‘Sexist’ cartoon prompts outrage in French wine circles

A “crude” and “misogynistic” cartoon that recently appeared in the French wine guide ‘En Magnum’ has sparked a fierce debate about attitudes towards women among the, predominantly older, male members at the top of the Francophone wine writing scene.

A picture of the offending cartoon that appeared in the recent issue of En Magnum

The cartoon, entitled ‘Covid requires new strategies’, depicts a tall, blonde woman wearing a revealing red dress talking to a squat, rotund wine merchant, flustered and excited by what he is hearing.

The lady tells ‘Monsieur Georges’ that her company has a “new strategy” to defeat Covid-19. She then says that if he buys a pallet of wine she’ll take her top off and if he buys a container…”Georgie, darling. Can you guess? Go on…”

The cartoon appeared in the December 2020-Jan/Feb 2021 edition of En Magnum a leading French wine title published by Michel Bettane and Thierry Dessauve – prominent French wine critics.

The cartoon sparked an immediate backlash in some quarters not just for what was seen as its crude and inappropriate subject matter, a “degrading sexist caricature” as one writer put it, but also because there is a suggestion that the lady depicted is a real person which makes it defamatory.

The lady in the cartoon is presented as the agent for ‘Vins Fins Poulet-Rautiz’ (Fine Wines & Roast Chicken). There is a real company in France dealing in natural wines called ‘Vins et Voailles’ (Wines and Poultry) founded by a lady called Fleur Godart.

The cartoon prompted a Belgian wine writer, Sandrine Goeyvaerts, to write to the magazine’s publishers to complain. She says she was subsequently sent menacing and aggressive messages by En Magnum’s editor-in-chief, Nicolas de Rouyn.

A journalist at Le Monde, Ophélie Neiman, who also questioned the cartoon says she was then sent messages by Bettane himself, who called her an “upstart”.

The Federation des Cavistes Indépendantes – a non-profit association of independent wine merchants in France – wrote a condemnation of the cartoon saying it, “is not how women involved in the sale of wines and spirits behave! This cartoon seems to reflect more a cartoonist’s fantasy than an everyday reality!”

Other French and Belgian writers have come to En Magnum’s defence, however. Some of them have said the intention of the cartoon needs to be “understood” as well as calling for “freedom of expression”, while denouncing what they variously called “johnny-come-lately feminists” and “feminist-hysterics”, while one, Vincent Pousson, rather less subtly reportedly wrote: “to put it in perspective, … there’s no shortage of women who act like whores in the ‘mondovino’.

“Big blonde whores who prostitute themselves in the street to sell fine wines – there are hundreds of them in the world, at least.”

Goeyvaerts herself was then subject to a range of insults on social media delivered both directly and indirectly in various comments and tweets.

Many of these have since been removed when they grew to such a volume that a legal case could theoretically be made under France’s harassment laws. Although multiple screenshots were taken they are not admissible as evidence.

Another French writer, Antonin Iommi-Amunategui, chronicled the events so far on his website (an English translation can be found here), saying that the “caste” of old men who have dominated wine writing in France for “two or three decades” were feeling threatened by a rising tide of younger and more female writers.

“This lamentable sequence of events will therefore perhaps have at least one or two correct, necessary consequences,” he wrote. “The first is to clean up the atmosphere in the wine world.

“The other is to illustrate solidarity among sisterhoods and allied guys; a gender-mixed outcry against these new hysterics.

“And whatever, that’s enough. It’s over. Basta. From now on, we have our eyes on you, Old White Men of Wine, and we’ll tolerate no more of this.”

En Magnum has been contacted for comment.

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