Epithets Deleted

Last spring, a group of outraged feminists in France formed an organization called Chiennes de Garde, or “Watchdogs.” Its mission is to combat sexist remarks hurled at women who are in the public eye. A long history of sexism has given men license to insult women in French politics with such terms as “stupid cow,” “slag,” “bitch,” and “dyke.” The last straw came when a group of angry farmers yelled at Dominique Voynet, the minister of the environment, “Take off your pants, bitch!” The Watchdogs wrote a manifesto demanding an end to these public attacks and proposing a law against sexism similar to one that was passed against racism in 1972. The document has been signed by more than 1,000 women and men. Among other actions, the group has called for public apologies from a trade union official who likened the director of a radio station to a “king’s mistress” and a “brothel keeper,” and from a disgruntled businessman who said of Martine Aubry, the minister of employment, that she was “frustrated” and that he would like to “send [her] a paratrooper.” In a country where women earn 75 percent of what men do, where the glass ceiling seems all but unbreakable, and where women who work outside the home are also doing most of the work inside it, men would do well not to add insult to injury.

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