Paris (AFP) - Feminists and one of the women who accused fallen Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of rape turned on French actress Catherine Deneuve Wednesday after she signed an open letter attacking the #MeToo movement for leading a witch-hunt against men.
France's legendary star Deneuve and some 100 other women put their names to a declaration condemning the avalanche of "denunciations" that has followed claims that the Hollywood producer sexually assaulted women over decades.
But Italian actress Asia Argento, who was among the first to accuse Weinstein, led a backlash, tweeting: "Deneuve and other French women tell the world how their interiorised misogyny has lobotomised them to the point of no return."
A group of leading French feminists also excoriated Deneuve in a counterblast letter to French radio, branding her and the other signatories as "apologists for rape".
To say that #MeToo was puritanical and driven by a "hatred of men" was "contemptuous" of the victims of abuse and harassment, the feminists insisted, accusing the signatories of trying to "slam back the lid" blown off by the Weinstein scandal.
They claimed most of the women who signed the letter to Le Monde daily were "recidivists in defending child abusers", a reference to film director Roman Polanski, who Deneuve has supported in his long fight against extradition to the US on rape charges.
- 'Their world is disappearing' -
"Their letter is like a tired old uncle who doesn't understand what is happening," the feminists said.
"The (male chauvinist) pigs and their allies have reason to be worried. Their old world is fast disappearing," they added.
The Deneuve letter had complained that "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."
It was also signed by Catherine Millet, whose explicit 2002 memoir, "The Sexual Life of Catherine M.", was a defence of libertine lifestyles.
The letter also complained that the "puritanical wave" set off by the #MeToo campaign played into the hands of reactionaries and religious extremists, and claimed most women were "clear-eyed enough not to confuse an awkward attempt to pick someone up with a sexual attack."
Australian novelist and broadcaster Van Badham, who wrote last year of her own ordeal at the hands of a prominent abuser, said women "who have exposed the damaged tissues of the shame inflicted on us by our predators are also quite 'clear-eyed' on the distinction.
- 'Being fondled a non-event' -
"That's why we are so angry –- not because we are 'puritanical', as the letter claims, but because we are seeking joy from sexual contact on our own terms, not abuse or exploitation on someone else's," she wrote in The Guardian newspaper.
"It's the likes of (Woody) Allen, and Weinstein, and the other men accused of abuses with whom Deneuve and her friends are aligning themselves with their letter. Their actions are not those in defence of freedom, let alone sexual expression or female identity," she added.
Reaction on social media was equally vociferous, with Deneuve's take on #MeToo becoming a trending topic on Twitter in France, Britain and across much of Europe.
The letter's assertions that being "fondled on a metro... was a non-event" to some women, and a man's right to hit on a woman was fundamental to sexual freedom, sparked particular fury.
"Catherine Deneuve might have very different opinions about harassment if she weren't an extraordinarily beautiful, very rich white woman living in a bubble of heightened privilege. And had some empathy," tweeted New York Times cartoonist Colleen Doran.
America novelist Laila Lalami said such thinking was "the clearest explanation yet of how men like Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein lasted."
"Would Catherine Deneuve be rushing to the defence of men who 'try to steal a kiss' if these men had been North African?" she added.
But not all were hostile. American academic Christina Sommers, author of "Who Stole Feminism?", said Deneuve was calling out "the excesses of the #MeToo crusade".
Deneuve's spokeswoman told AFP that actress "does not want to comment further" on the row.