What is “la délation” and why are French feminists unhappy with Emmanuel Macron’s use of this word?
This week the “Big Mac” announced a number of measures to improve gender equality and tackle sexual harassment in France. These include educating the public (from schoolchildren to adults) about sexism and violence against women and speeding up the reporting process for victims of violence, harassment or discrimination.
Macron is also creating a “délit d'outrage sexiste”, in other words making gender-based insults a criminal offence, which will allow police to prosecute street harassers.
This is all very good.
However, the President balanced these measures with a call for restraint, saying that we mustn’t find ourselves “dans un quotidien de la délation”, meaning a situation in which everyone’s denouncing each other on a daily basis.
The French have the word “la dénonciation” which is when, in the public interest, you alert the authorities or the press to a wrong-doing.
Unfortunately for Macron, he chose to use instead “la délation” which has negative connotations, evoking bad memories from the Second World War.
Unlike “la dénonciation”, “la délation” is a despicable act. It means informing on someone behind their back, serving only the selfish or immoral interests of the informer.
The Third Reich encouraged “la délation” and used it as a weapon against the Resistance, to the extent that even members of the same family were turned against each other.
The French language has many idiomatic words for “un délateur” (meaning a “snitch” or a “grass”) and all sharing its negative connotations, such as “un mouchard”, “une balance”, “un donneur”, “un indic”, “un cafard”, “un collabo” and more.
Not surprisingly, French feminists and others feel that there should be no stigma attached to denouncing the perpetrators of sexual violence, harassment or discrimination. We agree!
For more about this ground-breaking legislation, have a look at the France24 web site:
If you’re feeling lazy, here’s the article in English: