As men in Hollywood and other prominent industries in the United States tumbled from their perches in rapid succession after hundreds of women began coming forward in 2017 with stories of abuse under the #MeToo hashtag, women in France also began opening up about their experiences with sexual harassment and violence.
The movement soon had a French equivalent, #BalanceTonPorc (Squeal on your pig), a hashtag launched in October 2017 by New York-based French journalist Sandra Muller. A month later, thousands of women were in the Place de la République in Paris and in other cities protesting violence against women.
“It was very powerful,” said Léa Bages, a consultant who specializes in gender relations, noting that the demonstrators were of all ages and from all sectors of society.
Unlike in the US, though, where a year after the #MeToo hashtag first went viral more than 200 men powerful men had lost their jobs, few men in France were punished for their aggressions.
What’s more, there was significant societal pushback against the movement, the most notable from a group of more than 100 prominent women, including actress Catherine Deneuve, who signed an open letter lamenting the destruction of ambiguity and defending men’s right to hit on women. To these women and the many who agreed with them, #MeToo was a puritanical overreaction and an affront to French values and the country’s cherished culture of seduction.
Recently, though, that has changed. In the past few weeks there has been a new reckoning here that has resulted in powerful men being forced to resign. “I feel like I’m back in the US three years ago,” said Alice Coffin, a Paris city councillor and longtime feminist activist. “It’s striking.”
The #MeToo movement in France began to reach critical mass last year. The marches continued and grew. It was also in 2020 that posters denouncing sexual abuse and gender-based murders with slogans like “Silence is not consent” became ubiquitous in Paris. The discussion about gender-based violence was suddenly everywhere, and it was changing public opinion.
A turning point came in January 2020, when Vanessa Springora published “Consent,” a memoir in which she detailed her sexual relationship with the writer Gabriel Matzneff that began when she was 14 years old. Matzneff had written openly about his love for sex with children and the literary establishment not only protected him, but lauded him. Now, though, now many of Matzneff’s former supporters turned on him and prosecutors announced that they would look for other victims.
The following month at the César awards, France’s version of the Oscars, actress Adèle Haenel walked out in protest after Roman Polanski, who has been convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl, won the award for Best Director. In late 2019 Haenel became the first prominent actress to speak out against sexual abuse in the French film industry, accusing director Christophe Ruggia of sexually harassing her for years beginning when she was 12.
The accusations kept coming and the dominos continued to fall. July saw the hashtag #MusicTooFrance, encouraging those who had suffered sexual or sexist violence in the music industry to speak out. In August, a deputy mayor of Paris, Christophe Girard, was pressured to resign that position over his longstanding support of Matzneff, though he remains a city councillor. In November 2020 Mediapart published a column by an organisation of actresses denouncing sexual violence and rape at Cours Florent, one of France’s most famous acting schools.
The momentum picked up even more in 2021. In January of this year, Camille Kouchner published “La Familia Grande (The Big Family),” a book accusing her stepfather, Olivier Duhamel, a well-known political scientist and constitutional expert, of sexually abusing her twin brother when he was 14.
The book set off a raft of repercussions. Duhamel resigned all his positions, including that of president of the National Foundation of Political Science, the organisation that oversees the prestigious university Sciences Po. Frédéric Mion, the director of the university, was then forced to step down over his handling of the incest allegations and after numerous students at schools in the Sciences Po network throughout France alleged they were victims of sexual assault at the school and administrators and staff there did little to address their complaints. Elisabeth Guigou, a former justice minister and close friend of Duhamel, left her position as the head of a committee on sexual violence against children.
The book also sparked the #MeTooInceste hashtag, which went viral and led to the outing of other famous men. In late January, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into French actor Richard Berry after his daughter accused him of incest, the same week that French TV producer Gérard Louvin’s nephew publicly accused him of incest.
#MeTooIncest was quickly followed by #MeTooGay, an outpouring of testimonials from gay men breaking the silence on the abuse they suffered as young men or as adults.
“Something very important is happening,” Coffin said, noting that Sciences Po is an “emblematic” institution in France.
U.S. senators voted on Tuesday to move forward with Donald Trump's impeachment trial on a charge of inciting the deadly assault on the Capitol, rejecting a claim the proceeding was unconstitutional after viewing graphic video of the January attack.
The Senate voted 56-44 to proceed with its trial of the former president, a historic first, rejecting largely along party lines his defense lawyers' argument that a president cannot face trial after leaving the White House. Democrats hope to disqualify Trump from ever again holding public office.
The video presented by the team of nine House of Representatives Democrats interspersed images of the Jan. 6 Capitol violence with clips of Trump's incendiary speech to a crowd of supporters moments earlier urging them to "fight like hell" to overturn his Nov. 3 election defeat.
Senators, serving as jurors, watched as screens showed Trump's followers throwing down barriers and hitting police officers at the Capitol. The video also included the moment when police guarding the House chamber fatally shot protester Ashli Babbitt, one of five people including a police officer who died in the rampage.
The mob attacked police, sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and interrupted the formal congressional certification of President Joe Biden's victory after Trump had spent two months challenging the election results based on false claims of widespread voting fraud.
"If that's not an impeachment offense, then there is no such thing," Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, who led the prosecution, told the assembled senators after showing the video.
He wept as he recounted how relatives he brought to the Capitol that day to witness the election certification had to shelter in an office near the House floor, saying: "They thought they were going to die."
In contrast to the Democrats' emotional presentation, Trump's lawyers attacked the process, arguing that the proceeding was an unconstitutional, partisan effort to close off Trump's political future even after he had already departed the White House.
"What they really want to accomplish here in the name of the Constitution is to bar Donald Trump from ever running for political office again, but this is an affront to the Constitution no matter who they target today," David Schoen, one of Trump's lawyers, told senators.
He denounced the "insatiable lust for impeachment" among Democrats before airing his own video, which stitched together clips of various Democratic lawmakers calling for Trump's impeachment going back to 2017.
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