Laure Murat roils the #MeToo debate in France
UCLA Professor Laure Murat. (Photo: Catherine Helie/ Gallimard/ Leemage, 2011.)

Laure Murat roils the #MeToo debate in France

In a new book, UCLA's Laure Murat dismisses the current discussion of #MeToo in France as a polemical misdirection and instead calls for a genuine debate on the issues of sexual harassment and assault in the country.

UCLA International Institute, November 7, 2018 — Director of the UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies Laure Murat has published a new book: “Une révolution sexuelle? Réflexions sur l’aprés-Weinstein [A Sexual Revolution? Reflections on the Weinstein Aftermath]” (Paris: Éditions Stock, 2018).

Arguing that #MeToo is the first serious challenge to patriarchy in modern times, Murat dismisses the current discussion of #MeToo in France as a polemical misdirection. Instead, she calls for a genuine debate on the issues of sexual harassment and assault in that engages French young people, men and women, philosophers and intellectuals.

Born and raised in Paris, Murat is a well-known independent author and intellectual in France, but has lived and worked in the United States for the last 12 years, where she is a professor of French & Francophone studies at UCLA. As a result, she has a unique perspective on #MeToo and its divergent receptions in the United States and France.

“Une révolution sexuelle?” has fueled an ongoing rancorous debate about #MeToo in France, with Murat appearing on leading French television and radio shows to discuss the book in early October, while also being interviewed by multiple French newspapers and online publications. (See, for example, articles in Le Monde, Les Inrocktuptibles and the U.K.’s The Telegraph.)

To give an American reader an idea of the nature of the debate in France, some 100 well-known French women — including actress Catherine Deneuve — published an open letter in the left-leaning Le Monde in January that rejected the #MeToo movement and defended men’s “freedom to pester.” (See translation of the letter here.)

The month before “Une révolution sexuelle” was released, French journalist Eugénie Bastié of the conservative Le Figaro newspaper published “Le Porc Émissaire: Terreur ou contre-révolution? [Blame the Pig: Terror or Counter-Revolution?]” (Cerf/ Actuality, 2018), which decries the #MeToo movement for its supposed encouragement of victimization. Rightly or wrongly, one sentence in Bastié’s book has become emblematic of the French critique of #MeToo: “Une main aux fesses n'a jamais tué personne, contrairement aux bonnes intentions qui pavent l'enfer des utopies [A hand on someone’s ass never killed anyone, contrary to the good intentions that pave utopian hells].”

In fact, the views of Murat and Bastié were compared by Elisabeth Philippe of Bibliobs in a late September article entitled “Où vont les femmes après #MeToo ? Le match Eugénie Bastié – Laure Murat [“Where are women headed after #MeToo? The Eugénie Bastié – Laure Murat Competition”].

As the translation (see below) of a Mediapart.fr interview by Marine Turchi makes clear, Murat argues that polemics are preventing a real debate on the issues of sexual harassment and assault in France:

Today, one could say that France is the country of the non-debate. I am struck by the intellectual void and the deliberate desire of the media to extinguish the issues by means of false polemics.

Instead of posing good questions, they rekindle the war of the sexes and clichés of “hysterical feminists” and “poor men,” they invoke masculinity and the freedom to pester, they feel sorry for men who sexually harass women on the subway, they discuss the excesses and possible ambiguities of #MeToo while they haven’t begun to discuss the heart of the problem. They oppose X and Y, right and left, for and against. 

Far from reanimating the war of the sexes, the #MeToo movement is, on the contrary, an exciting opportunity to understand and resolve the gulf between men and women, the gaps in consent, the sufferings of misunderstood sexuality, the logic of domination and abuse of power that poison personal and professional relationships. It’s the promise of renewed dialogue for the young generation. I really like the proposal of Gloria Steinem: eroticize equality (in other words, not violence and oppression).

Clearly, the #MeToo debate is far from over in either the United States or France. In the meantime, Murat’s new book offers intelligent food for thought and discussion as the conversation continues.

Click here to read a translation of Marine Turchi's interview of Laure Murat in Mediapart.fr.

This article was originally published on Nov. 7, 2018. The spelling was Ms. Turchi's name was corrected on Nov. 11, 2018.