In a perfect world, the list of ambient noises you hear while walking outside would be restricted to the warbling of native birds, the gentle rustling of leaves, and, OK, whatever Spotify playlist you’re feeling that day. For many women (most women?), that soundtrack has occasionally included, at the very least, an uncomfortable “hey, sweetie” (and quite possibly a perverted screed).
And while some of women have just accepted this periodic harassment as a consequence of going outside, France hasn’t. Last Wednesday, the country’s National Assembly passed a sweeping bill aimed at curbing various forms of sexual violence. Paramount among them is catcalling, the fines for which would start at a whopping 90€ (about $135 CDN) and top out around 750€ (about $1,100) and have to be paid on the spot. The bill still needs to be passed by the French Senate in order to fully be enacted into law, but here’s what you (and French creeps) should know about the legislation in the meantime.Despite All The Talk Of Consent, Canadians Are Increasingly Confused About What It Means
How did this all come about?
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke fervently about putting a stop to France’s culture of sexual harassment as part of his 2017 campaign, and has thrown support behind the bill as a way of ensuring “women are not afraid to be outside.” But the true driving force behind the legislation is Marlène Schiappa, the country’s minister for gender equality, who has been shoring up support during a months-long media blitz. And apparently, her work hasn’t been in vain: According to a French poll released this past March, a healthy 90 percent of French respondents support the legislation.
How would the law work?
The Washington Post reported that, per the bill, harassment can include anything that “infringes the freedom of movement of women in public spaces and undermines self-esteem and the right to security.” Some examples: whistling at someone, following someone, and asking for personal information (e.g., a phone number) several times in a row. And according to Le Monde, French police and public transit officers will have jurisdiction to enforce the rule, and payment of the fine would be required on the spot so that, in Schiappa’s words, “the law can be efficient.” The fines would also jump for repeat offenders, reaching as high as 3,000€ (about $3,500 CDN).
What would the law accomplish?
Speaking outside a United Nations session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March, Schiappa explained that even though France is a “feminist country,” the point of enforcing stricter harassment laws would be to “lower the threshold of tolerance” for misogynistic behaviour. “The idea is, symbolically, to say it’s not allowed. Because now in France, in the 21st century, you still have men who are saying, ‘It’s ok, I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m just talking to her,’” Schiappa said. “Talking to her for an hour by following her [down] 12 streets? No, I don’t think so!”
What have reactions to the bill been like?
Mixed. Some lawmakers, like conservative politician Emmanuelle Ménard, have called the bill “a witchhunt against men,” and — as you may remember from earlier this year — a whole whack of prominent French women (including actress Catherine Deneuve) signed an open letter that condemned the #MeToo movement (and resulting harsher harassment laws) as an attack on sexual freedom.
That didn’t seem to phase Schiappa, who told reporters last week that the bill could in fact be seen as an effort to “preserve seduction, chivalry and ‘l’amour à la française‘” by underscoring the importance of consent. “Between consenting adults, everything is allowed — we can seduce, talk. But if someone says ‘no,’ it’s ‘no,’ and it’s final.”