‘Revolt’ in France Against Sexual Harassment Hits Cultural Resistance

Other current watersheds in France introduced little reduction for girls in their wake. The sexual assault trial that derailed the presidential hopes of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the previous managing director of the International Monetary Fund, crossed a threshold in France for making the non-public lives of public figures truthful recreation for the information media.

But the sheer variety of ladies in France presently going public with the small print of their undesirable sexual encounters makes clear that the non-public habits of males — or, for that matter, less-powerful males — didn’t essentially change.

Similarly, after a flurry of sexual harassment allegations roiled France’s National Assembly final yr, a number of the legal guidelines accredited by the identical physique might have raised the hurdles for girls to prosecute harassers.

Lawyers and consultants have criticized current adjustments in the labor regulation, ordered by President Emmanuel Macron, for backsliding and say that, at each stage, the administration’s response has been both nonexistent or insufficient.

Some ladies in France really feel so aggrieved that they began a petition addressed to Mr. Macron, urging him to deal with sexual harassment as a nationwide emergency; it gained 100,000 signatures in its first three days on-line.

“What’s happening is a revolt,” stated Geneviève Fraisse, a French thinker, author on feminist thought and director of analysis on the authorities’s prestigious National Center for Scientific Research.

“It’s the same thing that happened for abortion in the 1970s and for equal pay in the 1990s,” she added. “It’s a catalyst. It’s not something that can be ignored; it’s an historic moment.”

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Karima Emtir, left, and Houria Dahmani on the Gare du Nord in Paris on Nov. 10. They and two different colleagues sued their employer, H. Reinier, a subcontractor to France’s nationwide rail firm, which had not fired a staff supervisor they accused of harassment. They gained a modest settlement.

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Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

But there stay large obstacles, cultural and authorized, that discourage ladies from complaining about harassment in the office. A tradition of silence has lengthy endured round such habits, and is barely now being damaged.

France’s reluctance to maneuver extra aggressively in opposition to sexual harassment displays deeply rooted concepts about sexual relations and the relative energy between women and men, stated Joan Scott, a professor emeritus of mental and cultural historical past on the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., who has studied French social and sexual mores.

“There is a longstanding commitment to the notion that the French do gender relations differently — especially from prudish Americans — and that has to do with the French understanding of seduction,” she stated. “Seduction is the alternative to thinking about it as sexual harassment.”

Christine Bard, a professor of feminism on the University of Angers, echoed these ideas. There is an “idealization of seduction ‘à la Française,’ and that anti-feminism has become almost part of the national identity and is seen as a retort to Anglo-American culture,” she stated.

“The desire to distance ourselves from a ‘puritanism’ which is ‘Protestant,’ ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and ‘feminist’ plays well notably in intellectual milieus, and anti-Americanism has been a constant dimension of anti-feminism in France for more than a century,” Ms. Bard stated.

Sexual harassment in the office was made topic to authorized sanction in France beginning solely in 1992, in the wake of Anita Hill’s accusations in the course of the affirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court nominee.

That controversy riveted France, which created, at about the identical time, a civil and a prison offense of sexual harassment. But the attain of these legal guidelines was not matched by vigorous enforcement, labor legal professionals say.

The impact has been to discourage ladies from pursuing circumstances, as mirrored in a 2014 survey for France’s Defender of Rights, a authorities workplace that helps individuals trying to implement their civil rights.

The survey discovered that not less than one in 5 working ladies stated that they had confronted sexual harassment. But solely 30 % of them had reported it to administration, and solely 5 % ever introduced it earlier than a decide. Far extra stated that they had labored in an setting the place there have been sexist or crude jokes.

Ms. Baldeck, the authorized skilled who works with the European Association Against Violence Against Women at Work and who specializes in such circumstances, notes that many ladies don’t pursue claims “because it is too difficult since the judiciary is so poorly equipped to deal with these complaints.”

“In France, 93 percent of complaints of criminal sexual harassment are not followed up on,” she stated, due to inadequate staffing and funding.

There isn’t any French equal of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the United States, which may convey circumstances however which additionally works immediately with corporations to resolve them by way of inner measures earlier than they go to courtroom.

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A petition addressed to President Emmanuel Macron urging him to deal with sexual harassment as a nationwide emergency gained 100,000 signatures in its first three days on-line.

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Philippe Wojazer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Moreover, in 40 % of French harassment circumstances, the one who complained was punished by administration moderately than the accused. Some ladies have been blocked as they tried to hunt increased positions, whereas others didn’t have their contracts renewed or have been fired.

While most of the males accused of offenses in the United States and Britain have been compelled to resign, in France, it stays the norm in each the private and non-private sectors for these accused of offenses to remain in their jobs.

That places victims in a troublesome scenario and may imply that their harassment might proceed and even worsen as soon as a criticism is made. The scenario has been significantly robust for girls making an attempt to interrupt into historically male jobs in the French authorities forms.

The authorities’s inner administrative tribunal is deliberating the case of a 35-year-old who in 2009 turned one of many first ladies to be admitted to an elite department of the police.

One of two ladies assigned to a division of 150 particular law enforcement officials, she prices that she was rapidly ostracized and made the goal of repeated sexual jokes.

It began with the boys insisting that they kiss the policewomen hiya on each cheeks; she wished to shake fingers. When she insisted, a number of the males refused to take action.

One of her colleagues made masturbating gestures in entrance of her to insult her, and one known as her a “dirty whore,” she stated. After she was injured whereas on a mission, she didn’t return to her job.

In protection of her colleagues, the Ministry of Interior countered that “smutty jokes” have been to be anticipated in a pressure the place individuals labored intently collectively and de facto “lacked privacy and where the work culture is exclusively masculine.”

It added that the missions have been troublesome and that some male law enforcement officials had not “entirely assimilated” a brand new code of conduct with the introduction of ladies.

But, nonetheless, what she had skilled didn’t rise to the extent of sexual harassment, the ministry stated in a written assertion.

In a special case, even after 4 feminine cleaners sued their employer, H. Reinier, a subcontractor working for France’s nationwide rail firm, their harasser saved his job whereas one of many ladies was fired.

But such obstacles usually are not new. The feminine pottery painters who protested their mistreatment on the Limoges porcelain factories in 1905 gained their combat solely after the strikes turned violent and the military opened fireplace, killing one man and wounding 4 others.

The native information media on the time described a funeral procession of as many as 30,000 staff, “many of them women, who carried flowers in their hands as a last homage to someone who had died fighting for their dignity.”

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