French movie star Catherine Deneuve and some 100 other women faced a severe backlash for putting their names to an open letter published in the daily Le Monde, which compared the #MeToo movement to a "witch hunt."
A group of leading French activists, including feminist Caroline De Haas, signed a reaction to the letter, branding Deneuve and the other signatories as "apologists for rape." Their piece was published on the FranceTVinfo website on Wednesday.
Deneuve's controversial stance on sexual assault is not new. In March last year, while discussing her support for filmmaker Roman Polanski, who is wanted in the US for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, she said that she "always found the word 'rape' excessive."
'Out of sync'
"Their letter is like a tired old uncle who doesn't understand what is happening," the feminists wrote.
Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne used different words to express similar thoughts, telling France 2 television that the open letter was "a bit out of sync with what many women may experience."
To say that #MeToo was puritanical and driven by a "hatred of men" was "contemptuous" of the victims of abuse and harassment, the feminists writing in protest insisted, accusing the letter writers of trying to "slam back the lid" blown off by the Weinstein scandal.
Unwanted groping, a 'non-event'?
The letter signed by Deneuve said that some women may see being rubbed against by a man in the metro as an expression of "sexual deprivation" or a "non-event."
"It's dangerous to put it this way," Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa told France Culture radio, saying that the government already found it difficult to convince young women to file a complaint when someone gropes them.
Schiappa pointed out that such an act was a sexual assault punishable in France with up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 ($90,100).
Outcry on social media
Social media reactions were equally vociferous.
Italian actress and film director Asia Argento, one of the first women to come forward with her allegations of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein wrote that the signatories' "interiorized misogyny has lobotomized them to the point of no return."
New York Times cartoonist Colleen Doran commented on the fact that Deneuve most certainly isn't exposed to fondling on the subway:
American novelist Laila Lalami pointed out that such thinking was "the clearest explanation yet of how men like Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein lasted," adding in a second tweet: "Sooner or later, race will have to be addressed. Would Catherine Deneuve be rushing to the defense of men who "try to steal a kiss" if these men had been North African?"
eg/ct (AFP, AP, Reuters)