Cooper: As #MeToo gains critics, who speaks for women?

 Celine Cooper, Special to Postmedia Network

Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo Survivors in response to several high-profile sexual harassment scandals. (Getty Images)

Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo Survivors in response to several high-profile sexual harassment scandals. (Getty Images)

Has the #MeToo movement gone too far? Or has it not gone far enough? Who gets to decide? And as the debate shows no signs of abating, the same open-ended question seems to land with a thud at the end of every day: so, what now?

On Sunday, Quebec feminists Léa Clermont-Dion and Aurélie Lanctôt appeared on Radio-Canada talk show Tout Le Monde En Parle to launch #EtMaintenant — which could be translated as “What now?”

The creators say the movement, symbolized by a yellow heart, has a clear objective: to work toward a world defined by equality, respect and solidarity between men and women. They state that “everywhere in society, women are exposed to different forms of violence or sexual aggression, and that they no longer accept being reduced to an object for masculine desire.”

It has the support of many prominent Quebecers, including journalist Francine Pelletier, radio host Mitsou and TV personality Julie Snyder. The declaration is available online in French at etmaintenant.net, where both men and women can read it, and, if they like, sign it.

The #EtMaintenant project was indeed an outgrowth of the #MeToo movement, but was spurred by an open letter published recently in Le Monde, signed by actress Catherine Deneuve along with 99 other French women — writers, artists and academics among them.

The authors suggested the #MeToo campaign (which took on the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc — roughly translated as Squeal on Your Pig — in France) had been taken too far, and had in effect become a form of Anglo-American “puritanism” in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Their letter states that while “rape is a crime . . . trying to seduce someone . . . is not, nor is being gentlemanly a macho attack.”

The authors of the Le Monde letter defended the right of men to pester women, in the name of “sexual freedom,” and said that men were being subjected to a “witch-hunt.” They said that they didn’t see themselves in this feminism that — they argue — has taken the form of man-hating and hating sexuality.

They criticize the #MeToo movement for failing to differentiate between catcalls, gallantry, flirting and seduction with rape and sexual assault. In other words, they suggest women are conflating major crimes with minor ones.

Clermont-Dion, who has filed a sexual assault complaint to police against the founder of the Institut du Nouveau Monde, Michel Venne (who has denied her allegation), penned a reply to Catherine Deneuve and her co-signatories.

Deneuve has issued a response indicating she stands by the spirit of the controversial letter, but apologized to any female victims of sexual assault who were shocked by what they saw as an attack on the #MeToo movement.

Some have suggested that Deneuve’s original response was indicative of the cultural differences between French and Anglo-American feminism in regard to sex and men.

If so, the Quebec-based #EtMaintenant movement — being at once North American and predominantly francophone — is uniquely placed to bridge these fault-lines within the #MeToo debate.

All of this brings us to one of the central, underlying tensions of the #MeToo movement: Who gets to speak on behalf of women? Can there ever be one authoritative voice in such a complex revolution?

The answer is no. Feminism has never been, and never will be, a monolithic movement.

When it comes to #EtMaintenant, we must remember that women whose lives have been shaped by different circumstances, experiences, contexts and cultures all have a right to share their truths. It may not be easy, but we will be richer for it.