ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Harvey Weinstein scandal had a huge impact in France, where thousands of women voiced their opposition to sexual harassment in their version of the #MeToo movement. Now there is a different kind of uproar involving a hundred prominent French women - writers, academics and the country's most famous actress, Catherine Deneuve. They signed an open letter saying the movement has gone too far and has become a witch hunt against men. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, feminists in France are angry and shocked.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thirty French feminists published their response to Deneuve and her co-signatories in their own open letter today, and a representative from each side squared off in a debate on Europe 1 Radio.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking French).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: Writer Abnousse Shalmani, who signed Deneuve's letter, says she's glad women are speaking out, but things have gone too far.
ABNOUSSE SHALMANI: (Through interpreter) We all want to end harassment and violence, but the way to do that is not creating a puritanical, moralistic environment. This is taking women backwards.
BEARDSLEY: Shalmani says attempted seduction is now confused with sexual aggression. She and her co-signatories say men should have the freedom to hit on women and not be shamed on social media because they touched a woman's knee or sent a salacious text. What particularly incensed feminist leader Caroline de Haas was the letter's claim that being groped in the subway doesn't have to be a big deal.
CAROLINE DE HAAS: (Through interpreter) I'm sorry. That's a crime. And when you trivialize violence, you leave more space for the aggressor, and you delegitimize the victim.
BEARDSLEY: That's what worries the Deneuve camp, who say women are being seen as powerless and perpetual victims. Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa joined the debate.
MARLENE SCHIAPPA: (Through interpreter) there are some interesting points in this letter like, do women have to feel like victims forever if they're sexually aggressed? But that's nothing new, and the rest of it is shocking.
BEARDSLEY: Even though French women of all ages signed both letters, many commentators see it as a generational debate, pitting older women who fought for sexual liberation in the 1960s against younger activists who feel that #MeToo is a battle for women's rights. Sixty-nine-year-old Paris real estate agent Joelle Remy is on her way home from work. She says she's in the middle of the two camps because sexual harassment is nuanced.
JOELLE REMY: (Through interpreter) It's not the man in the street or the Metro who's going to hurt women. It's someone with power over you either in your family or at your job.
BEARDSLEY: Remy says when she was young, she and her friends would often slap a man or speak loudly to embarrass an aggressor on the subway. She says they definitely did not see themselves as victims. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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