This week, video showing French woman Marie Laguerre getting hit in the face after she stood up to a man harassing her made global news. The world was outraged. Now, some lawmakers are making a change that could protect women like Laguerre. France voted to outlaw catcalling in public places on Wednesday night, Aug. 1.
The law was passed only days after 22-year-old Laguerre said she told a man to “shut up” after he harassed her on the street in front of a café in broad daylight, Reuters reports. When Laguerre confronted the harasser, he threw an ashtray at her, before briefly verbally arguing with her. Then, he hit her. All of this was caught on a security tape, which Laguerre later shared on her Facebook page.
People who’d been sitting at tables outside the café got up and confronted the man after the altercation, but — after Wednesday’s vote — people like the man who hit Laguerre would face a stronger punishment.
Under the approved legislation, catcallers, wolf-whistlers, and harassers alike can face fines up to 750 euros — about $871 American dollars — if they are caught verbally harassing people.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in May the law would attempt to ensure "women are not afraid to be outside," The Independent reported.
Although many see the law as an opportunity to protect people who are just trying to walk to work without being whistled at, some critics say the legislation is a move away from the storied, ooh-la-la-esque French romance trope that the world has come to stereotype so fondly. However, Marlene Schiappa, the gender equality minister who helped create the legislation, says this isn’t so.
“What’s key is ... that the laws of the French republic forbid insulting, intimidating, threatening and following women in public spaces,” Schiappa said in a radio interview on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Quartz writer Leah Fessler pointed out that the law could be hard to implement — there won’t always be video footage of a man hitting on and yelling at you. But the publication described the law as “a step in the right direction, demonstrating official disapproval of sexism in its myriad forms.”
Some states in the U.S. have laws that compare to the French legislation. For example, The Washington Post reported that Iowa considers it an assault if a harasser follows you or verbally threatens you in a way that makes you fear being physically harmed — even if they don’t actually touch you. And in Hawaii you can receive up to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail on a misdemeanor charge if you repeatedly communicate with someone after they’ve told you to stop.
The French law does more than just stop sexual harassment. It also says that if a person of 15 years or younger and an adult have sex, it can be considered rape if the younger person is deemed “not competent to give consent,” Reuters reported.
Overall, women’s rights activists are calling this a win, especially in light of what happened to Laguerre, who launched a website Wednesday called "Nous Toutes Harcelement," which means “We Are Harassed” in French. The Guardian reported that the site gives sexual harassment victims a chance to tell their stories. But maybe, with the passing of this law, there will be fewer harassment stories to tell.