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French female journalists fed up with sexist politicians

© AFP / Kenzo Tribouillard | Disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn answers journalists' questions as he leaves a Paris' courthouse on February 26, 2013

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-05-05

Wandering hands, lewd comments and incessant text messages asking for dates: these are just some examples of the routine sexism French female journalists say they suffer from at the hands of the country’s politicians. And now they have had enough.

Under the front-page headline “Get your paws off me!”, an open letter signed by 40 of the country’s female political reporters was published in the Libération newspaper Tuesday in which they exposed some of the most shocking examples of sexism they say they have faced while trying to carry out their jobs in the corridors of power.

They include a lawmaker who, on seeing a female reporter waiting in the heart of the National Assembly decides to compare her to a prostitute, saying: "Ah, but you're on the game, hustling for a client."

Another mentions a deputy running his hands through her hair, while a minister's advisor asked a journalist upon her return from holiday if she was "tanned all over".

From a political spokesman taking photos of sleeping female journalists onboard a plane during the last presidential campaign, to a "friend of the president" declaring that journalists are "much more interesting when they have big breasts", the examples listed in the letter run on and on.

"The fact that these practices... involve elected officials charged with creating policy leads us to denounce them,” the journalists wrote.

‘Nothing has changed since DSK’

Allegations of sexist behaviour by French politicians is nothing new, the most obvious example being the downfall of International Monetary Fund chief and once-presidential frontrunner Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose notorious sexual appetite landed him in court on several occasions.

And in the petition the journalists condemn the fact that little has changed in the wake of the scandals that engulfed DSK, as he is his commonly known.

"We thought that the DSK case had shifted the line and that chauvinist attitudes were on the verge of extinction. Alas!" read the letter.

Strauss-Kahn's career imploded after his arrest for allegedly sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid.

The charges were dropped but the case revealed details of his often crude behaviour with women, highlighting sexist attitudes from French male politicians.

Among the various other allegations levelled at Strauss-Kahn over the years, he was also accused of attempted rape by French journalist Tristane Banon who said he was like a "chimpanzee in rut" when he allegedly assaulted her in 2002.

A police investigation into Banon’s allegations was dropped in 2011 over a lack of evidence.

The journalists writing in Libération also described insistent text messages or phone calls seeking late night meetings, suggestions to pop into a nearby hotel "for a bit of fun" and one official who had to be threatened with sexual harassment charges to get him to back off.

"There are also condescending sighs when we ask questions in press conferences: 'That is such a girl question'," wrote the journalists.

French politics ‘overwhelmingly in the hands of men’

Along with the litany of scandals involving DSK, French politicians have been accused of sexism on several occasions in the past.

In July 2012, then Housing Minister Cécile Duflot became the target of hooting by conservative MPs as she spoke in parliament while wearing a floral dress.

The following year, French lawmaker Phillipe Le Ray of the centre-right UMP was docked one-quarter of his monthly parliamentary salary for clucking like a chicken while Green Party MP Véronique Massonneau addressed the National Assembly on the subject of reforming France’s pensions system.

Such incidents prompted France’s Ministry for Women’s Rights in 2012 to urge MPs to enrol in anti-sexism classes, covering gender stereotyping, inappropriate language and tips on avoiding gaffes.

The journalists’ petition highlights that there are also many politicians who do not act in this manner, especially the younger generation.

But they argue that “as long as policymaking is overwhelmingly in the hands of heterosexual men mostly on their sixties, nothing will change”.

Currently, women claim 27 per cent of seats in the National Assembly, and 22 per cent of seats in France’s upper house of parliament – the Senate

The petition was signed by 16 reporters from the main French media houses including Libération itself, Le Monde and Le Parisien newspapers, Radio France International and Agence France Presse.

The rest of the journalists preferred to remain anonymous due to their "complicated professional situation".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2015-05-05

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