Legislators in France have announced a number of new measures fit for the #MeToo moment—including a bill that grants on-the-spot fines for gender-based harassment in public spaces—from the train to the world wide web.
Despite some initial pushback in France to the #MeToo movement, public support for the new bill is heartening; according to an opinion poll conducted by Ifop (Institut français d’opinion publique), 90 percent of respondents support the measure. And while French President Macron declared that the bill aims to guarantee that “women are not afraid to be outside,” Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for gender equality, also noted that the bill’s proposed fines for “sexual or sexist” behavior in public places could mean an end not just to sexual harassment, but from all forms of “public” sexism—from unwanted touching on public transit to trolling online.
In the works since before the start of the #MeToo movement, the bill does double-duty—it makes clear that harassment in all forms is unacceptable in the eyes of the law, and it imposes fines for common sexist behaviors to create accountability. “The idea is that it is high enough to be a deterrent,” Schiappa explained on Facebook Live, “but also that we could be sure the harasser can pay it immediately, so that the law can be efficient.” Studies have shown that 83 percent of French women on public transport have been catcalled or faced otherwise threatening comments about their looks; the increased fines for repeat offenders of €3,000 could mean an easier commute for many women. Similarly, the bill’s efforts to end group harassment online and cyberstalking are promising—and give victims recourse in virtual spaces where previously there was little. “We want to put an end to this group cyber-harassment,” Schiappa said, “by making clear that every single person that is taking part will have to answer for it, even if they just sent a few tweets.”
Street harassment, sexual harassment and cyber-harassment aren’t problems with no name. They’re just problems that, for too long, lacked feasible legal solutions. France’s new efforts may change the conversation—and improve women’s commutes and comment threads in the meantime. “It is crucial that the laws of the republic make it clear that it is not allowed to harass or intimidate women,” Schiappa said, “whether in the public space, on public transport or online. There can be no lawless zones.”
Natasha Piñon is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a junior at the University of Southern California, where she studies political science and journalism. She also writes for The Daily Trojan.