Six Months After Becoming the First Country to Ban Street Harassment, France’s Minister of Equality Declares the Law A Success

5 May

 

In August of last year, France became the first nation on earth to ban street harassment – that is, “sexist and sexual violence.” While the #MeToo movement can certainly be credited with getting the law passed, many have pointed to a single video that helped in the final push (see above). In the video, a man punches a woman in the face after she swears at him in retaliation for having cat-called her. Since August, France’s police have issued just under 450 fines for street harassment. Marlène Schiappa, the Minister of Equality, says this proves both the success and the necessity of the law. As the law came into effect, she declared: “We want to preserve seduction, chivalry, and ‘l’amour à la française’ by saying what is key is consent. Between consenting adults everything is allowed; we can seduce, talk, but if someone says ‘No,’ it’s ‘No,’ and it’s final.”

I have written before about street harassment, particularly in the context of disability. Some of my first experiences with it as an adult were in France when I landed there as an 18-year-old community service volunteer, away from home for the first time. After learning the hard way that my American proclivity for smiling at strangers was almost always taken as an open invitation for aggressive men on the prowl, I asked a French woman a decade older than I was how she dealt with unwanted attention and pushy propositions. “Well, I have a fake wedding ring I often wear,” was not the solution I had been looking for.

The problem is larger than a single law can solve, but I applaud this step forward. As so many women have said before, the reason most women do not want to be approached  by strangers with any hint of aggression is their well-founded fear that the perpetrator will not take no for an answer, as in the video. And to those who worry that this prevents straight men from being real men and that seeking clear consent kills the romance, I issue more crowd-sourced wisdom from the better angels of the Internet: Straight men understand consent when they go to a gay bar. Though I might add “suddenly” to that statement, when discussing the sort of men who defend street harassment.

 

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