Catherine Deneuve seems to seriously believe (or believed, given her hasty apology) that sensuality is under siege. Her argument against the MeToo movement seems to focus on the joys of flirting and how women are crucifying men by stripping this pleasure from them. Lots of people flirt, I will flirt with basically anything human and breathing because it’s fun to indulge in playful interactions with other human beings. So far so good.
Catherine Deneuve’s vehement protest against the ‘witch hunt’ of the MeToo movement is dangerous in her synonymic discussion of violence and sex. To assume that giving woman more power to say no is to inherently emasculate men implies that men are naturally violent, lustful creatures.
I don’t like it when old, miscellaneous men slap my ass in clubs but I do like it when men that I am comfortable around are flirtatious. But, if those men crossed my boundaries and I asked them to stop and they didn’t, that’s a problem. If men aren’t sure how to act around women in potentially sensual situations, maybe they could just ask? I’d rather a stranger said ‘I find you very attractive, can I rub my erection on you while you dance near me?’ At least I’d have a chance to say no, and hopefully they’d sally forth on their way. And if you are reading this and thinking, ‘it would be really embarrassing to ask that’, think about why you would be embarrassed to ask it and not be embarrassed to do it.
Collapsing flirtation into the same category as sexual assault prevents the soul searching that I believe is required by many people in our society. If you say that rape is only done by creepy men in raincoats, then you are validating a great deal of harmful and emotionally traumatising behaviour. I have heard too many stories of coercion that follow the lines of ‘I didn’t really say no but I didn’t want to do it.’ Please bear in mind that women are trained by society to be accommodating and often, we rely on more polite means of discouragement to allow us to escape from threatening situations. As Margaret Atwood famously said, ‘Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.’
I think that Deneuve is missing the point; rape isn’t about sex, rape is about power, and so too is sexual assault.
Our cultural tropes and ideals about romance and sex are often marinated in misogyny and sexual violence. Women being rescued, women saying no but really meaning yes, the idea that women require constant validation from random men. If Deneuve seriously believes that male sexuality is being curtailed, then I would suggest that we need to reframe our cultural perceptions of what is sexy. Vocal, enthusiastic consent should be the norm. Boundaries need to respected.
I think that Deneuve is missing the point; rape isn’t about sex, rape is about power, and so too is sexual assault. Cat calling is a classic example of this dichotomy. I don’t honestly believe that any of the men who have shouted ‘GREAT TITS’ at me from a moving car honestly believed that we would end up fucking. But I don’t think they really cared, they wanted to assert their dominance in a public space and make me feel uncomfortable.
If your ideas of sensuality are tied up with the belief that woman’s boundaries are there to be broken then you are not taking into account female sexuality or even female humanity. Men need to reassess their internalised views of flirtation, sex, and sensuality. Don’t stop flirting with us, but flirt with us in a different way, because sexual harassment isn’t flirtation, it’s intimidation. If you can’t tell the difference, just ask us. Listen to women, read the signs they are giving you. If I want to have sex with you, there shouldn’t be a single doubt in your mind.