In the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, sexism has fueled a misogynist patriarchy. Photo: James O / Getty Images

I remember as a teenager thinking the French had a very enlightened attitude about sex. Their open acceptance of mistresses and the overtly sexual content of advertisements lining the walls of the Paris Metro were the height of sophistication to my young, impressionable self.

That was then. Over the years, what’s become clear to me is that French women were often victimized by what’s come to be seen as an often misogynist patriarchy, where undisguised sexism, and even pedophilia and rape, masqueraded as liberated anti-puritanism.

Remember when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of raping a chambermaid at a New York hotel in 2011? Among those leaping to his defense and blaming the victim was prominent French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy.

Then there’s Michel Houllebecq, winner of the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary prize, whose descriptions of women in his novels are so odious I’ll refrain from quoting them here.

And writer and television presenter Yann Moix, who several years ago at age 50 said publicly and assertively that women the same age as him were “too old” for him to love.

Happily, French women today seem more than ready to hit back at this culture of sexism. Their own version of #MeToo is #BalanceTonPorc or “out your pig.” (Interestingly, a group of prominent French women, including film goddess Catherine Deneuve, accused the #MeToo movement of censorship and intolerance, but that’s a story for a different time.)

The latest salvo comes from Vanessa Springora, whose memoir, “Consent,” reveals how she was sexually abused at 14 by a man she identified as “G.M.,” widely acknowledged as Gabriel Matzneff — the acclaimed writer whose sexual predilections for young girls, and even younger boys, were well known and widely indulged.

“Consent” by Vanessa Springora and translated by Natasha Lehrer. Photo: HarperCollins

In 1977, Matzneff drafted an open letter arguing for the decriminalization of sexual relations between minors and adults, which was signed by Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre among other prominent French artists and intellectuals.

Former President François Mitterrand called the man a “hedonist inspiration.” Matzneff wrote in his diaries, “Sometimes, I’ll have as many as four boys — from 8 to 14 years old — in my bed at the same time, and I’ll engage in the most exquisite lovemaking with them.”

Mitterrand wasn’t alone in lavishing praise on Matzneff. Yves Saint Laurent paid for his hotel room stays with young girls. The former mayor of Paris also subsidized his pricey studio apartment in the exclusive Fifth Arrondissement. As recently as 2013, Matzneff was awarded the Prix Renaudot, a prestigious literary award.

Here’s the good news: After the publication of “Consent,” prosecutors opened a case against Matzneff and he is set to stand trial in September. He was dropped by his three publishers and stripped of a lifetime stipend. Better still, the French government several months ago announced it would instate 15 as the age of consent.

“I Hate Men” by Pauline Harmange and translated by Natasha Lehrer. Photo: HarperCollins

Lest you think I’m a man-hating wacko, I should mention I recently came across “I Hate Men,” a book in the form of an extended essay by Pauline Harmange, a French writer and aspiring novelist.

Harmange argues for misandry as an appropriate and useful response to sexism. She defines it as “a negative feeling towards the entirety of the male sex … a spectrum that ranges from simple suspicion to an outright loathing and is generally expressed by an impatience towards men and a rejection of their presence in women’s spaces.”

Harmange identifies as bisexual and is married to a man, which, she admits, gives her a bit of a legitimacy problem: “I chose to marry one, after all, and I have to admit that I’m still very fond of him.” Imagine being that guy.

Despite becoming a cause celebre, “I Hate Men” appears to be nothing more than a shrewd business move.



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