Anger at Yann Moix’s sexist remarks show that the patriarchy is finally crumbling in France – it took long enough

The #MeToo movement did not catch on in France in the same way that it did across the Atlantic, but now complacency is finally being challenged

Cecile Guerin
Wednesday 09 January 2019 16:15 GMT
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The overwhelming response to the crass comments shows that the puritanism argument is no longer working
The overwhelming response to the crass comments shows that the puritanism argument is no longer working (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Yann Moix is the author of a dozen novels and has won literary prizes, but he is perhaps best known as a speaker on popular late night talk shows, where he delivers scathing criticism of his guests. In the last few years, Moix has carefully nurtured his reputation as a public provocateur and regularly makes headlines for his altercations with various actors and writers – who often happen to be women.

Now Moix is at the heart of a new controversy. In an interview with Marie Claire on 4 January, the 50-year-old writer declared himself to be “incapable of loving women over 50”.

Describing women his age as “invisible” to him, Moix candidly added: “I prefer younger women’s bodies, that’s all. End of. The body of a 25-year-old woman is extraordinary. The body of a 50-year-old woman is not extraordinary at all.”

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The comments caused outrage on social media. Former first lady Valerie Trierweiler hit out at Moix “the macho” on her Instagram account. “Only one year and 14 days left to sleep with #yannmoix,” comedian Marina Fois quipped. Meanwhile, hundreds of women responded to Moix’s words with sarcasm, circulating ironic pictures and memes, such as a photograph of 51-year-old Julia Roberts claiming she has “no chance” with Moix.

If Moix’s comments are deeply shocking, they are from being exceptional. Most French women – the author of these lines included – have experienced casual sexism and demeaning remarks from (older) men. That Moix felt confident expressing his views in a glossy magazine at the risk of alienating parts of his readership underscores one fact: that, for too long, powerful men in France have felt entitled to adopt sexist behaviour in the name of candour and resistance to “puritanism”.

Moix’s reaction to the controversy, in this respect, reflects some well-established tactics. Despite the public backlash, the writer remains unapologetic and has presented himself as a victim of puritanism, saying that he doesn’t have to “answer to the court of taste”. Others have adopted similar language, including French psychoanalyst Gérard Miller when he denounced “la police du fantasme” (i.e the “fantasy police”).

The overwhelming response from women (and men) to Moix’s crass comments, however, shows that the puritanism argument is no longer working, and that previously tolerated behaviour has become unacceptable. In this respect, the Moix affair is the manifestation of a broader phenomenon: French society’s change when it comes to gender relations and sexism.

Several events in the last two years have led up to this change. The #MeToo movement which swept through Hollywood in late 2017 reactivated a debate about everyday sexism in France. Arguably, the movement did not catch on in France in the same way that it did across the Atlantic, and it even met with some resistance.

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The actor Catherine Deneuve, alongside other high-profile French women, signed an open letter in Le Monde in which she defended men’s “freedom to importune” women. Nonetheless, #MeToo – “Balance ton Porc”, or “expose your pig”, as it came to be known in France – encouraged hundreds of women to speak up, with long lasting impact.

Last summer, footage of a harasser hitting a young woman outside a Parisian cafe after she talked back at him became a stark reminder of the everyday sexist violence that women continue to experience. But the changes in social attitudes are reflected in new legislation.

In May last year, the government passed a bill introducing fines for sexual harassment on the street (the bill also penalised sexist comments). And more recently, thousands of men and women demonstrated against sexist violence in 50 French cities.

If Moix’s aim in insulting women was to attract publicity, the strategy has backfired. Moix has made headlines, but the headlines have revealed an unflattering picture: that of a tired-looking and ageing man, striving to stay relevant. The overwhelming response to the Moix affair has also served as a warning that French women are ready to hit back at the culture of sexism.

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