French President Emmanuel Macron took the first steps, over the weekend, to make "gender-based insults" illegal in the European country.
Macron unveiled a series of measures on Saturday, designed to help victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse seek help. They include laws designed to expand law enforcement resources to handle sexual crimes as well as grants to help institutions better educate children on how to identify sexism. The laws would also set the minimum age for sexual contact at 15; currently, according to the French media, France has no age of consent laws on the books.
Those are, generally, all good things, particularly when you consider how lax French authorities have been in pursuing issues of sexual violence. Macron had promised to strengthen France's commitment to protecting women during his campaign, and doubled down on the promise when allegations began to surface against Harvey Weinstein involving European women.
But part of the measure to control sexual crimes includes a future ban on "street harassment," and a ban on "gender-based insults," like "you throw like a girl," because what is, in fact, just speech, Macron says, is "violence against women."
“Gender-based insults will be punishable by law. Offenders will face a deterrent fine,” Macron told the press. "Women must feel comfortable in public spaces. Women in the republic must not be afraid to use public spaces. This must be one of the priorities of the police.”
Police, the law says, will be given leeway to issue a fine to anyone caught committing street harassment or using a gender-based insult. Practically speaking, it seems that Macron wishes police to enforce the law to protect women who appear to be in danger, or who are in an uncomfortable situation.
But the law is vague, and authorities appear to be given leeway to determine what constitutes a "gender-based insult" on the fly, making what might be, in the United States, protected speech, punishable by law in France.
Speech criminalization is a new and disturbing trend among both foreign and domestic governments. Although France is the first to criminalize "gender-based insults," California has already taken action to stop "deliberate mis-gendering" in healthcare institutions, and is considering expanding those prohibitions.