France has been making headlines in the wake of a close presidential race. Francois Hollande is putting pressure on incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Sunday’s election will decide who will lead France for the coming years. Hollande has consistently attempted to portray himself as a feminist, determined to shake up the political system by ensuring there will be an equal number of men and women in government if he is elected. According to The Guardian, Hollande also wants to reinstate a ministry of women’s rights.
These claims of feminist allegiance on the part of Hollande come into play at the perfect moment. France repealed a sexual harassment law on Friday, stirring up debates about the saftey of the workplace for women in France during the intervening months as new sexual harassment legislation is drafted. Supporters of the repeal argue that the law was too vague and did not lead to enough convictions while it was on the books, according to Reuters.
Conversely, opponents of the repeal argue that the lack of legal coverage leaves women under threat of sexual harassment until new legislation is invoked. Hollande has already promised that if elected, he would ensure new sexual harassment legislation will be more specific and lead to more convictions.
The law that was just repealed defined an offense as “The act of harassing others with the goal of obtaining sexual favors.” Yet, even if the law did not lead to a high number of convictions, now that there is no active legislation protecting individuals hurt by sexual harassment, any current cases will be thrown out, leaving victims with no recourse.
The repeal of legislation that serves as a protective barrier against unwanted advances in the workplace only partially reveals the tense setting of feminist work in France, which Hollande has taken on as an essential part of his election platform. Elisabeth Badinter, one of the most well-known and influential feminists in France just released a book entitled “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.” The book questions the pressure modern societies put on women to be perfect mothers who tend to their children with undying attention and affection.
Badinter argues that these modern pressures put a moral obligation on a mother to act in a certain way, thereby undermining her rights to work and making her feel that the unattainable ideal of motherhood is something she should refrain from undertaking.
It seems an interesting juxtaposition that Badinter’s book hit the market in English in the last month just as France is attempting to reposition and redirect its policies regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. Badinter’s notion of female victimhood in the face of an oppressive motherhood seems slightly myopic if we consider that women, and men, will be left without any legal recourse while new legislation is drafted.
There is no guarantee of when the law would be written or how quickly it would go into effect. The tense political situation regarding women’s rights in France also comes in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair. The former presidential hopeful has been accused of pressuring women into sexual acts. He is still facing allegations of “aggravated pimping,” according to MSN.
The frought relationship between politics, legislation, the presidential seat and active feminism in France promises to produce more interesting results in the coming weeks.
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