Instead of #MeToo, French Women Say 'Out Your Pig'

Nov 3, 2017
Originally published on November 10, 2017 8:17 am

When reports of Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse surfaced last month, the effects were felt well beyond the U.S. Three French actresses joined the accusations against Weinstein, and since then, momentum in France has spread beyond the world of cinema.

Stories of abuse and harassment are pouring out from nearly every sector — medical, law enforcement, finance, media. The newspaper Liberation called out "les bourreaux du travail" or "workplace torturers."

In the wake of the #MeToo hashtag that followed news of Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse, French women came up with a hashtag of their own — one that points at aggressors, not victims. #BalanceTonPorc or "out your pig" has exploded and shows no signs of abating.

Henda Ayari, a 39-year-old French Muslim author, says she was emboldened by all the French women outing and denouncing their sexual aggressors.

"I thought, these women are no different from me," said Ayari in an interview with Le Parisian. "I also have to denounce what he did to me."

So this week, five years after the alleged incident, she did just that.

Her alleged aggressor is Tariq Ramadan, a top scholar of Islam. The 55-year-old theologian's bona fides include being professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University.

Ayari says Ramadan assaulted and raped her when she turned up for a meeting with him in a hotel suite in Paris in 2012. She says he slapped her in the face when she resisted.

"He told me I came for that, and I deserved what I got. That I didn't wear the veil, so I was a prostitute," she told Le Parisian.

Ayari says it never entered her mind that she was in any danger when she went to his room. "I considered him like a father figure," she said.

Another French woman has also brought charges of rape against Ramadan. Ramadan has denied both women's accusations.

"Women are speaking out for the simple reason that other women are speaking out, and it allows a whole new field of free speech to open up that didn't exist before," says journalist and author Dominique Simonnet, who has written a book about women and the sexual revolution.

An editorial in Le Monde referred to the Weinstein "tsunami."

Le Monde remarked that by using #BalanceTonPorc, a hashtag more "radical" than #MeToo, French women were expressing their anger over a problem that may not be more vast than elsewhere, but is surely more entrenched.

"The testimony coming out is so detailed and so numerous that it points to a suffocating silence around harassment that is in complete contradiction with the legislation there to protect women," the editorial said.

Simonnet says the French tend to see American society as more puritanical.

"In France," he says, "there is something of a tradition of seduction and gallantry, so we think the problems between men and women are not as fraught here, and there is more freedom."

But Simonnet says what's happening now shows that France is dealing with the age-old problem of men dominating women through violence just like everywhere else.

A recent poll shows that some 50 percent of French women have suffered from some kind of harassment. France already had somewhat of an awakening in 2011 with revelations about Dominique Strauss Kahn, then the head of the International Monetary Fund and the unofficial front-runner in France's 2012 presidential race.

Though the case was eventually dropped, Strauss Kahn's arrest in New York on allegations of attacking a hotel housekeeper laid bare a decades-long pattern of predatory behavior that was ignored and overlooked by officials and the French media.

"France has had a culture of silence," says Laetitia Cesar-Franquet, a sociologist with the Regional Institute of Social Work, an organization that helps train professionals who work to ensure fair treatment in the workplace.

But Cesar-Franquet says the Weinstein affair is really shaking things up.

"Everything is changing," she says. "The fact that women are daring to talk is one huge change. The second change is that now things are shifting on the ground. For example, company unions are putting in place programs to sensitize people to this. Men are starting to really ask themselves, what is harassment? They are putting themselves in the equation as well."

This week, the Cinemateque Française, a historic archive and symbol of French cinema, went ahead with its plans to honor Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski in a retrospective, despite protests from feminist groups.

Polanski fled the U.S. in the 1970s, after being charged with sexually abusing a minor. Several other women have since also come forward, saying he also molested them as young teens.

22-year-old Clementine Pierlot was among the dozens of women yelling "Aggressor!" as Polanski entered the theater complex in the east of Paris on Monday.

"Now is just the worst time to honor him," she said. "Since Weinstein, we are not going to tolerate this violence anymore. Women now want these men to be accountable for their actions."

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Sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein have reverberated well beyond the United States. In France, women have been denouncing their harassers, as well. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sent us this report. And just to warn you, over the next few minutes, you could hear language that disturbs you.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Emboldened by all the other women coming forward, 28-year-old travel writer Ariane Fornia decided to talk publicly about what happened to her at a Wagner opera when she was still a teenager.

ARIANE FORNIA: I went to the opera in Paris. And a former French minister tried to grope me during the show. He tried to put his hands between my legs. And I had to stop him by digging my nails into his hand.

BEARDSLEY: Fornia says at first she thought the hand on her leg was the mistaken gesture of a doddering, old man until the hand kept coming back and going further up her skirt. At intermission, she found out her harasser was Pierre Joxe, a former justice minister under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand.

FORNIA: I couldn't believe it. This man was a very, very important man, a very powerful man. And I was so shocked to see that somebody who should embody order and security was the one who attacked me.

BEARDSLEY: Fornia says she told her father what happened, and he urged her to go to the police. But her father was a minister in the conservative government. And she was worried no one would believe her accusations against the Socialist Joxe, and they would think her story was politically motivated. Joxe has denied her allegations. Lise Bouvet is writing a book about the impunity of powerful men. She compares what's happening today with social media to the Arab Spring. She calls it the Women's Spring.

LISE BOUVET: This is so huge. We have so many - so many - tweets. I think this time, society and men had no other choices than to listen to us.

BEARDSLEY: Bouvet says the ground for the Weinstein explosion was prepared by previous scandals, particularly the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair in 2011. The then-head of the International Monetary Fund was accused of sexual assault by a New York hotel maid. Though the case was eventually dropped, it encouraged women to start talking about sexual harassment in France. Bouvet says the response is different this time.

BOUVET: Before, women were anonymously reporting on Twitter for catharsis. Now they are pressing charges. The fear and the shame are changing side now.

HENDA AYARI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Forty-year-old writer Henda Ayari is one of those pressing charges. She says she was raped by prominent Islamic scholar and Oxford Professor Tariq Ramadan. A second woman is also pressing charges of rape. Ramadan denies either incident occurred.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in French).

BEARDSLEY: Women protested recently in front of the Cinematheque Francaise, which honored the work of French-Polish director Roman Polanski. Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a 13-year-old. Recently, three more women have accused Polanski of raping them as teenagers. He denies the new allegations. Student Clementine Pierlot was angry that the retrospective was being held in Paris.

CLEMENTINE PIERLOT: The message that this event sends is that we don't care about women. We don't care that they have been raped. This man is just a genius, and he can rape anyone he wants.

BEARDSLEY: But operagoer Fornia says there's been a noticeable shift in France. She believes the era of powerful men abusing others with impunity is over now that women are speaking out. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVOCATIV'S "CASTAWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.