and so on., when their only crime was to touch a woman’s knee, try to steal a kiss, talk about “intimate” things during a work meal, or send sexually-charged messages to women who did not return their interest.

This frenzy for sending the “pigs” to the slaughterhouse, far from helping women empower themselves, actually serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, the religious extremists, the reactionaries and those who believe — in their righteousness and the Victorian moral outlook that goes with it — that women are a species “apart,” children with adult faces who demand to be protected.

Men, for their part, are called on to embrace their guilt and rack their brains for “inappropriate behavior” that they engaged in 10, 20 or 30 years earlier, and for which they must now repent. These public confessions, and the foray into the private sphere or self-proclaimed prosecutors, have led to a climate of totalitarian society.

This frenzy for sending the “pigs” to the slaughterhouse […] serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom.

The purging wave seems to know no bounds. The poster of an Egon Schiele nude is censored; calls are made for the removal of a Balthus painting from a museum on grounds that it’s an apology for pedophilia; unable to distinguish between the man and his work, Cinémathèque Française is told not to hold a Roman Polanski retrospective and another for Jean-Claude Brisseau is blocked. A university judges the film Blow-Up, by Michelangelo Antonioni, to be “misogynist” and “unacceptable.” In light of this revisionism, even John Ford (The Searchers) and Nicolas Poussin (The Abduction of the Sabine Women) are at risk.

Already, editors are asking some of us to make our masculine characters less “sexist” and more restrained in how they talk about sexuality and love, or to make it so that the “traumas experienced by female characters” be more evident! Bordering on ridiculous, in Sweden a bill was presented that calls for explicit consent before any sexual relations! Next we’ll have a smartphone app that adults who want to sleep together will have to use to check precisely which sex acts the other does or does not accept.

The essential freedom to offend

Philosopher Ruwen Ogien defended the freedom to offend as essential to artistic creation. In the same way, we defend a freedom to bother as indispensable to sexual freedom.

Today we are educated enough to understand that sexual impulses are, by nature, offensive and primitive — but we are also able to tell the difference between an awkward attempt to pick someone up and what constitutes a sexual assault.

Above all, we are aware that the human being is not a monolith: A woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being a man’s sexual object, without being a “whore” or a vile accomplice of the patriarchy. She can make sure that her wages are equal to a man’s but not feel forever traumatized by a man who rubs himself against her in the subway, even if that is regarded as an offense. She can even consider this act as the expression of a great sexual deprivation, or even as a non-event.

The difference between an awkward attempt to pick someone up and what constitutes a sexual assault.

As women, we don’t recognize ourselves in this feminism that, beyond the denunciation of abuses of power, takes the face of a hatred of men and sexuality. We believe that the freedom to say “no” to a sexual proposition cannot exist without the freedom to bother. And we consider that one must know how to respond to this freedom to bother in ways other than by closing ourselves off in the role of the prey.

For those of us who decided to have children, we think that it is wiser to raise our daughters in a way that they may be sufficiently informed and aware to fully live their lives without being intimidated or blamed.

Incidents that can affect a woman’s body do not necessarily affect her dignity and must not, as difficult as they can be, necessarily make her a perpetual victim. 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.

 

13 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Romance and Relationships, Workplace

13 responses to “Ethics Quote Of The Month: The French Anti-#MeToo Letter

  1. Other Bill

    Vive La France. Vive la difference.

  2. Chris marschner

    This was I believe Andrew Walklins was getting at in a previous post.

  3. Andrew Wakeling

    I agree with all of Catherine Deneuve’s letter and I applaud her and all the other 100 women who signed it. Thank God for some humanity and common sense. But as for your very big reservation : Jack, the ‘workplace’ is where many live most of their lives. They don’t all have the time or inclination to make their ‘main lives’ (for important things like making friends and dating) in amateur dramatics or sports or the church. And many have been disrupted from the home communities they grew up in. The ‘workplace’ is the closest they get to a ‘dating bar’. (To my mind it is far healthier than internet dating, which for many is now the other ‘dating bar’). You can’t make ‘the workplace’ an exception. Making friends and finding partners is seriously hard.

    You are to my mind being so transparently sexist, and this is what I believe is so damaging to women. ‘Men’, you say, who engage in such conduct ( and you mean propositioning women at work) should be ‘disciplined as a matter of policy and ethics’. What is your message to women? Do you dare lecture females that they are not to date males they meet at work? Are you going to discipline them too? If so, you are truly brave ……. I’d reckon quite uninsurable. The women that I know would very quickly tell you where you could stick it! (And they aren’t all French.)

    • Jack, the ‘workplace’ is where many live most of their lives.

      Pure rationalization. So this justifies misconduct? Too bad. If you want to be a manager, leader, or supervisor, then you don’t get to date, flirt with, make overtures to, people who depend on you for their livelihood and future, because it’s wrong. The workplace is to work, not stalk sex partners.

      They don’t all have the time or inclination to make their ‘main lives’ (for important things like making friends and dating) in amateur dramatics or sports or the church.

      Gee, that’s too bad, and I wish them luck solving that problem without undermining the work life of innocent women who don’t want to be treated as prey during the work day.

      And many have been disrupted from the home communities they grew up in. The ‘workplace’ is the closest they get to a ‘dating bar’. (To my mind it is far healthier than internet dating, which for many is now the other ‘dating bar’).

      Again, tough. These are all rationalizations. None justify making women uncomfortable or otherizing them. Congtrats for invoking #22, the worst of them all, “It’s not the worst thing.”

      You can’t make ‘the workplace’ an exception. Making friends and finding partners is seriously hard.

      That’s not an argument, and I’m talking about harassment, and specifically about harassment from supervisors. Dating among /peers/colleagues on the same level is not harassment or misconduct, as long as it isn’t disruptive. Read the posts. But there are rules. 1) No heavy pressure 2) No means no. 3) No secrets from the boss. 4) full accountability. If the relationship goes sour, the ex-pair better be able to leave the bitterness and grievances out of the office, or prepare to leave.

      You are to my mind being so transparently sexist, and this is what I believe is so damaging to women.

      Bullshit. a) My position applies equally to men and women b) You are denying that women are routinely discriminated against in the workplace, and that the large, large majority of harassers are men.

      ‘Men’, you say, who engage in such conduct ( and you mean propositioning women at work) should be ‘disciplined as a matter of policy and ethics’. What is your message to women? Do you dare lecture females that they are not to date males they meet at work?

      The ethics principles are exactly the same, and gender neutral, except in some areas where conduct diverges. Men do not come into professional workplaces like this…

      but some women do dress for work like this: (they really do):

      They can’t.

      Are you going to discipline them too?

      Yup. And in this country, I can. I can set any rules I want. Any women 9or man) who doesn’t like the rules is free to work elsewhere. This isn’t France. Or the UK.

      Thank God.

      Are you going to discipline them too? If so, you are truly brave ……. I’d reckon quite uninsurable. The women that I know would very quickly tell you where you could stick it! (And they aren’t all French.)

  4. Andrew Wakeling

    Simple example Jack. At what stage and how do you suggest telling nurses (most of whom are female) that they can’t date doctors (many of whom are male)?

    And supposing you had the power to fire nurses who date doctors, how confident would you feel explaining to your Board or Governors the effect this might have on morale and recruitment?

    And if you started firing senior doctors who had dated nurses, I wonder how likely it is you would keep your job, as hospital CEO or whatever?

    • It’s easy. You set a policy. You make adherence to the policy a condition of employment. And any professional whose morale is based on being able to date their supervisors (or vice versa) is no loss.

      Managing ethically and competently is often a job risk. You’re asking the wrong guy THAT question. I have risked my job many times in the past on that basis, a habit I learned from my father.

    • Chris

      You’re suggesting that women become nurses in order to date doctors, and Jack is the one being sexist? And you think having nurses who only become nurses to date doctors is a good thing?

  5. Andrew Wakeling

    No of course not Chris – certainly not the only reason. But the nurses I have known would not have taken well to being told that doctors, and any other seniors, were ‘off limits’ for any social interaction. (And vice versa for doctors.) Some discussion wth them about how to ensure ‘social contacts’ don’t prejudice patient care might well be appropriate and useful. ‘Rules’, like not dating doctors, will only work if accepted, at least that is so in all the countries I’ve worked in.

  6. Esther Xie

    Regarding office romance, one way to get around power abuse is to get one party to leave or transfer. So if a nurse falls in love with a doctor, one of them should then go to work for another hospital.

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