Seduction ‘a la Française’ has been making headlines recently—earlier this week a French journalist prompted a backlash against public sexual harassment after kissing a woman’s breast on live TV despite her repeated objections.
Now, some French feminists are now saying ‘enough is enough.’ A collective of female politicians has launched a website encouraging government staffers and MPs to report lewd or inappropriate behavior in the French halls of power.
Announcing the initiative in French newspaper le Monde this week, the women behind the website said groping, lewd remarks and unwelcome advances are daily occurrences in parliament, and that high-profile cases covered by the media are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Back in 2012, housing minister Cecile Duflot was wolf-whistled by a horde of lawmakers for *God forbid* wearing a floral dress to speak in the National Assembly. The incident made waves for about half a day before everyone went back to business as usual.
In May, the deputy speaker of the French assembly Denis Baupin resigned after eight women came forward accusing him of sexual harassment, prompting Finance Minister Michel Sapin to admit the following day to having acted“inappropriately” towards a female journalist (he tweaked her underwear) after twice denying any improper conduct.
And, of course, there’s the case of former IMF chief and presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss Khan, who sexually assaulted a maid in a New York hotel, in what became one of the most politicized sex scandals since the Lewinsky-Clinton affair.
In the days following the assault, many French commentators brushed the maid’s accusations aside, excusing Strauss Khan’s actions as a mere ‘slip-up’ coming from a lustful but ultimately inoffensive man. This tendency to tolerate sexist and sexually opportunistic behavior—particularly from the rich and powerful—as if it were baked into the French DNA or were just a form of gallantry is exactly what these women are hoping to change.
Aptly called Chaircollaboratrice.com (a play on words — the title sounds like “Dear colleague” but actually translates as “Flesh colleague”), the website invites staffers and government officials to anonymously report instances of lewd comments
The creators said they wanted to anonymize the testimonials to spur women who had never come forward for fear of reprisals to do so: “Our goal is not to finger point, but to show this extent of the phenomenon and denounce these practices.”
In one post, a woman recalls ordering a “drip” coffee in the crowded cafeteria of the National Assembly when a “paunchy man with a lecherous gaze” approached her and launched in front of his male colleagues a loud: “You’re not gonna start dripping now, though, are you?”
“Fat laughter from the rest of his posse,” she writes. “I looked at him without saying a word and left—my coffee in hand.”
In May, a group of 17 former French ministers led by feminist collect “Osez le Feminisme” called for an end to impunity for offenders of sexual harassment in a letter published in the Journal du Dimanche.