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Feminism, rape culture… at the trial of Alice Coffin and five activists, two worlds collide (report)

For having denounced on Twitter the links exposed by Christophe Girard’s press, former deputy for culture of the Municipality of Parisand Gabriel Matzneff, writer accused of child abuse, six feminists are tried in Paris for “defamation” and “public insult”. Report to the Court.

The courtroom is too narrow to accommodate the crowd of onlookers who crowd the court. It must be said that the trial which will take place there on Thursday 14 March and Friday 15 March is not trivial. It is that of activism, of feminism and its limits, if they must exist. Christophe Girard seems convinced of this. The former Paris City Hall culture deputy is suing six activists for public insult and defamation, including environmentalists-elect Alice Coffin and Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu, for (re)tweets published in July 2020.

A gag procedure?

It was precisely on Twitter, or rather on X, that Alice Coffin invited, a few days earlier, her subscribers to come and give their support by participating in this public hearing. The councilor considers himself, like his companions, the victim of a gagging procedure. “The goal is to pursue long and expensive legal proceedings, exhaust activists, waste time, make activists lose the will to start again” protests during his stay at the stand.

Earlier in the week, the elected official signed a Tribune Publicationcalling for changes to the American Model Law:

In the United States, legislative provisions have made SLAP procedures (called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or Slapp) difficult if not impossible. In around thirty states it is possible to dismiss what appears to be a gag procedure upon request, at the beginning of the proceedings. The adoption of such a measure in France would finally protect women victims of sexual violence, the feminists who support them, but also all whistleblowers who need strengthened protection.

The situation could change in the coming months with a European directive” aimed specifically at protecting journalists and activists from gagging procedures » was voted on 27 February and will therefore have to be implemented into French law.

For the six defendants of the day it was necessary to wait four years for the complaints presented in 2020 by the former deputy for Culture to lead to these two days of hearing. Four exhausting years, told by one of them, Coline Clavaud-Mégevand, who signed for to miss a touching letter.

In the background the Matzneff case

In this room hovers the shadow of Gabriel Matzneff, Gallimard’s former star writer, once nicknamed for his stories in which he exposed his ” love stories “ with adolescent girls and 8-year-old boys in the Philippines.

In January 2020, a few months before the complaints presented by Christophe Girard, Vanessa Springora’s work was published, Consent (ed. Grasset, 2020), a real shock wave. The latter tells of the influence that the fifty-year-old writer had on the fourteen-year-old girl she was at the time. A “Turning point for combat” against child crime, admits Christophe Girard, who claims to have discovered Gabriel Matzneff’s child crime with this book. In the same year, however, two edifying investigations appeared on the site New York Times AND Mediapart, which highlight the ties that Christophe Girard maintains with the writer. With the re-election of Anne Hidalgo, the Deputy for Culture of the Municipality of Paris is preparing to be reconfirmed in her place.

Demonstration in front of the Town Hall

July 23, 2020. About thirty people gathered in front of the city hall to oppose the reappointment of Christophe Girard to the Parisian executive and ask for his resignation. “Paris City Hall: no MP for rape culture”, OR “Girard to culture? HLM, prices, pensions, honor for pedophiles » they are written on the activists’ placards.


Several elected officials, particularly environmentalists, are present. This is the case of Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu. On the sidelines of the demonstration, tweets using the slogans of the posters were posted. For some defendants these are simply retweets, for others photos taken during the demonstration on which the slogans can be read. For others still it is a message of support addressed to Alice Coffin, who during the session opposed the standing ovation enjoyed by Christophe Girard. “Shame, shame, shame” she exclaimed, repeating Adèle Haenel’s words spoken at the Césars that same year, before her microphone was cut off in the hemicycle.

Violation of freedom of expression?

In court, the defendants maintain that their tweets were not addressed personally to Christophe Girard, but rather to Christophe Girard the exemplary nature of the Paris city hall that he should not have chosen to keep Christophe Girard in this exalted position.

“ I find it ridiculous to have to justify a freedom of expression that I think I have used wisely. “, one of the accused, Alix Béranger, a clinical psychologist and feminist activist for many years, was indignant. She is the first to take a stand. “ I am concerned that feminist activists can be prosecuted for defamation or public insult while participating in a debate of general utility with the democratic tools at their disposal “. Among these tools, social networks and the right to demonstrate. The activist explains that she has participated in about a hundred actions of this kind and that she has never found herself in the dock.

A debate then follows on how activism is practiced: “When you’re an activist and you think about slogans, it has to be short and impactful. It’s a way of using humor as a lever for collective awareness.” claims Alix Béranger. For the psychologist, the July 23 rally is a perfectly classic militant action, which did not deviate from demonstrative habits.

There are in fact two worlds that oppose each other in this courtroom, two leftists and two visions of activism. “Presenting a complaint was not child’s play, but what I would like is for this complaint to make people reflect on what is useful for carrying forward the struggles and what destroys” says Christophe Girard

If each defendant proudly defines himself as an activist, the former deputy also identifies himself as such: “I belong to an older generation than people felt” he establishes it immediately. “I am a father and grandfather, I have a past as an activist, for LGBT rights, in the fight against AIDS. I feel united in the fight against sexist violence, violence against women “.

Rape culture in question

This is precisely another critical point: the issue of rape culture. On several occasions, Christophe Girard’s lawyer asked the defendants to give their definition of this notion well known to sociologists and activist circles. “Can a single individual, in the person of Christophe Girard, embody this rape culture? » she asks. Morgan Jasienski, EELV member e “fundamental rights activist”states: “This political choice (keep Girard in a position of responsibility in the Parisian executive, ed.) contributes to rape culture.”

Christophe Girard takes advantage of his time at the bar to make his side of the story heard. He claims he was never aware of Gabriel Matzneff’s behavior before he was published Consent. He firmly denies the revelations of the New York Times and Mediapart. When questioned about the lunches shared with the writer, he denies that he never wanted to go there: “Matzneff was sticky, I didn’t count on that.” Regarding the laudatory way in which Matzneff mentions him in several works, even dedicating one to him, Girard states that it was a one-sided affection. “His books didn’t interest me.”

The man says he filed the complaint to prevent violence from developing between elected officials. However, this violence was already present in 2020, say Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu and Alice Coffin. “At the time of the 2020 municipal elections we were invited to enter politics, Alice like me, because we were feminists, and even after me, we had value in politics. But once we arrived, we were told to keep the signs, chants and beliefs outside the town hall.” says the first. Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu talks about the pressure, death and rape threats that she and her sisters receive on a daily basis. An outburst of hatred that prevents them from serenely carrying out their battles and their mandates. “My tweet that day served to signify that we were there, in the institution, and that we would continue to convey the same messages. Because if we don’t stay in the institutions, they won’t change.”


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Source: Madmoizelle

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