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France: Stories of Everyday Sexism

[All links in French unless otherwise stated]

After being harassed and insulted by men in the streets of Brussels, Belgian student Sofie Peeters made a hidden-camera film [nl] to denounce the male chauvinism experienced every day by unaccompanied women in the streets.

Her film and its subject have caused controversy in Belgium and France. Under the hashtag #harcelementderue (street harassment), French women testify to the verbal abuse and sexual harassment that they have been subjected to in the street.

"<em>Délivrez-moi du mâle</em>" (Deliver me from man), wall stencil by French artist MissTic, photo by xtof on Flickr, used under Creative Common license

Délivrez-moi du mâle” (Deliver me from man), wall stencil by French artist MissTic, photo by xtof on Flickr, used under Creative Common license

In her article ‘Machisme ordinaire : non messieurs, dire “t'es bonne” n'est pas un compliment‘ (Everyday Machismo: no, gentlemen, ‘you're hot’ is not a compliment), Dom B. thanks Sofie Peeters for the debate she has sparked:

Le documentaire d'une étudiante belge, intitulé “Femme de la rue“, expose via une caméra cachée, le harcèlement sexuel dont elle est victime chaque jour. C'est grâce à elle que le débat a été relancé.

A Belgian student's documentary, titled ‘Femme de la rue‘ [street woman], exposes via hidden camera the sexual harassment she suffers every day. It is thanks to her that the debate has been reopened.

This video by RTBF (Radio Télévision Belge Francophone, the public broadcasting organization of the French Community of Belgium) includes some excerpts from the film [Dutch and French with English subtitles]:

Blogger Sandrine notes that in France too:

Le harcèlement de rue est une réalité quotidienne pour quasiment toutes les femmes.

Street harassment is a daily reality for practically all women.

As evidence, one woman's account posted on the webzine madmoizelle, in which she lists examples of crude comments, propositions, and insults she has received in the streets, has more than 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook:

Le harcèlement de rue, ou le fait de se faire aborder, voire verbalement agresser par des inconnus, sort enfin de l’ombre.

Street harassment – being approached or even verbally assaulted by strangers – is finally coming out of the shadows.

Men do not understand, or misunderstand. In fact, the hashtag #harcelementderue was created because of this tweet by French Twitter user @mathieuge who, like many men, was skeptical towards the controversy:

A noter sur la fille belge insultée dans la rue que je n'ai vu aucune fille se plaindre d'avoir eu à subir le même traitement en France…… Ce qui me laisse à croire que ça demeure un cas extrême relativement isolé.

A note about the Belgian girl insulted in the streets, I've never seen a girl complain about the same treatment in France…… Which leads me to believe that this is a relatively isolated, extreme case.

@valerieCG reacted by sending out a call for personal accounts:

@valerieCG : Si vous avez été victime de harcèlement dans la rue merci de le dire via #harcelementderue pour montrer à @mathieuge l'importance du truc.

@valerieCG: If you have been a victim of street harassment, please say so via #harcelementderue to show @mathieuge how prevalent it is.

@Agnesleglise quipped:

@Agnesleglise : @valerieCG @mathieuge que celles qui n'en ont jamais été victime se signalent, ça ira plus vite (si il y en a) #harcelementderue

@Agnesleglise : @valerieCG @mathieuge those who have never been victims of it should declare themselves, it will go faster (if there are any) #harcelementderue

Two hours after its introduction, the hashtag was the fourth most trending topic in the French Twitter community, and one week later, an avalanche of testimonies continue to pour in, along with many articles reflecting on the issue. Note that in France, ever since the DSK Affair [en], women have been speaking out and campaigning, using Twitter hashtags as a driving force, with the press then taking up the story.

Reactions from men make it clear that they are not aware of the problem, as @cha_matou points out:

@cha_matou: Ne vous étonnez pas qu'on ne parle jamais du #harcèlementderue [quand on lit sur Twitter] :

- @El_Mehdiiii: C'est quoi ce hashtag #HarcelementDeRue, certains voit une belle femme, ils tentent leur chance. C'est naturel et propre à chaque espèce. ET

- @LuneHolmes: y a agression et agression. Un gars qui passe à coté de toi et qui lâche un “salope”, c'est pas une agression, désolée.

@cha_matou: Don't be surprised that #harcelementderue is never talked about [when you see tweets like these]:

- @El_Mehdiiii:  What's this #HarcelementDeRue hashtag, some guys see a beautiful woman, they try their luck. It's natural and specific to each species. AND

- @LuneHolmes: Assault is assault. A guy walking by you and letting out a “slut” is not an attack, sorry.

Sexist commentators or those downplaying the issue have been put in their place, for example by @Mel036:

@Mel036: Le débile qui comprend rien au #HarcelementDeRue et croit qu'on est scandalisée par la drague. Non, par les insultes et agressions verbales …Et les mecs, on a le droit de penser que la rue n'est pas un terrain de chasse, fait pour draguer la 1ère nana qui passe?

Wall stencil "<em>Dans la rue"</em> (in the street) - Photo by Yann Seitek on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

Wall stencil “Dans la rue” (in the street) – Photo by Yann Seitek on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

@Mel036: The moron who understands nothing about #HarcelementDeRue and thinks we're outraged by flirting. No, it's the insults and verbal attacks. …And guys, aren't we allowed to think that the street isn't a hunting ground, made for hitting on the first chick who walks by?

After the personal experiences, Twitter became a forum for reflection. Why are women always verbally abused and insulted in the streets? One of many responses from @SexismAndTheCT:

@SexismAndTheCT: Le #harcelementderue sert à rappeler aux femmes “seules” qu'elles sont des objets et que leur sécurité est un privilège, non un droit.

#Harcelementderue is used to remind ‘single’ women that they are objects and their safety is a privilege, not a right.

Bonnequestion suggests:

Mais ce n’est pas de la drague. Les hommes en question n’ont probablement même pas une vraie intention d’avoir une relation (sexuelle ou pas) avec cette jeune femme. C’est de la domination pure, l’idée que les femmes sont disponibles et qu’il n’y a aucun problème à les insulter.

But this is not flirting. The men in question probably do not even have any real intention of having a relationship (sexual or not) with this young woman. It is pure domination, the idea that women are available and there is no problem with insulting them.

To counter remarks blaming immigrants for the majority of insults in the streets, @elodieesc gives a reminder that harassment is as rampant on popular streets as it is in nice neighbourhoods and on public transit:

@elodieesc:”#harcelementderue entre le gars qui te susurre des insanités en plein Neuilly, le tripoteur de genoux du RER et d'autres à oublier …

#harcelementderue between the guy whispering insanities to you right in the middle of Neuilly[-sur-Seine, an upscale suburb of Paris], the knee-groper on the RER [public transit in Paris] and others to forget …

@Oniromanie adds:

@Oniromanie: “Un élément tout bête : ceux qui trainent dans la rue, ce sont les pauvres. Les riches harcèlent dans les salons ou à l'Assemblée [nationale].

Something stupid: the poor are the ones who hang out in the streets. The wealthy harass in lounges or in the [National - en] Assembly.

To which Dom B.  responds:

Aux sociologues, philosophes, politiques, spécialistes d'analyser et expliquer quelle part tient la religion, par le poids des frustrations sexuelles qu'elle impose dans ses interdits, par rapport à un déficit d'éducation, de vivre-ensemble ou de différences culturelles.

It's up to sociologists, philosophers, politicians, and specialists to analyze and explain how much of it has to do with religion [en] – because of the burden of sexual frustration imposed by its taboos – compared with a lack of education, social cohesion or cultural differences.

As for @Hans_Bod, he finally understands why women in France do not like to be approached in the streets:

@Hans_Bod: Merci à #harcelementderue maintenant je sais pourquoi quand je dis bonjour à une inconnue en France j'ai l'impression de la violer.

@Hans_Bod: Thanks to #harcelementderue now I know why when I say hello to a stranger in France I feel like I am violating her.

The controversy comes as the president of the French Republic has ratified a new sexual harassment law [en - full text of law in French here]. On August 3, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister of Women's Rights and Government spokesperson, posted this tweet:

@najatvb#harcèlementderue: la nouvelle loi s’appliquera partout. La libération de la parole des femmes est importante. Restons mobilisé(e)s !

@najatvb#harcèlementderue: the new law will be applied everywhere. Freedom of speech for women is important. Let's stay mobilized!

Mobilized, French women will have to stay: the blog Les Martiennes teaches us that sexists do not take vacations, Crêpe Georgette wonders if antisexist education courses should be taught starting in nursery school, and the site Génération Réactive tries to go further in asking this question:

… et si finalement, les femmes étaient « responsables » de la transmission des inégalités homme-femme par l’éducation différenciée qu’elles donnent  à leurs enfants ? On ne serait plus seulement dans la victimisation et les hommes ne seraient pas entièrement responsables de tous les maux …

… what if, in the end, women were “responsible” for the transmission of gender inequalities through the differentiated instruction they give to their children? We would not just be victims anymore and men would not be entirely responsible for all evil…

  • http://www.facebook.com/lynn.sweeting.3 Lynn Sweeting

    ah the web, such a great empowering tool for the global women’s movement. women of France keep speaking out.

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