While France prides itself on being a nation of liberté, the unspoken caveat is that one usually needs to be a man to enjoy such liberté. The feelings of “retro-ness” that women in the country have long felt, whether about gender or racial discrimination (see: Virginie Despentes’ recent comment on the discrepancy between those affected by COVID-19), has reached such a fever pitch that they’ve taken to the streets to graffiti about all manner of issues ranging from femicide and rape to the fact that Paris’ Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, is another high-level member of the Macron government himself charged with being a violeur. Minister of the Interior, as in: he’s the person in charge of every police force in France. Ergo the graffito, “Où porter plainte pour viol quand le chef de la police est accusé d’en avoir commis deux?” In other words, “Where to file a rape complaint when the police chief is accused of having committed two?”
That President Emmanuel Macron was not only quick to defend Darmanin (in a fashion that vaguely recalled the controversy when Donald Trump selected Brett Kavanaugh as his Supreme Court appointee)—on Bastille Day, no less—but also agitated by the presumption that a woman’s accusations should be taken so seriously was a dismissive maneuver emblematic of male behavior in France and worldwide. What’s more, Macron’s appointment of “Justice” Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti was also a head-scratching move in his bid to make feminism a “cause” of his presidency. Dupond-Moretti has illustriously defended another government official accused of rape, in addition to openly deriding the #MeToo movement.
The wave of conservatism and moral outrage over women’s bodies (rife for the raping in all states of dress) and how they should be “showcased” also cropped up this summer when police in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer instructed topless sunbathers on the beach to cover themselves, despite the unwritten rule throughout France that it’s no crime to go sans une chemise. Accordingly, this abrupt and random censoring reiterated the disgusting idea that a woman is not allowed to make decisions about her own body, lest it ruffle the delicate sensibilities or arbitrary whims of men. Since, in their minds, it seems, everything a woman does should be to assure his comfort or pleasure. To add to the grossness of the episode, Darmanin was a little too quick to defend the topless women, likely not because he was concerned about their freedom, but more to keep wanking material available to the male public. Thusly, can it be any wonder that the obsession men have with the feminine form and appearance is what has driven many a girl “mad” (or rather, that’s the word blokes like to use to describe an enraged female)? In one setting, she’s meant to be a certain way, in another, totally different rules suddenly materialize—all adding up to the equation for hypocrisy.
With this painting the backdrop (no pun intended) of behaviors in the nation, an incident at the Musée d’Orsay that made international news is part of the staining tincture of misogyny and inherent rape culture in France. In an instance that provided the peak of the male logic known as “asking for it,” a woman with the handle of @jeavnne posted an open letter after going to the museum on September 8th, a particularly hot day in Paris. Wearing a dress with a plunging neckline that showcased her cleavage, her appearance immediately seemed to scandalize four members of desk and security personnel. Despite the fact that she was not breaching any of the safety measures for COVID-19, nor any “ostensible” security regulations, she was looked upon with disdain and told that she would need to put her jacket on in order to gain entry. As though it was a Catholic church instead of a forward-thinking cultural space filled with all manner of salacious art. In fact, one can imagine the likes of Gustav Courbet, Paul Gaugin and Claude Manet laughing their asses off at this puritanical form of censorship. One that seems to be taking hold of France as though it caught the disease from America (a country that, for too long, la France has tried to emulate in the process of giving it an excess of metaphorical anilingus with its obsequiousness and catering).
Worst of all, the incident was escalated by a female employee, a sign of the infection of misogyny that has so deeply inculcated women to make them complicit in and guardians of the vast patriarchal conspiracy. Jeanne was with a friend, to boot, whose own navel was exposed in a crop top, yet they said nothing to her. Her tits weren’t out, so why would they, apparently? Thus, Jeanne concluded her open letter with the declaration, “I’m not just my breasts, I’m not just a body, your double standards shouldn’t be a barrier to my access to culture and knowledge.”
And that brings us to the coup de grâce of all these examples of French chauvinism aligning: the form of censorship as time-honored as any other, banning literature. Specifically Pauline Harmange’s fast-selling book, Moi les hommes, je les déteste. Released on the small press Monstrograph, it has not only sold out after two reprintings, but caused such a discourse among women that it has seemed to terrify the shriveling white dicks in government. Namely, Ralph Zurmély, an advisor within the “Gender Equality” Ministry (funny, how that equality hasn’t really panned out for women like Jeanne trying to get into the Musée d’Orsay).
Catching sight of the title (without, of course, actually reading the book), Zurmély wrote to the publisher threatening legal action: “This book is obviously an ode to misandry (= hatred of men), both in terms of the summary on your site and in reading its title. I would like to remind you that incitement to hatred on the basis of sex is a criminal offence! Consequently, I ask you to immediately remove this book from your catalogue under penalty of criminal prosecution.” Translation: kill all artists. Kill all freedom of expression. Most especially if those expressing themselves are women. The irony is that Harmange wrote the manifesto in response to her general mistrust of men, noting in an interview, “If we are heterosexual we are encouraged to like men, but we should absolutely have the right not to like them. I realise this sounds like a violent sentiment, but I feel strongly we should be allowed to not love them as a whole and make exceptions for certain men.”
What’s more, the manifesto explores the notion that, in hating men, women are more likely to come together via the bonds of their shared inherent trauma of womanhood, therefore become a more powerful force against the shackles of patriarchy. Opening with a line from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, “The trouble was, I hated the idea of serving men in any way,” Moi les hommes, je les déteste was meant to assure women (particularly those of the enabling hetero class) that it is, in fact, completely justifiable and acceptable to hate men. And as they shake in their boots about what this means for their future while crying, “Discrimination!” (as though they could ever understand the full weight of what that means in practice as opposed to written down in a treatise) in an attempt to defend themselves and protect their precious “system,” it’s likely the book itself will get picked up by a bigger publisher and sell even more copies. For where there’s literary censorship, there’s only more interest in the work. Just ask Henry Miller.
And, speaking of male authors, let us not forget that the misogyny of the literary industry (or now, what’s left of it) has been built in for centuries. Particularly in French literature, which has always upheld the big dick swingers like Victor Hugo and Voltaire as titans, gods. George Sand? Critiqued by Baudelaire on the basis of her gender with: “She is stupid, she is heavy, she is talkative” (sort of a reverse “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”). So yes, it is about time that French literature has a reckoning and a reawakening, even with a small start like Harmange’s book. As she has noted, “Misandry exists only as a reaction to misogyny, which is at the root of systemic violence. The book cites statistics from 2018 showing that 96% of people convicted of domestic violence were men and 99% of those convicted of sexual violence were men. Whereas misandry has never killed anyone” (though that’s only because Valerie Solanas didn’t hit her target correctly).
As we look at this confluence of antifeminist-based censorship in France, one has to wonder again about the contradictory mantra built into the fabric of the country: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Obviously, there has never been much of a place for sororité in that motto. And as France seems to fall prey to the extreme right-wing political trend of the past several years, the feminist resistance feels more vital than ever.