By Juliette Montesse via Agence France-Presse
The woman behind France’s answer to the #MeToo campaign exposing abusive behavior by men appeared in court on Wednesday accused of slandering a media executive who she said had made lewd remarks.
Sandra Muller, a US-based French journalist, is being sued for defamation by French TV executive Eric Brion at a Paris court over a Twitter post accusing him of humiliating her with vulgar comments.
Muller and Brion, a media consultant and former head of TV channel Equidia, were both present in court for the hearing.
Muller started a viral hashtag in French in October 2017, #balancetonporc (“expose your pig”), which called on Frenchwomen to name and shame men in an echo of the #MeToo movement that began in response to allegations that toppled movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
In her Twitter post, she told of how Brion had humiliated her, saying: “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night.”
The post led to an outpouring of tales of harassment and assault, which were hailed as ending a culture of permissiveness in France towards unwanted advances.
After apologising for his remarks, Brion nonetheless decided to launch legal action against her.
He is asking for 50,000 euros ($55,000) in damages, 15,000 euros in legal fees ($17,000) and the deletion of the tweet where his name is mentioned.
Drion’s legal team argue that while he does not dispute that he flirted with Muller she had portrayed him as a sexual predator and ruined his career.
“He has never admitted to harassing anyone. He said that one evening he tried to flirt with Sandra Muller as he liked her,” Brion’s lawyer Marie Burguburu told the court. “This is his right to flirt,” she added.
Muller, speaking to the court, said that she wanted things to change so that “sexist insults, whatever they are, are finally taken seriously”.
“I started a movement that spread through all levels of society,” said Muller, who said she was happy to travel from the United States to attend the hearing.
In a column in Le Monde newspaper late last year, Brion admitted making “inappropriate remarks to Sandra Muller” at a cocktail party.
But he also accused Muller of “deliberately creating ambiguity about what happened” by linking it to the response to the Weinstein affair.
He complained of the severe personal and professional consequences of what he said was a “conflation of heavyhanded flirting and sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Many Frenchwomen made public their experiences of abusive behaviour by men in the wake of the #MeToo and #balancetonporc movements.
But there has also been controversy.
Last year a group of prominent French women, led by film star Catherine Deneuve, complained that the campaign against harassment had become “puritanical” and they defended the right of men to “hit on” women.