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France grapples with #MeToo era

‘For me, it goes too far’: France grapples with #MeToo era originally appeared on

Reactions in France over the recent news of McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook being shown the door for being in a consensual relationship with an employee have been those of shock and dismay.

Some are calling it the latest case of American puritanism, “far from French ways,” and reminding the French public that, at least in France, employees and bosses are free to date and protected by their right to privacy.

France is generally a very tolerant country when it comes to intimate relationships. The Paris Court of Appeal even recently acknowledged that an accident during sexual intercourse in the context of a business trip could be considered a workplace accident.

(MORE: Alyssa Milano on why she chose to share her #MeToo story 25 years later)

In the U.S., McDonald’s decision to act was interpreted as the sign of a concern for workplace issues that have come to light in the #MeToo era. But in France, the company’s rule not to date “employees who have a direct or indirect reporting relationship to each other” is seen as anti-freedom, including sexual freedom.

“For me, it goes too far,” said Anne Rudisuhli, a psychotherapist who signed a letter with 99 other women defending men’s “freedom to importune, indispensable to sexual freedom.”

In the 1960s and ’70s, the women’s rights battles in France, such as the fight for contraception or the right to have an abortion, gave women full control of their bodies and determination over their sexual lives for the first time.

The sexual revolution became a way for French women to take part in a culture that had defined French society and, as such, allowed women to be operators rather than merely objects.

“The sexual question is magnified among some feminists,” admitted Françoise Vergès, a political scientist and writer of “A Decolonial Feminism.””It is part of a certain tradition that magnifies the issue of sexual freedom as the place par excellence of freedom. … It’s the ’70s really, the idea that in sex and sexuality they will find the heart of subversion.”

PHOTO: McDonald’s CEO Stephen Easterbrook unveils the company’s new corporate headquarters during a grand opening ceremony on June 4, 2018, in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE)

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Therefore, to exclude sex from the workplace as a means of protecting women is perceived as an exclusion from the sexual realm that they fought so hard to have access to, thereby reducing them again to the status of objects who need protection from men.

“We are putting walls in places where it is not necessary,” Rudisuhli said. “The sexuality of people does not concern the company. Women are big enough to know what they want. All women do not dream of marrying their boss. There is contempt for women as if we were venal and we need to protect them. It’s contemptuous.”

(MORE: Megan Fox talks being ‘objectified’ in Hollywood and her ‘psychological breakdown’)

Rudisuhli voiced the concern that women in France risk being victimized in the wake of the #MeToo movement and reduced to an inferior position of needing protection, in the sexual realm as well as in the workplace. It is through this lens that many consider McDonald’s rules to be patriarchal.

“I come back from the United States,” said Rudisuhli, “and when I hear an old friend introduce me to her boyfriend, she tells me she found him via apps. Because today they can not meet any other way. In the workplace, it became too complicated.”

For Margaux Collet, a consultant on gender issues in the workplace, this is a fantasy. She sees a tendency to caricature American behaviors regarding these issues in order to point to the United States as an extreme in order to preserve “French seduction, the rapports of coquetry, French gallantry.”

“There really is an urban legend that in the U.S. we cannot take the elevator alone with a woman,” Collet added.

(MORE: Woody Allen says he doesn’t care if he ever works in Hollywood again)

For Vergès, this idea of courtly love in France is “a total construct,” but “it’s also part of a self-image that must be kept.”

The French archetype of female freedom was recently promoted by a lingerie brand’s campaign called “The French Liberté.” On posters plastered on buses all over Paris, the free Frenchwoman is seen as white, thin and sexy in a bikini. She owns “French sexiness,” as quoted in the advertising campaign.

These images, in effect, portray women as sexual beings, albeit as subjects instead of objects. As such, she is not expected to ask for her boss’ demotion if he flirts with her, nor hide her newly freed body under a veil. This may also be one of the reasons for France’s concern with hijab regulations. The woman in a hijab completely fails to satisfy the criteria of the free Frenchwoman.

PHOTO: A couple kisses in the Trocadero Square with the Eiffel Tower in the background, in Paris, on April 6, 2018. (NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE)PHOTO: A couple kisses in the Trocadero Square with the Eiffel Tower in the background, in Paris, on April 6, 2018. (NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE)


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