The Musée d’Orsay Has Apologized After Museum Staff Reprimanded a Female Visitor for Her ‘Indecent’ Attire. (It Was a Dress)

The woman has shared an account of how four staff members tried to bar her from entering the institution because of her low neckline.

People queue outside the Orsay museum on its reopening day, on June 23, 2020. Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images.
People queue outside the Orsay museum on its reopening day, on June 23, 2020. Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is under a firestorm of criticism after a young woman penned a shocking open letter to the institution describing how museum staff sexually discriminated against her earlier this week. The letter describes how four museum employees barred her from accessing the museum on Tuesday, September 8, until she agreed to cover up her cleavage.

After the letter, written by a user named Jeanne, was shared widely on Twitter—along with a photo of her outfit taken by her friend—the museum acknowledged the incident in its own tweet. “We have become aware of an incident that occurred with a female visitor during her entry to the Musée d’Orsay,” it wrote. “We deeply regret this and offer our apologies to the concerned person, who we are contacting.”

In the open letter, the young woman describes how she visited the museum on a hot day, and was told before entering that her attire was unacceptable. The issue escalated as three other members of staff including a security guard explained that what she is wearing—a dress with a plunging neckline—was against the museum’s rules.

Stunned, Jeanne writes that when she asked what rules they were referring to, pointing out that she was neither breaking the displayed sanitary rules nor security regulations, she was told to “calm down.” The employees continued to insist that “the rules are the rules,” and demanded that she put her jacket on before entering the museum. 

Despite feeling “humiliated” and “defeated” by this treatment, Jeanne explains that she decided to comply because she wanted to visit the museum.

“I ask myself if the employees who wanted to block me from entering knew to what point they had sexualized me, had followed a sexist order, and whether when they go home in the evening they will think it was within their rights to disrespect mine,” Jeanne writes. “I question the logic with which the representatives of a national museum could bar access to knowledge and culture on the basis of an arbitrary judgement about whether the appearance of another person is decent.”

Visitors look at Gustave Courbet' s painting The Origin of the World as they visit the Orsay museum on its reopening day, on June 23, 2020. Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images.

Visitors look at Gustave Courbet’ s painting The Origin of the World as they visit the Orsay museum on its reopening day, on June 23, 2020. Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images.

The online response to both the incident and the museum’s ensuing apology has been highly critical. Commenters quickly pointed out that the museum’s tweeted apology failed to take accountability for the incident, which it only alluded to vaguely. Users are asking the museum what consequences there have been for the employees concerned, and how it plans to prevent further incidents of sexual discrimination going forward.

Others have made a game of sharing images of the many artworks depicting naked women inside the museum. Manet’s Olympia, and Gustav Courbet’s The Origin of the World, are among the collections. Many also weighed in on what they see as a symptom of a gradual erosion of France’s once-liberal body culture.

Finally, some users have also been sharing their own experiences of the “boorish” behavior of the museum’s staff. “Discrimination seems to be a hobby of yours,” one user wrote. “Perhaps you should do something other than post poor excuses on Twitter.” Representatives of the Musée d’Orsay did not respond to Artnet News’s repeated requests for comment.


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