FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2018 - 12:00am

I have always loved Catherine Deneuve for as long as I can remember. Today I love her even more.

Earlier this week, a collective of 100 French women led by Deneuve published a manifesto in the prestigious Le Monde. The women – intellectuals, artists and businesswomen – warned that the global backlash against high profile incidents of sexual harassment could be going too far, risking a slide into “new puritanism.”

While taking care to condemn rape and sexual assault, the manifesto defended men’s “freedom to pester.” That, they say, is “indispensable to sexual freedom.”

The women of the #MeToo movement, and its French counterpart #BalanceTonPorc (Squeal on your Pig), is veering toward a “hatred of men and sexuality” say the signatories to the manifesto. Should such an attitude evolve, it will eradicate years of struggle for sexual liberation.

Catherine Denueve, the veteran actress who appeared in over 100 films and considered the icon of Gallic beauty, has been a consistent advocate of sexual freedom. She would certainly be anxious of the resurgence of puritanism.

The women’s collective behind the manifesto showed some courage in doing what they did. They dared warn against the possible excesses of what many hold to be political correctness. While agreeing with the condemnation of sexual assault on the basis of even power, they argued for a safe harbor where seduction and eroticism flourish.

That is a dangerous thing to do. The most vocal advocates of feminism rarely speak about sexual freedom. They present us with a monochromatic, nearly asexual, future.

In such a future, women might imagine themselves safer. But it is also a future where eroticism is extinguished by the norms of political correctness. It is a distinctly uninteresting future where men (and women) surrender their freedom to seduce.

Sure enough, the manifesto issued by Deneuve’s group drew sharp and biting reactions from the mainline feminists. Several women’s groups denounced Deneuve for sapping the courage of the victims of sexual violence.

That may not really be the point. No civilized person will agree with those who weaponize their penises, who use superordinate positions to exact sexual favors or who prey upon the young. Denueve and her group will be the first to condemn all these.

The real point is in the appreciation of nuances. Not all expressions of sexual desire are an act of aggression. Sexual desire is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated. That is sometimes lost in the narrative of victimhood that animates militant feminism.

Nowhere is it better to open a discussion on the nuances than in France. This is a society that values the strict separation between the public and private spheres. This is a society that highly values personal (and sexual) freedom.

When monarchical absolutism eradicated all freedoms in the public sphere, libertines flourished behind closed doors. The age of tyrants was also the age of the Marquis de Sade, patron of fetishized sexuality.

The eternal Edith Piaf is famously described as having screwed half of Paris. In her twilight, ravaged by sleepless nights and alcohol, she wrote and sang that most defiant anthem Je ne regret rien  (I regret nothing).

When Francois Mitterand was prime minister, he had a love child. The press respected his privacy all throughout. The French public never quite understood why the Americans imposed such puritan standards on those who govern them.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn was president of the IMF and a potential presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, he was briefly detained in the US for allegedly sexually assaulting a chambermaid. The charges were eventually dismissed. Although he resigned his IMF post, Strauss-Kahn returned to France and resumed a lucrative consulting business.

In a word, puritanism and the French joie de vivre are irreconcilable.

Deneuve and her group understand that recent high-profile sexual harassment incidents have generated a just outcry. The tide has turned. Sexual predators are no longer to be tolerated. 

That being the case, it is time to open public discussion on securing the bounds of sexual freedom. The world must be made safe to flirt again.


Any day now, the new excise taxes on fuels will hit the pumps. That will reflect in a nearly P3 per liter spike in pump prices for all fuel products.

According to initial calculations, the effect on inflation is expected to be minimal. But that is only as far as the excise tax on fuel is concerned.

Unfortunately for consumers, world prices for hydrocarbons will be spiking nearly simultaneously. Analysts are expecting oil to climb to about $70 per barrel. This is due to a combination of many factors: the OPEC designed cutback in supplies, the troubles in oil-rich Iran and the impending bankruptcy of Venezuela.

We could see the pump prices of gasoline products to go to well beyond P50. Diesel prices could go to about P46 per liter.

Oil price movement has, historically, provided opportunities for agitation in the streets. In the coming weeks, we will likely see a clamor for increases in transport fares. Under the cover of rising oil prices, producers of other commodities could find sufficient excuses to jack up prices as well.

Unless properly managed, our inflation rate could pierce the four percent ceiling maintained by our monetary authorities. That bears watching. Nothing saps the public sense of wellbeing than a high inflation rate.

For two decades, excise taxes on fuel remained fix in defiance of inflation. Unfortunately, those excise taxes could be wrongly blamed for fuel price spikes that are really dictated by global factors.

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