Hear (Her) Hear (Her)

Dr. Jacqueline Couti, Classical and European Studies

The #MeToo campaign has resonated with many women as it has spread on social media worldwide. Yet its dissemination involved intriguing transformations, including the erasure of black women’s voices. Who remembers that Tarana Burke started this movement in 2007? In France, #MeToo has morphed into #BalanceTonPorc (squeal on your pig), a viral campaign focused on accountability and retribution by denouncing the aggressor.

Vilipending both movements as witch hunts fueled by “hatred of men and sexuality,” 100 French women from the upper classes, well-respected in their fields—including actress Catherine Deneuve and businesswoman Sophie de Menthon—, signed a letter by novelist Catherine Maillet, et al. claiming that these movements reduce women to victims instead of individuals who can make a choice. They defend the masculine “freedom to bother” as “indispensable to sexual freedom” without asking: do all women have equal freedom to refuse or partake in such liberating sexuality?

The sex scandal that imploded Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s political career highlights the significance of this question. The French media and women including de Menthon vilified Nafissatou Diallo (a Guinean refugee living in the U.S.) when she explained that the encounter at the Sofitel hotel in New York was not consensual. In the light of the issues of race and class the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal encompasses, the signatories’ “liberté d’importuner” reads as a restricted concept of sexuality that reeks of privilege, manifesting the hegemony of heteronormative love à la française that dictates women’s raison d’être: not sexual being, but plaything.

Sex is rarely free: Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s supposedly paid about $1.5 million to silence this black woman who dared speak. When money talks, women can be silenced in various ways, even by other women. Until all women, even the lowliest struggling woman, are heard, believed, and protected, none are safe, not even the most privileged.