A French government minister has shared some of the sexist and anti-Semitic abuse she received online after speaking out against a Yellow Vests protester who punched a cop.
Equalities minister Marlène Schiappa shared a selection of abusive comments and images on her own Twitter account, but said she received similar messages in the “thousands.”
Schiappa, 36, said such abuse has been constant since she took office almost two years ago, but there has been a new surge since she condemned the actions of a former boxer named Christophe Dettinger, who was filmed punching riot police over the weekend during an anti-government Yellow Vests protest.
An online fundraising page for Dettinger, who turned himself in to police this week, raised more than $125,000 for legal fees before being shut down amid criticism from politicians, including Schiappa.
Schiappa declined to be interviewed for this story, but a spokesperson said she had reported the harassment to police and was in “constant contact” with Facebook and Twitter. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment, but a Twitter spokesperson said in an email that the company had taken many steps toward “improving the collective openness and civility of public conversations” and is “working with the French government to achieve this goal.”
In an interview with France Inter, Schiappa called attention to US Democratic Party rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has herself faced fake nude pictures of herself being distributed in recent days.
“There’s a young congresswoman in the United States who just got elected, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ... where she systematically denounces the double standard as she calls it,” Schiappa said.
“A man will be insulted based on his ideas, a woman will be sexualized. There are calls for rape, very foul talk, threats of sexual abuse. I was drawn as an inflatable doll. They make montages in which I’m half naked. I am called names with sexual connotations. It’s beyond me and concerns the treatment of women in general in the public space.”
The Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, began late last year as a grassroots populist movement that initially rallied around opposition to a new tax on gasoline. (Yellow vests became their emblem because French law requires drivers to carry safety vests in their cars.)
But often-violent protests have been fueled nationwide by social media where conspiracy theories spread rapidly and hate speech is frequently used against opponents. It’s a tool that is also used within the movement, as different factions are battling to define its future.
From the beginning, the Yellow Vests movement grabbed headlines for violent protests and has been defined by a kind of “toxic masculinity,” said Rebecca Amsellem, an activist and author of the French feminist newsletter Les Glorieuses.
“When you think about it, feminist [concerns] would be at the core of Yellow Vest demands,” she said in a phone interview. “In France, 80% of precarious jobs are held by women. There’s an unequal pay gap of 25% of women in France. [Women] are actually the ones who are the core of the movement and they’re not.”
She pointed out that a handful of “Women’s Yellow Vest” groups have sprung up on Facebook, a tacit acknowledgment that the mainstream of the movement is defined by men like Dettinger or the twice-arrested truck driver Eric Drouet. But the tone of these groups often explicitly rejects feminism, according to France news station LCI, emphasizing women’s relationship to men as mothers or wives.
There is also a notable anti-Semitic current within the movement, with French President Emmanuel Macron — who used to work for the Rothschild bank — often accused of being a pawn of a Jewish conspiracy.
The hate speech directed against Schiappa — who is not Jewish — frequently combines the two.
Thierry Paul Valette, an organizer of a more progressive Yellow Vests faction, told BuzzFeed News that hate speech was a real problem within the movement.
“I find it a pity that people insult Mrs. Schappia when they do not agree with her,” he said. “Unfortunately there are acts of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia...it rots things from the inside.”