Catcalling is finally being treated like a crime

A stride in the right direction.
A stride in the right direction.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
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For women, being catcalled in public is as common as nasty subway smells in New York City. It’s constant.

Regardless of what you look like or wear, some men will interpret your mere presence as an invitation for objectification. Being reduced to sex-doll status upon leaving the confines of your home is gross.

Worse: The hordes of people (often men) who tell women to “calm down”—it’s a compliment!

Like an unwanted shoulder rub (hey girl, you looked stressed!), catcalling is an exertion of power used to establish sexual and social dominance. Few places are more notorious for wolf-whistling than Paris.

That’s a reputation French lawmakers want to change, in their capital and beyond.

The French National Assembly has passed a bill to fight sexual violence and harassment, France 24 reports. It’s been in the works since last year, when French women took to social media with the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (“Expose Your Pig”), following the bombshell Harvey Weinstein reports.

The proposed fines for catcalling in France

Backed by a majority of lawmakers in an overnight parliamentary session last week, the bill goes to France’s senate for consideration. If passed, it will impose on-the-spot fines ranging from €90 to €750 ($105 to $877) for persistent catcalling, and aggressively lecherous street harassment. These punishments apply to all harassers, regardless of their sex.

Critics claim it’s an attempt to end French romance. President Emmanuel Macron, however, says the bill is meant to ensure “women are not afraid to be outside.”

Far-right lawmaker Emmanuelle Menard has denounced the legislation as a “witch hunt against men” that outlawed “a certain bawdy behavior which cannot be compared to harassment.” Similarly distraught, in late 2017 conservative pundits Berenice Levet and Guillaume Bigot argued in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro that “France is a country of men who love women…it is not a country of Platonic love.”

Responding to the claim that catcalling legislation will kill the culture of the “French lover,” Marlene Schiappa, a feminist writer and France’s junior minister for gender equality, told Reuters that the bill intends quite the opposite:

“We want to preserve seduction, chivalry and ‘l’amour à la francaise’ by saying what is key is consent,” she explained. “Between consenting adults everything is allowed, we can seduce, talk, but if someone says ‘no’, it’s ‘no’ and it’s final.”

What the catcalling bill aims to stop

While Schiappa admits street harassment can be hard to define, she says the bill targets repeated advances. “For instance it’s following a woman through several blocks or asking for her phone number 15 straight times,” she told Reuters, reportedly adding that she personally didn’t believe wolf-whistles should be characterized as sexual harassment.

While street harassment fines exist elsewhere—for example, in Hawaii, it’s a misdemeanor for anyone to repeatedly communicate with you after you’ve told them to stop (up to $1,000, 30 days in jail)—implementation often becomes an uphill battle. Still, the French bill is a step in the right direction, demonstrating official disapproval of sexism in its myriad forms.

Beyond fining catcalling, the new French legislation also extends the statute of limitations for filing sexual-assault complaints; the deadline will now be 30 years from when the survivor turns 18 (a decade longer than was previously permitted). It also proposes setting 15 as the minimum age of consent, as France has no set age at present.