There’s a well-worn cliché that French women just do things better than everyone else. If you Google “French” and “better,” you’ll get links to stories about how French women layer their clothes better, eat better, parent better. But it turns out that our French friends are a whole lot more like us than we think. While millions of women joined the conversation about sexual harassment and abuse with the “Me Too” hashtag, French women began “outing their pigs” with their own hashtag campaign, calling out their sexual harassers. Sadly, sexual harassment is just that universal.
Much like French dress, diet, or parenting, the French hashtag about sexual harassment isn’t better than the American version, but it does make a minor but important adjustment to how women are talking about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. And it’s something women should consider when talking about their own harassers and abusers, if they’re comfortable enough doing so.
French women are using #BalanceTonPorc, which means “out your pigs,” to speak out.
Instead of just raising their hand and making sure they’re counted as a victim of men’s sexual misconduct, French women are describing the events in plain language and dropping some major hints about the person’s identity. They’re subtweeting their colleagues and bosses, basically, and we’re totally here for it.
For example, Giulia Fois, a radio journalist, wrote in a tweet, “An editor-in-chief, major radio station, small hallway, grabbing me by the throat, ‘one day I’m going to have sex with you, whether you want it or not.’” Fois also wrote that she had filed a complaint (that no one responded to) at work. For those working around or with her, it’s pretty damning for that editor.
Another journalist wrote that when she was interning “a producer told [her] while staring at [her] butt, ‘walk in front of me so that I can see you. Those heels look good on you’”
According to France24, some men got in on the hashtag, too. (Though the outlet notes that men’s participation has been “far less frequent,” lest you think that French men are “better” feminists than American ones.) One male, Matthieu Bidan, a video journalist, tweeted that when he was interning at a “major TV channel” he heard an employee say of another intern, “she would deserve a screw in the corner.” Ugh, it doesn’t matter what continent you’re on: Some men really are just the worst.
To be clear, there is no “right” way to talk about sexual assault and harassment.
The French hashtag is not by any means better than #MeToo. But the two approaches are very different, especially if you take a super heady linguistic approach to it. Doesn’t “outing your pigs” sound more active? By spilling the tea, the French women are redirecting the focus away from the victim and straight-up pointing fingers at the abusers and calling them out.
That’s so significant. Even the way we talk about sexual assault and harassment in English puts the onus on the victim and not the accused, making it victim blame-y by default. We use the passive voice when talking about assault, saying that “she was harassed or raped” instead of “he raped her.” It’s not our fault. We’ve been socialized to talk about sexual misconduct in those terms. But it does mean that victim blaming is super ingrained in our psyches so that even victims participate in the conversation saying, “I was assaulted, I was raped, #MeToo” instead of “Someone did something to me that I had nothing to do with.”
Jackson Katz said in a 2013 TED Talk that this use of passive voice pretty much sustains rape culture. Katz said:
Sexual harassment, abuse, and domestic aren’t women’s issues. It’s up to men, not women, to change the paradigm. The French #BalanceTonPorc does this is in a small way. It’s less about solidarity and more about calling it out. That’s a powerful tweak.
That doesn’t mean that #MeToo is useless or unproductive. As the hashtag gained momentum, Twitter gave the hashtag it’s own little emoji, a little pink circle with different colored hands being raised in it. That’s essentially what the hashtag was all about: making your presence known; being present for the conversation. That meant that some people simply wrote #MeToo in their social media posts and didn’t get into specifics or write any more than that. Some were too triggered to use it at all, even though they had a story to tell.
Both hashtags are effective. #MeToo created a safe space (well, as safe as the internet ever is) for women to sigh and go, “Ugh, yes! I hear you, I hate this!” We all need to do that, too. Wasn’t it so powerful earlier this month when you scrolled through your timelines and saw that pretty much every woman you know had a story just like, possibly, yours? It’s sad and infuriating that there are so many victims, but it’s also ~some shit~ that so many women are ready to talk about this and change the system.
Likewise, the French post of squealing and snitching on all the “pigs” (you have to love the word choice) is also healing. There’s something very satisfying about taking out sexist, and sometimes dangerous, men one by one. The French make it very clear that there’s no “witch hunt.” It’s all out in the open and shifts the focus to the perpetrators, not the victim, which is something that eventually has to happen if we want to change the way we deal with sexual abuse and harassment.
It’s been a rough time to be a woman, or a victim of sexual harassment and assault. While there might not be a “right” or “better” way to talk about it, the comforting thing is that we are, at least, talking about it. Whatever language you use, keep doing that.