After #MeToo: What’s Next?

We asked women and men in Chelsea what they thought about a French proposal to make catcalling punishable by law.

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#MeToo. #BalanceTonPork. Whether in English, French or whatever language one decides to tweet in, these phrases all speak to the once-silenced stories of sexual harassment.

Starting early last week, women flooded social media platforms, voicing harrowing details of past sexual harassment or abuse, or just implying their experience by writing the loaded phrase that is now a viral hashtag: Me too.

Kindled by the numerous sexual harassment and abuse allegations about Harvey Weinstein, women across the nation responded to actress Alyssa Milano’s invitation to share their stories under the MeToo hashtag. This even prompted a similar hashtag in France, #BalanceTonPork, or “expose your pig,” started after journalist Sandra Muller tweeted a lewd comment “she allegedly received from a powerful French executive,” as The Cut reported.

But what if these lewd comments became a punishable offense by law?

That’s what France is considering. France’s junior minister for gender equality, Marlène Schiappa, said the country is figuring how to define street harassment and exactly how to charge catcallers. Though the law is in its early stages and facing opposition, Straus News asked women and men in Chelsea what the streets of New York would be like if catcalling became illegal.

Thalia Sebelen, one of the women interviewed about France’s proposed legislation, outside the Fashion Institute of Technology. Photo: Liz Hardaway

“I think it would depend on how aggressive [catcallers] are,” said Thalia Sebelen, 20, in front of FIT. “But if you really, really feel uncomfortable or you feel that he is following you in any way or even raping you with his eyes … then yeah, I think that [fining them] would be fine.”

Others think the issue cannot simply be fixed through legislation. “I understand why they would want to do that,” Peter Miranda, 20, said. “But I don’t think necessarily fining it is really going to do anything. In this day and age people will say what they want to say regardless of how others will feel or what the consequences are.”

“I mean, [fining catcallers] would be really helpful but I don’t think I really encounter a lot here in New York, catcalling, compared to other cities, states or even countries,” said Huong Le, 22, a young woman outside of FIT.

In Walter’s, a local bar off Eighth Avenue, a group of men sharing some beers contemplated the point of catcalling. “I don’t catcall women, it’s ridiculous to me,” said Jeff Yazel, one of the bartenders.

Whether or not Schiappa’s law gets passed in France, social-media movements have given women a platform to expose the Harvey Weinsteins of the world who have taken advantage of them in the past and gotten away with it.

“#MeToo … was an opportunity to take attention away from the predator and bring it back to the victims,” Alyssa Milano wrote on Motto. “But because we’ve been so silent — and silenced — about this issue, we don’t realize there is a community out there that’s ready to embrace and support us. Women need each other, and we need men.”

Originally published in Chelsea News on October 24, 2017.

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