A collective of about a hundred women in France, including the well-known actress Catherine Deneuve, signed a letter published in Le Monde, asserting the rights of men to, I believe, hit on women, as though the whole #MeToo movement had gone too far, but abhorring the severity of crimes committed against women by powerful men now coming into the light.
The women say the awareness brought about by #MeToo is legitimate in that it protects women against sexual violence, including rape, quid pro quo, and other assaults of a sexual nature. But, as many Puritanical movements borrow the theme of “protecting” women, the movement runs the risk of backfiring, of taking away many of the freedoms women have fought so hard over the years to attain.
The letter points to what may be one of the most academically inconsistent elements of the #MeToo movement: the fact that in order to assert the right of women to say no, we must simultaneously allow the right of men to hit on women or to offend them. (That might not be how your French teacher would translate the above excerpt, but that’s what it means.)
A man touching a woman’s body, even by accident, doesn’t erode her dignity, the women argue. Furthermore, we don’t want to treat women as perpetual victims just because of accidental, intentional, boorish, or piggish behavior on the part of powerful men. Putting a woman in that role reduces her, more than the touching of a knee or the stealing of an unwanted kiss itself, they argue, to her body parts.
“Inner freedom is inviolable,” they write. “And this freedom that we cherish is not without risks or responsibilities.”
One of those responsibilities, they argue, is saying no to sexual advances by men. Take that away in the pretend interest of “protecting” women, and we reinforce the notion that they are nothing more than sex objects. Turn them into perpetual victims, left suffering for 20 years over something that happened in an office, one ill-advised moment, and we annihilate many of the freedoms that could bring equality to women in the workforce and in life in general.
The freedom to pursue our strong interest in sex, in other words, is indispensable to our maintenance of sexual freedom.
Please understand that I support this letter as a fan of the #MeToo movement. I want it to succeed. Sure, it will fade, as movements do. But two events could make it fail, I believe:
- False accusations, like those that have ended teachers’ careers and forced schools to take away privacy between teachers and students for fear of what the student might say happened behind closed doors.
- A serious backlash that leads companies, fearing liability, to stop hiring women who might one day draw the affection of a male superior she doesn’t reciprocate, in order to spare the company and its future officers from a lawsuit.