This weekend I went to visit my two girl friends in Paris. We decided to go clubbing at the Australian bar Café Oz.
While in line to get in the club, I heard a group of guys loudly joking behind us. As is every Saturday night, Café Oz is very popular and we were all impatient to escape the cold Parisian drizzle.
One of them suddenly interrupted our conversation. The guy wanted to share his frustration with us by first complaining about the line, the weather, and the club, and his life.
He then made it clear that my friends and I had become another of his (numerous) problems and suggested that waiting in line was a waste of time for us, and instead we better go home: “Don’t waste your time girls, you will never get in the club, not dressed like that!”
There’s only so much drunk talking I can handle and at this point, I was just tired of this guy so I snapped back: “We actually don’t need you or your fashion advice to get into the club, thank you!”
Not my best line, I admit, but his following reaction is the interesting part. After a long and awkward silence, he muddled some kind of apology and finished with “I am not sexually harassing you, don’t worry.”
I was so surprised that he brought that to the table. Clearly, there was no sign of harassment whatsoever, just some silly words fuelled by alcohol. Yet, the fact that he mentioned it made me smile. Things are changing.
Last August, the French parliament passed a new law which aims at deterring predatory remarks and harassment. A month later, a man was sentenced to jail for three months and had a £270 fine for making disrespectful comments to a woman on a bus and touching her butt.
This law – and probably the apology of the drunk Parisian – was created following the 2016 #MeToo movement which voiced out stories of men sexually harassing women at work, in the streets and in any daily settings really. #MeToo gained traction because of US celebrities like Rose McGowan or Alyssa Milano, who came forward with their stories of sexual abuse.
Since the movement has spread across the world, including the United Kingdom, France, Taiwan and India, women are speaking out about sexism at work, cat-calling in the streets and “unintentional” breast touching.
A conversation with Anthony, a 29-year-old French man, confirmed a shift in men’s attitude towards women. Now, he is even worried about flirting with a girl: “I’m not against the empowerment of women but with the rise of #MeToo, a compliment can suddenly become a claim for sexual harassment while I’m just trying to be nice.”
That’s obviously pushing it to the extreme and I hope women are not trying to take advantage of it to wrongly accuse men. But it’s a positive change to have support for the #MeToo movement as well as to have a law to put an end to sexism.
There should be no excuse to let one gender disrespect the other. The #MeToo movement was the expression of a taboo. I don’t see it as a movement against men, but a call for respect, tolerance and justice.
To the guy who interrupted our conversation, of course, we’re not going to sue you for sexual harassment, however do remember this, we will no longer stay quiet at your disrespectful comments.