Catherine Deneuve letter defending men's right to 'hit on women' angers feminists

French feminists have denounced an open letter signed by film star Catherine Deneuve that said men are being unfairly targeted by sexual misconduct allegations and should be free to hit on women.

In a text published on the Franceinfotv website today, feminist Caroline De Haas and over 30 activists strongly criticised the letter.

"This letter, it's a bit like the awkward work colleague or annoying uncle who doesn't understand what's happening", they say.

The letter says Deneuve and other signatories are using media exposure to make sexual violence appear "normal".

Deneuve was among about 100 performers, scholars and others who signed an open letter on Tuesday published by the newspaper Le Monde.

It said the "legitimate protest against sexual violence" stemming from the Harvey Weinstein scandal has gone too far and threatens hard-won sexual freedoms.

“Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or cack-handedly, is not – nor is men being gentlemanly a macho attack,” said the letter published in the newspaper Le Monde.

“Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss,” said the letter, which was also signed by Catherine Millet, author of the explicit 2002 bestseller The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

It also claimed that “legitimate protest against the sexual violence that women are subject to, particularly in their professional lives,” had turned into a witch-hunt.

“What began as freeing women up to speak has today turned into the opposite – we intimidate people into speaking ‘correctly’, shout down those who don’t fall into line, and those women who refused to bend [to the new realities] are regarded as complicit and traitors.”

The letter reflects France's mixed feelings about widespread accusations of systematic sexual misconduct by powerful men in multiple countries in recent months.

France is home to famed feminists and its own "me too" movement, and the Deneuve-signed letter drew much criticism.

However many people echo her concerns of a new "puritanism" that goes against French traditions of seduction.

AP

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