In an open letter, Catherine Deneuve and other French women has said that men should be “free to hit on” women.
The veteran actress is one of 100 French women who wrote the letter, warning about a new “puritanism” sparked by recent harassment scandals.
The letter deplores a wave of “denunciations” after claims that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has raped or assaulted dozens of women.
Harvey Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual contacts.
However, the mogul has admitted that his behavior has “caused a lot of pain”.
The letter by French women writers, performers and academics was published in France’s Le Monde newspaper on January 9.
The letter said: “Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss.
“Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily, is not – and nor is men being gentlemanly a chauvinist attack.”
The authors argued that there was a new “puritanism” afoot in the world.
The signatories said that while it was legitimate and necessary to speak out against the abuse of power by some men, the constant denunciations have spiraled out of control.
According to the writers, this is creating a public mood in which women are seen as powerless, as perpetual victims.
Catherine Deneuve is by far the most prominent of them.
The other 99 women who signed the document include some well-known figures, such as actress Christine Boisson; conservative journalist Élisabeth Lévy; talk-show host Brigitte Lahaie; Catherine Millet, a writer and magazine editor.
There are also lesser-known names from the worlds of entertainment, the arts, the media, and academia. Most of them, however, are professionals who are not known to the French public.
The letter has stirred debate in France. On January 10, a group of about 30 feminists issued a statement accusing Catherine Deneuve and her co-signatories of seeking to “close the lid” on the scandals uncovered by the Weinstein case, and of “pouring scorn” on victims of harassment.
On social media, many expressed either anger or sadness at the open letter.
The debate has mostly pitted those belonging to the older generation, who view #Metoo and similar campaigns as a threat to the liberation achieved in the 1960s, against younger, activist types who feel that the battle against harassment is the latest stage in the fight for women’s rights.
Catherine Deneuve, 74, is not known as an activist star. However, last year she spoke out against social media campaigns shaming men accused of harassing women.
Women and men from all over the globe who have been harassed have been sharing their stories across social media using the hashtag #MeToo.
In France, Twitter users are using #Balancetonporc (“rat on your dirty old man”) to encourage women to name and shame their attackers.
Catherine Deneuve, an Oscar-nominated actress, has been in more than 100 movies, making her debut in 1957.