Gender equality: French women speak up too

MyFrenchLife™ – - Gender equality: French women speak up too

As the French government is planning to enact new legislation about walking and stalking in the streets of Paris, I share my experiences and thoughts around the increasing awareness of this issue in France and how French women are speaking up. 

My questions to all women are: Have we had enough? How else might this issue be addressed?

Walking in the streets of Paris

MyFrenchLife™ – - Gender equality: French women speak up too - street stalking - Galeries LafayetteI was walking home, after shopping at Galeries Lafayette in Paris this morning (it is the special Autumn bargain week), enjoying the exceptionally good weather and looking approvingly at the people sunbathing at the café terraces on Les Grands Boulevards.

It was then that a man in a suit approached me. He had a paper in his hand and was about to ask me a question.

I startled, and in a blink of an eye, I considered running for my life.

Luckily, an inner and wise voice told me not to do so. Indeed, the man was looking for la rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, and against all odds, with my best smile, I obligingly showed him the way and made sure he walked away in the right direction.

Little did he know, that, as a stranger, he had stumbled upon me at the worst time ever.  As during the whole week that had preceded that instant, the recurrent topic I had discussed and heard about was sexual harassment and street stalking.

A week rich in revelations: not only in Hollywood

MyFrenchLife™ – - Gender equality: French women speak up too - street stalking - Marlène SchiappaThe revelations that were made about Harvey Weinstein, have, of course, been repeated by the French media and there has not been a day since then that the press, television talk-shows and news coverage have not dissected them. The press invited French actresses, to speak up which added more food for thought and further indignation. The invitees were victims, such as Léa Seydoux or Emma de Caunes, or those in-the-know, like Isabelle Adjani.

Coincidentally, the French government, under the responsibility of the Minister for Gender Equality; Marlène Schiappa; had announced it had on its agenda to enact legislation including on-the-spot fines for street stalking.

French women, street stalking, café-citoyen

MyFrenchLife™ – - Gender equality: French women speak up too - Le Delaville cafe

I had just attended a public meeting held by the deputy of my electorate, along with a lawyer who specializes in women’s rights, and, the author of a book on the topic. Meetings of this type are called ‘café-citoyen’ where the public is invited to express opinions freely in order to participate in political debate. This particular meeting was at ‘Le Delaville’ café, not far from where I was ‘accosted’ earlier. The irony of this location, being that this café used to shelter the most famous brothel of Paris in the days of Napoleon III.

It was a very interesting debate which made me realize that it was:-

  • not easy to define ‘street stalking’
  • what is the borderline between harmless flirting and abusive behavior?
  • and finally to find the right and effective way to punish the perpetrators.

MyFrenchLife™ – - Gender equality: French women speak up too - Harvey Weinstein scandal- Porcs sur le grilLast, but not least, over the weekend, following the testimonies of famous women who had been victims of sexual harassment, via Twitter, came testimonies of the anonymous ones initiated by the hashtag #balancetonporc (#squealyourpig). As a consequence, thousands of stories were shared by French women, which rapidly became the main Twitter topic.

Simultaneously Anglophone women initiated a different but similar hashtag campaign #metoo, where thousands of individual public pronouncements were made that those women too have been subjected to #sexualharassment.

French women: my own story

Given these circumstances, as a woman, I wondered if I could have shared a similar story.

It was hard to say first, but then I recalled an awkward situation I found myself in from many years ago.

I was invited to a posh restaurant by my professor of linguistics at Nanterre University, and I had accepted, certain there would be two other students with whom he was also friendly. The two students in question never showed up and the professor admitted he had “only wanted to be with me”. I politely reminded him I had a young child, and I was not free, making sure I would not reject him too harshly for fear of failing my exams.

I had no trauma from this, the professor played fair in the end, but all things considered, I am certain now, in the light of this experience,  that nobody should use his or her position of power to seduce another person.

Have times changed for French women?

In 2011, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of alleged rape in a hotel room in New York. That scandal ruined his serious chances of becoming the next President of France, and he was ‘made fun of’ by many as the typical French ‘dirty old man’.

This scandal put an end to DSK’s political career, but women’s rights in matters of sexual harassment were not particularly discussed at the time or if they were, it did not last.

As of today, it is still too early to measure the impact of the Harvey Weinstein revelations on future behaviors but one thing is for sure, women will not remain silent anymore.

What is your view? Do you agree with the current media outpouring?  Join the conversation below in comments or on twitter @MaVieFrancaise – Jacqueline will be there to chat with you too in the comments and also on twitter @aleajac 

Note: Mini French language lesson
1. street stalking – ‘harcèlement de rue’
2. to be put on the spot – ‘mettre sur le gril’
Image credits:
1. He calls – via
2. Galeries Lafayette – via
3. France’s Minister for Gender Equality, Marlène Schiappa – via
4. Le Dellaville café, Grands Boulevards, Paris – via Brève d’Histoire
5. Front page – Liberation – ‘Porcs sur le gril’ 17.10.17 – via

About the Contributor

Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier

After teaching for 20 years abroad, I mostly live now in Paris, where I feel both like a native and an expat. I enjoy being part of My French Life™ as it makes my life in Paris even more meaningful and special. I have a passion for literature and movies. I share my thoughts in my blog and on twitter.”

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  1. Judy MacMahon Oct 19, 2017 at 11:23 AM - Reply

    Salut Jacqueline
    From the outset, I must say that walking in the street of Paris is one of my favourite things to do and the thought of street stalking appals me.
    Thank you for your thought-provoking article on gender equality and also for informing us about the legislation change in relation to street stalking in France. I wasn’t prrviously aware of this.

    I also particularly appreciate the way you are posing questions of women about the wider issue of harassment. Yesterday, in fact, I came across this, (see below quote) which I’ve borrowed as I feel many women are ‘over it!!!’ The point about passive voice is fascinating and really sparks my interest and agreement.

    “Our language is so powerful in the context of how we use it. Consider this:
    – “I’ve seen a number of comments and meme’s going around about how women said nice things about Harvey Weinstein in the past, or about how Hillary Clinton stayed married to a sexual predator. And you know what, I am tired of it. I’m tired of this entire conversation centering on the women. And the actions of the women. It’s time for men to start saying this is not acceptable and to try and change our culture. It’s time to create a culture where women are not put in the scenario of putting on a “front” so that they can continue their careers or their life. I’m tired of that choice.
    “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenager girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.
    So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect.It shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic.
    It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence.It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ’violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them.
    It just happens to them. Men aren’t even a part of it” – Jackson Kats” on facebook.
    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
    Merci toujours

    • Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier Oct 19, 2017 at 6:38 PM - Reply

      As a French who learned English at school, when came the chapter of the passive voice, our teachers used to tell us the English used it more often and a lot in particular for news headlines in order to be more eye-catching and sensational – for example ‘murderer arrested’, which makes sense, assuming the police had done it. In the same vein, ‘woman raped’ or ‘assaulted’ implies someone else is the culprit (to which we can add the many other examples quoted by Jackson Kats above, Judy).However instead of just staying in the field of the grammatical explanation, this linguistic trait has shaped our behaviors, and has turned against the victims. ‘The agent’ in the passive has totally disappeared. In this case, it is just horrific as it feels like we have been brainwashed for centuries, and that our own ‘mother’ tongue has turned against us. Language has, indeed, exonerated the perpetrators too. This topic could be discussed without end. Brigitte Macron was interviewed 2 days ago as she was attending the play ‘Les chatouilles ou la danse de la colère’ by ‘Andréa Bescond (at Theâtre Antoine in Paris) that dealt with children’s abuse and rape (hence women’s too) and said that ‘ she was glad that women spoke up, and that in the end, good things might come out of this outpouring of testimonies, these women were courageous and something was definitely happening’. I understand that the debate cannot remain so passionate and has to be continued on more peaceful terms, as not all testimonies can be taken at face value, however, I adhere to our French First Lady’s words (she doesn’t have the official status, but she has been active and listened to since her husband came into office) , the condition of women may be undergoing a drastic change, for the best and the more human.

      • Judy MacMahon Oct 20, 2017 at 11:17 AM - Reply

        Jacqueline thank you so much for flagging the speech of Brigitte Macron two days ago. I found an article referring to it as well as Marlène Schappia the Minister for Gender Equality.

        To flag for other readers here, this article also discussed the Elle magazine controversy and much much more. I really enjoyed the read.

        And then today I came across the article in the New York Times:
        To which I respond

        Lupita Nyong’o – merci – Yes yes YES!
        An important quote: “What I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done. I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served. There is clearly power in numbers. I thank the women who have spoken up and given me the strength to revisit this unfortunate moment in my past.”

        I encourage our male readers to join in here too. This is NOT about ‘get the men!’, absolutely NOT! So please share your views. Thank you, Jacqueline, for your thought-provoking article and response above.

  2. Keith Van Sickle Oct 20, 2017 at 8:46 PM - Reply

    Let me be clear: men who attack women, abuse women, harrass women are dogs. It’s great that the many victims of this abuse are using their voices to call out those who have abused them. Even better that those voices are being heard. Let’s treat one another with basic human dignity and respect. C’mon guys, it’s not that hard!
    Where I part ways with Minister Schiappa is on limiting speech, no matter how crass or hurtful. France places more limits on free speech than does the US, I think to the detriment of French society. Any act that criminalizes speech, no matter how noxious, is a further step in the wrong direction.
    Sunlight is the best disinfectant—let’s bring abuse to light.

    • Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier Oct 20, 2017 at 10:12 PM - Reply

      Bonjour Keith, I understand that Marlene Schiappa encourages women/men to go tell the police rather than deliver their testimonies on social media, which makes a lot of sense coming from a member of the government. I know that freedom of speech is a fundamental right in the US but I don’t think it’s that restricted in France. Brigitte Macron expressed the same view as you just did (metaphorically) in your last sentence when she said that good would necessarily prevail out of this social media outpouring. Another issue is that (and it seems Weinstein’s lawyers are already working on this) some women may withdraw their complaint in exchange of a significant amount of money. That is the reason why ‘free speech’ may have its down side too, accusations may come from people ready to take advantage of these circumstances. I believe this is the reason why Catherine Deneuve, when interviewed 2 days ago, said she had nothing to say and would not give away names. At the moment it is not politically correct to express oneself in such a direction, but she proved courageous, not that she doesn’t support women’s cause of course, but because she is cautious. The outpouring may lead to an overflow. Personally I truly believe that speaking up is the best choice and should always be and do hope that this episode will account for future big changes in people’s behaviors and the way we respect one another.

  3. Marie Z Johnston Oct 21, 2017 at 1:42 AM - Reply

    I have been watching this unfold with great interest having been the victim of countless street stalkers, metro stalkers and pushy, controlling, bully men for decades – for as long as I can remember really. Having recently turned 65 I can tell you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that getting older and “becoming invisible” (the other women’s complaint) has been a great blessing in my life. I can now go where I please, sit where I please, have lunch where I please and I am gloriously unpestered after more than 50 years of near constant harassment. No woman should have to wait until she’s a grandmother to be at peace in the world! Men have been domineering women for centuries and this form of harassment is just another way of keeping women “in their place” . I’m sorry that so many women have been preyed upon and hurt by a minority (I do believe that to be true) of crass, crude, selfish, entitled pigs – and I’m cheering that so many women are now making their voices heard loud and clear.

    • Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier Oct 21, 2017 at 3:42 AM - Reply

      You’re right Mary, this was the point at start and we should not wander too far away from it. I am 62, and I had to go back in time to find a proper example of a ‘ #metoo ‘. for my article. However I still try not to got out late at night on my own. The feeling that I am not safe has never left me, proof that women live their life with this constant fear and threat.
      Thanks for joining in this conversation, it’s enriching to bring one another food for thought.

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