A Step Toward Equality for France

Paris is known for many things: Love, cheese, wine, fashion. What many people don’t realise however, is that for the female population, it can also be known as a city of sexual harassment. Wear a skirt too short and you’ll be offensively labelled. Wear a top too low and you’ll spend your day trying to ignore verbal advances. If you make the effort to get dressed up, you better be prepared for unwanted attention, which in my books should clearly be classed as sexual harassment. It’s tiring and can easily kill your creative liberation in the fashion department, and sometimes even your motivation to leave the house.

Moving here from Australia, I found this to be shocking. Getting dressed up is a way for me to express my creativity. In Australia, never did I ever have to consider if what I wore would result in me being sexually harassed or assaulted, and nor should I have. Moving to France I found this sudden shift to be exhausting, humiliating and infuriating. What gives the males here the right to comment on what I am wearing or how I look? How can they not understand that their misplaced comments –be it positive or negative- are unwanted and condescending? Now, I realise that this isn’t the case for the whole male population here. Most French men are lovely but I do think this subject must be addressed. As females, we should be able to wear and behave however we chose without being subject to make scrutiny.

I’ve now been living here five years and I’m happy to see that change is finally happening. Starting next month, harassment in the street, which includes catcalls, kissy noises, or any inappropriate verbal advances will no longer be tolerated by French law. Marlène Schiappa, the gender equality minister and architect of the new legislation stated that “What’s key is that the laws of the French republic forbid insulting, intimidation, threatening and following women in public spaces”.  Hallelujah, finally! If this message alone isn’t enough to see change, surly the 90 to 750€ fine offenders will soon face will surely help things along.

Whilst I’m happy to see French legislation is finally supporting women from unwanted verbal advances in public places, I am sceptical of the effectiveness of this law. For the moment, few details have been released on how exactly this law will be enforced. Does the act need to be witnessed by an officer for it to be punishable? Do you have to try to quickly contact the police before the offender walks away? It seems to me that while the new legislation is a great step forward, enforcing it will be the tricky part.

Tell me readers, how do you feel about this new legislation? Do you feel that unwanted verbal attention is a little out of control in Paris and what do you do to deal with this?



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