A few months ago, led by the French minister for gender equality Marlene Schiappa, France was considering implementing new measures on sexual assault and street harassment that included penalties like fining catcallers, so that women can feel safe walking around in the streets.
And now, it’s officially been confirmed that public sexual harassment in France will be punished with an on-the-spot fine ranging between €90 and €750. Catching catcallers in the act won’t be easy, the spokesperson for the French government, Benjamin Griveaux, admitted. "But it's better than nothing."
To give you an idea on just how often women get catcalled and otherwise harassed in public, check out this video of a woman walking around New York City for a day. It's obviously not France, but it should give you an impression of the general reality of the situation.
"The idea is, symbolically, to say it's not allowed. Because now in France, in the 21st century, you still have men who are saying 'It's ok, I'm not doing anything wrong, I'm just talking to her' — talking to her for an hour by following her in 12 streets? No, I don't think so!" Schiappa told CNN.
Referencing a 2016 survey in an interview with BFMTV network, Griveaux explained that 87 percent of women have experienced harassment on public transportation, that included things such as catcalling, wolf-whistling, incessant staring, comments on their appearance, and men pressing themselves against them. "We have to put a stop to that," he added.
In France .... every woman has experienced that situation. Going to work, in the subway, on the bus, between in her home and the office, she's been followed by men, she's been asked her number, she's been asked to talk.
It's about freedom ... Women (end up saying) 'I'm not going (out) anymore, if it's that hard. You can't go to work if while you're walking between your house and your office, you are, you are constantly interrupted by men who are asking you for your number ... (or) following you.
The new law is an attempt to penalize and consequently reduce such predatory behaviors, that she says makes French women afraid to leave their homes. But even so, there are people who are opposed to the new law, who believe catcalling is a big part of French culture.
"We still find men who say ... 'It's French culture, it's love à la française.' They don't want the law to say it's not allowed. There is cultural resistance. They're afraid we are forbidding them to talk to women. I think it's really important to have that debate, to say 'It's ok to talk but, it's not ok to assault, there is a real difference.'"
This is an amazing point, so I just want to reiterate this distinction: There's a huge difference between talking to versus harassing a woman. You can respectfully strike up a conversation, but following her around until she gets scared and uncomfortable, or shouting suggestive comments at her? Nahhh.
"Feminists in France have said for a long time that shame has to change. It's not about the victim feeling ashamed, it's about assaulters, rapists feeling ashamed."