Even more memorable than the crumbling property with its hectares of forest and decaying outbuildings, were the two elderly men to whom we were introduced when we arrived, who were enjoying an afternoon gin and tonic in the library. The two men had remained on excellent terms for 40 years. It also ticked every box for lascivious British assumptions about the French, among whom infidelity, at least among the rich, powerful and famous, has long been something of a hallmark of a specifically French insouciance.
They had a daughter, with whom Pingeot lived in a grand apartment paid for by the state. She remained his mistress until his death in Indeed, during the entire 20th century, apparently only one French president — Georges Pompidou — was known to have been faithful to his wife. How the other wives felt about this remains undocumented; the stereotype of the Parisian woman is that she is as discreet as she is chic. Since MeToo, French attitudes towards consent and power within relationships both personal and professional have come under the microscope as never before.
What was acceptable, even admirable, 20 years ago is now considered beyond the pale. The publication in January of Le Consentement , a memoir by Vanessa Springora, detailing her relationship with the prizewinning writer Gabriel Matzneff when she was 14 and he was in his 50s, was like a bomb going off in the country.
Matzneff had been hiding in plain sight. For decades he has proudly detailed in his published diaries and essays the underage girls and boys he was having sex with when they should have been doing double maths, and openly talked about his sexual predilections on television chat shows.
His most recent film, An Officer and a Spy , was one of the biggest critical and box office hits in France in late The Matzneff scandal brought back to the surface a decades-long debate about consent that, it turns out, remains an unexpectedly controversial subject in France. In , a man, 22, was found not guilty of the rape of an year-old girl by a judge who considered the child to have given her consent. Yet in spite of the nationwide horror at this and other similar cases, the following year the National Assembly voted against bringing statutory rape on to the books though confusingly it did vote to make it illegal to have sex with a child under I married a Frenchman, have lived here for 15 years, and have French children.
In , I became a French citizen. One friend, whose job involves working to increase gender parity in the arts, tells me, in the wake of Matzneff, that she is against the concept of statutory rape. Yet — surprise, surprise — there is a bleak fallout to this culture. A documentary, Sexe sans Consentement Sex Without Consent , features women speaking to the camera about an attack by a male friend.
All of the women describe an inability to say no or to fight, how they internalised the sense that they were in some way responsible for what was happening to them. Her words echo the notorious letter opposing MeToo, published in and signed by women including Catherine Deneuve , defending the right of men to harass women in the name of a tradition of phallocentric seduction.
A way of recognising a certain fragility, something delicate about a woman. Nothing more than that. I like it. That vertiginous heel might hobble you, but it can also skewer a man where it hurts. It can be quite frightening. I always carry a little tear gas spray with me when I go out. We have lots of lessons about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, all that, but things to do with consent, respect… not at all.
I can only tell them I agree. I wonder if the jealousy and judgment among women they mention has any link with a history of relaxed attitudes to sexual fidelity, in which notions of loyalty and friendship must be stretched to breaking point. Anne Karila-Danziger, 53, a Parisian family lawyer, is adamant there is no more acceptance of adultery in France than anywhere else.
I ask if partouze group sex clubs — such as the ones disgraced former IMF head Dominique Strauss Kahn was known to frequent — are ever cited in the cases she deals with. While divorce rates have risen over the decades, domestic violence has reached epidemic proportions.
Every three days, a woman is killed by her partner in France, one of the highest rates in Europe. Euriel Fierling, 44, a high school philosophy teacher in a working-class suburb east of Paris, grew up with parents who were both far-left activists. But 50 years later, the rates of domestic violence, femicide and rape are sky high. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the feminist movement of the s was highly intellectual. Here we are, in , talking about femicide. We never made it visible enough.
How is that possible? Now, as well as violence against women, everyone is talking about female pleasure. I have never heard that before. I mean, from this September, for the first time, school textbooks will have 3D representations of the clitoris. Karila-Danziger agrees that MeToo signalled a radical change in France, though she cites different reasons. One phenomenon that is very specific to France is the law that grants equal custody of children to both parents after divorce.
The fact that the father is now expected to be equally involved in the everyday aspects of bringing up his children is huge progress. Fierling is similarly upbeat, impressed by the recent resurgence of feminism among her students. Young women are extremely sensitive now, they explode at any sign of sexism. Now all my students, boys as well as girls, call themselves feminists. Facebook Twitter Pinterest. Topics Sex The Observer. Reuse this content. Most popular.