Monday, January 15, 2018

Catherine Deneuve - Not Her Too

The Me Too movement is spreading like wildfire across the globe, but it may have sparked a firestorm in France.
A hundred prominent French women, including movie star Catherine Deneuve, have put their names to an open letter denouncing the Me Too movement as being misandric and undemocratic, saying that the movement could lead to a new "puritanism" in male-female relationships and adding that male persistence in pursuing women - referred to as a "freedom to pester" - is "indispensable to sexual freedom."  Mlle. Deneuve and her ninety-nine co-signers said that there is a huge difference between abuse or harassment and mere flirting.
"Rape is a crime," they wrote, "but insistent or clumsy flirting is not an offense, nor is gallantry macho aggression."
The women could have stopped there, but they added that the charges against men make women sound like they can't take care of themselves and need to play the role of the "eternal victim."  They also said that men are denied the opportunity to defend themselves against charges of sexual impropriety, especially in the court of public opinion, and even the smallest gesture, made without malicious intent, can be blown out of proportion.  Furthermore, they write, such an approach to feminism "takes the shape of hatred for men and sexuality. We believe the liberty to say no to a sexual proposition goes along with the liberty to inconvenience. And we believe that one should know how to react to this liberty to inconvenience in other ways than shutting oneself up inside the role of the victim."

Needless to say, numerous women took the liberty of inconveniencing Catherine Deneuve (pictured above) and her compatriots.  French feminist  Caroline De Haas said that the letter equated seduction with rape, saying that seduction "means treating the other as your equal, respecting their desires, whatever they may be. The other is treating them as an object at your disposal, paying no attention to their own desires, or their consent." The British feminist Caroline Criado Perez wrote of Mlle. Deneuve and the other signatories of that letter that they "claim to be concerned with women's sexual freedom. But if that is what they actually care about, they wouldn't be reifying the old myth that women need to be harassed into sex. As if we don't enjoy it. As if we don't want it just as much as men."
Oh dear . . . there is so much to unpack here.  Suffice it to say that there is enough truth on both sides of this argument to find a middle ground, but finding the right balance is like walking on a tightrope - fall on either side and you're dead.  But let me try.  I think the letter that Catherine Deneuve - whom, in full disclosure, is my all-time favorite actress - signed made a valid point in stating that not every act performed by a man toward a woman rises to the level of sexual harassment.  Garrison Keillor briefly touched a woman with no intent to make her feel uncomfortable or to come on to her, yet he lost his radio show.  Similarly, former senator Al Franken made gestures towards women that he apologized for and was accused of other gestures towards women that he denied or remembered differently, but he was willing to have the accusations against him investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee to clear his name.  Not good enough for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who all but forced him to resign rather than defend himself.  There are some innocent acts that don't deserve a punitive response, and there are not-so-innocent acts in which the punishment is much bigger than and out of proportion to the deed.  And also, if a woman accuses a man of an act of sexual impropriety that he denies or does not remember, his side of the story should be heard before any rush to judgment.  If he denies charges of sexual impropriety, he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.   
On the other hand, if there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that a man is guilty of sexual misconduct or rape, then by all means, he should be punished.  Bill Cosby has 59 women accusing him of rape, and it's clear that they can't all be lying.  Harvey Weinstein has so much evidence against him that to take his side of the story wouldn't be courageous; it would be idiotic and out of touch with reality.  Not to mention suicidal.  And Donald Trump admitted on tape that he sexually harasses women - how can that not be considered irrefutable evidence against him?  I doubt that Catherine Deneuve would give Donald Trump a pass, and if he ever made one to her, the outcome would be more embarrassing for America and for Franco-American relations than what he did to the Paris Agreement.  Which goes back to her point about how women should react to men's "liberty to inconvenience."  Because Catherine Deneuve is a woman who doesn't take crap from anyone.  How many of you who saw The Last Metro - a film about an actress who takes full charge of her Jewish husband's theater in German-occupied Paris while he hides from the Nazis - thought that Mlle. Deneuve wasn't acting?
I don't think Catherine Deneuve was belittling or casting aspersions on anyone who's been the victim of sexual assault.  I think she was only trying to get people to realize that there's nothing wrong when men get a little flirtatious (though "freedom to pester" was a poor choice of words) and that some male sexual behavior doesn't warrant swift and severe punishment but can be dealt with accordingly when it does.  We're talking about a woman who has survived fifty-four years in a long career as one of the most desirable women in the world, and likely dealing with lots of men who, shall we say, may have desired her too much.  And for every man who respected her and made her feel like her own woman, like director Fran├žois Truffaut, there was a man who was a complete jerk to her - including, somewhat ironically, the director Roger Vadim, with whom she lived in the early sixties and who made a star out of her after making one movie with her.  While they were seated in a car, Mlle. Deneuve accused him of confusing her with and trying to mold her in the image of Brigitte Bardot, to whom Vadim had been married and had made And God Created Woman with.  "No problem," Vadim replied.  "I can tell the difference between a genuine diamond and a bottle cap."  The insult angered Mlle. Deneuve so much, she got out of the car.
Oh yeah, the car was moving at the time.
And let's agree with the other side.  Sexual misconduct should be called out. Again, anyone who engages in the sort of behavior Harvey Weinstein engaged should clearly have their careers ruined.  And I also agree with Caroline Criado Perez when she says that men can't be deemed "better suited to hold positions of power and influence, while at the same time accepting that they're incapable of telling whether or not a woman wants it."  Men have to know when a flirtatious act is appropriate and when it is not.  I'm not talking about something like Garrison Keillor's faux pas, I'm talking about . . . well, consider me.  A few years ago I met a woman I'd known on social media for the first time in person once, and we ended up hugging each other.  As we embraced, I felt this vibe urging me to go ahead and kiss her on the cheek.  So I did.  She later told me that I made her feel beautiful and that she appreciated the gesture. 
It's just a matter of knowing what is appropriate and when it's appropriate to do it.
Who was it?  Sorry, I don't kiss and tell.  But it was certainly not Catherine Deneuve - good grief, if I  ever met her, I'd be so shocked that I wouldn't even speak unless spoken to.  And I'd be so much in shock, probably not even then.  Because I know where to draw the line when it comes to women. Especially a film icon like Catherine Deneuve.
I hope that this has been helpful. 

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