18 Jan 2018

Catherine Deneuve explains why she signed the 'right to hit on women' open letter

Catherine Deneuve’s name is the most well-known among those who signed an open letter claiming that men have the ‘right to hit on women’. But on January 15, the movie star explained why she signed it and apologized to the women hurt by it.

Roxanne D'Arco
Roxanne D'Arco NewsMavens, France
Catherine Deneuve explains why she signed the 'right to hit on women' open letter - NewsMavens
Catherine Deneuve. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

"No, I do not like the mob mentality that is far too common today. This is why, as early as in October, I had reservations about the Balance ton porc («Expose Your Pig») hashtag."

These words were written by the famous French movie star Catherine Deneuve, one week after the publication of a controversial open letter in the national newspaper Le Monde. But this time, she sent a letter to another main French media, Liberation, to explain why she signed this text.

Indeed, on January 9, about one hundred women signed an open letter criticizing the #MeToo movement and denouncing the age of a new ‘puritanism’ but also constant denunciations and an emerging public mood in which women are seen as perpetual victims.

Alongside Catherine Deneuve’s name, we can find other well-known French women, such as the conservative journalist Elizabeth Levy, the writer Catherine Millet and the ex-porn star Brigitte Lahaie. In the following lines, our readers can find some of the ‘best’ quotes:

"Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone's knee or try to steal a kiss.”

"Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily, is not -- and nor is being gentlemanly a chauvinist attack."

"As women we do not recognize ourselves in this feminism, which beyond denouncing the abuse of power, takes on a hatred of men and of sexuality."

Since the publication of this letter, some of the women who signed it, like Brigitte Lahaie, spoke out on national television. On January 9, she said during a debate against the feminist activist Caroline De Hass on the tv channel BFM TV that ‘women can climax during rape’. What was her point? Catherine Millet declared last December that she would have like to be raped to show women that they can survive it.  

With this new letter in Liberation, Catherine Deneuve seems to be eager to distance herself from these comments. She wrote: ‘Yes, I signed the petition. Yet I feel strongly compelled to voice my disagreement today from the way some signatories have appointed themselves media spokespersons, twisting the essential meaning of the text in the process. To state on national television that a woman can climax during rape is worse than spitting in the faces of all women who have had to endure such a crime.

These words suggest to those who use force, or manipulate sexuality for destructive purposes, that it’s okay to do so, simply because the victim may have an orgasm. When one has signed one’s name next to those of others’, it is important to show some restraint, and not to implicate them in your own verbal incontinence. Not doing so is disgraceful.’

The French actress also declared she had witnessed improper situations but explained she was not the one who should have denounced it. According to her, the situation must change through justice and education -- which ties in with what most feminist commentators are advocating. Which leads us to her last point: feminism.

"I am sometimes criticized for not being a feminist. Must I point out that I was one of the 343 self-described «sluts», along with Marguerite Duras and Françoise Sagan, who signed the Je me suis fait avorter («I have had an abortion») manifesto, penned by Simone de Beauvoir? At that time, under French law, having an abortion could lead to prosecution and jail.

This is why I want to say to conservatives, racists and reactionaries of any kind who have found it convenient to support me that I am no fool. They will not win my gratitude, nor my friendship; quite the opposite.

I am a free woman, and will remain so. Let me acknowledge those of my fellow women who have been the victims of abhorrent acts and have felt offended by the article in Le Monde. I apologize to them, and only to them."

We can conclude with this only one statement: the debate about harassment and sexual violence is far from over in France.

Details from the story:

  • More than one hundred French women signed this open letter published by the newspaper Le Monde on the 9th of January 2018. Some of them are famous like Catherine Deneuve, but also the writer Catherine Millet, the conservative journalist Elizabeth Levy or the 1970s porn star Brigitte Lahaie
  • The same day, Birgitte Lahaie said ‘women can climax during rape’ on national television during a debate with the feminist activist Caroline De Haas
  • Many conservative personalities including women supported this famous letter
  • One week after, the French movie star Catherine Deneuve explained why she signed it but she also apologized to raped women who have been shocked by the petition  
  • According to a study published in 2016 by the National Institute of Demographic Studies in France, some 600 000 women and 200 000 men are facing sexual violence every year in France.
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