News & Politics

France Passes Law Making the 'Wolf Whistle' Illegal

French student Marie Laguerre, 22, answers the Associated Press Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018 in Paris. A video of a man striking Laguerre after she responded to obscene sounds he made as she passed by him in Paris went viral in France this week. (AP Photo/Nicolas Garriga)

The French government will now prosecute and fine men who sexually harass women on the street. USA Today reports that “the law will allow for fines of 90-750 euros, roughly $104 to $868, for sexual or sexist comments. That definition also includes behavior that is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile or offensive.”

It’s #MeToo on steroids.

The impetus for the law was a viral video of a young French woman being slapped after calling out a man who was said to have made obscene sounds while she walked by.

The woman in the video doesn’t think the law went far enough:

The woman in the footage says the new law isn’t enough. It is “almost a joke,” Marie Laguerre told The Associated Press. “I don’t think it’s realistic because it means having police officers on every street.”

She said that officers would need training to recognize harassing behavior.

“The law sends a message, but for me it’s not enough,” Laguerre said.

Laguerre told AP she thinks education is needed to change people’s attitudes on sexual harassment. She believes that would be more effective than punishing harassers.

The new rules are set to take effect in September and include a number of other sexual violence-related measures. The law will also expand the criminal definition of child rape.

Put aside the notion that some men behave in a brutish, loutish, disgusting way on the street toward women who are total strangers. They do. The question should be: does government have any business enforcing a code of conduct between men and women?

How do you define “degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile or offensive” behavior? Obviously, a wolf whistle or shouting sexually suggestive comments at a woman walking by would qualify, but how can there possibly be a subjective standard when some women find other kinds of comments harmless or even flattering, and others find the same comments disgusting or offensive?

This is an impossible law to enforce fairly.

Laguerre is totally right that education rather than law enforcement is what is needed. But beyond that, both women and men should take it upon themselves to call out this kind of behavior. There’s no excuse for it and for some men, only a public shaming when they engage in this sort of behavior will put a stop to it.