Sunday, June 5, 2011
Who's the backwards caveman now, huh France?
A week or so ago I was listening to Alexandra Szacka, the Paris correspondant on French CBC Radio when the Strauss-Kahn rape accusation happened. I gather part of the bowled-over-French reactions to it was just the difference between French and American interpretations of "innocent until proven guilty" because some of the way Strauss-Kahn was being portrayed in the media would have been illegal in France--prejudicing people against someone possibly innocent. Fair enough.
But Szacka was also coming up against the "men are just flirting" attitude. Big time. In her most recent interview she says this has calmed down as more women come forward with their own rape or harassment stories (not just about him, but in general.)
But at first the reaction was: Oh men, they're just big ole flirts, les boys will be les boys. And this attitude came from women, as well as men. Szacka had one woman tell her she was glad she wasn't a Québécoise (like Szacka), all un-feminized, boy-like, just like all the men in society. Equal to the point of being sexless.
(By the way, when spring comes to Montreal, men literally walk into lampposts because of the bodies that have re-emerged from winter coats. Having sexual harassment policies has't led to shapeless jogging suits yet.)
Szacka was really ranting--she had SO many examples, including a French journalist who wrote about how shocking all these pro-male-flirting reactions were, and got hit with nasty mail in reply. People weren't just saying, Hey maybe Strauss-Kahn is innocent, let's wait and see. They felt like their way of life was under attack. Or rather... their culture, their understanding of sex, their understanding of the relationships between men and women, and sex and power.
Which is totally understandable. I get it. I mean, I had a moment where I thought: What the hell is wrong with you guys! And then I thought, well okay, they probably think it's more sexually advanced of them to think this way. It's liberal, it's free love, it's mature, those Americans are such prudes, whatever. I took a moment and put myself in their shoes.
And then I thought: HOW VERY INTERESTING. How very interesting that the first country in Europe to enact a law against women wearing the face veil in public, that the European country with such a long history and deep roots in using the Muslim veil as political grounds to fight colonial wars, that one of the most intolerant countries when it comes to *getting* all the complex politics surrounding the veil and feminism, and that just seems to do whatever it can to make the situation for Muslim feminism harder...
Now they're the ones sitting in the world's spotlight having their culture talked about by everyone. Now they're the ones being accused of sounding like "cavemen" or of being "backwards." "Turning back the clock on feminism." Of having to defend their culture against the westerners--that is, countries more west of them.
Happens to be I don't think they're backwards anymore than I think women are backwards for wearing a hijab or a niqab or a chador or--gasp--a burka. I am, however, happy to let the French work out their own sexual politics, cause Canadians have their own crap to worry about. Just as I'm happy to let Muslim women/feminists figure out what rights are most important to them, and how to go about those battles, and I'll play the role of support.
But some days I'll stand in my kitchen listening to a French-Canadian reporter rant about how dumb the French sound over sexual harassment, and I'll be small and say "Ha! Take that!" and flip my veggie burger with a little too much zeal.
I came across a lovely little editorial on how the veil gets used by politicians, right down to this day. It takes literally one minute to read and it's great. How westerners make life harder for non-western feminists was one of my idée fixe during my Poli Sci days, especially in re. the Middle East, which was my concentration. One day I'll write a horrible preachy fiction novel about it right?