I’m really excited to tell you about the 5 delightful days I just spent in Munich, but before I do that, I’d like to take a moment to say my piece about the DSK affair.
Are Americans following the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn at all? It’s huge news here in France. Here’s my summary of the story:
DSK, (now former) director of the International Monetary Fund and the frontrunner for Socialist candidate in the upcoming French presidential elections, is charged with attempted rape of a chambermaid at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan. Police boarded his Air France homebound flight to arrest him. He was then placed in custody at Rikers Island in New York, but he was released Friday on $1 million cash bail, now living under 24-hour house arrest.
The French are outraged at what they consider to be humiliating treatment of DSK by the American legal system. “Innocent until proven guilty” plays out differently here in France, where perp walks and ubiquitous pictures of defendants in handcuffs n’existent pas. What frightens me is that, according to a poll conducted last week, 57% of French people believe he is an innocent victim of a plot.
Here’s my two centimes’ worth:
It’s deeply frightening to me that the French were so quick to jump to DSK’s defense, especially considering the man’s reputation. A known womanizer, he was investigated for abuse of power in 2008 following an affair with a subordinate at the IMF. Another woman has finally decided to press charges against him for attempted rape in 2002. According to a number of articles that have interviewed IMF insiders, it was an unspoken rule not to leave him alone with women. The whole IMF is the sort of place where, according to the International Herald Tribune, “Some women avoid wearing skirts. Others trade whispered tips about overly forward bosses.”
Pardon my French, but, are you fucking kidding me? Here we are in the 21st century, and yet powerful men—some of the most powerful men in the world!—still get away with sexual harassment and abuse, every single day.
To jump to DSK’s defense is to permit, even promote violence against women and a culture of harassment and disrespect. In this as in nearly every case of rape in human history, popular opinion condones men’s behavior and instead blames the female victim for her misfortune.
In a column titled “The impunity of the strong” in yesterday’s IHT, Katha Pollitt said it better than I ever could:
It took a powerless outsider in a foreign country—the housekeeper had no idea that DSK, as one of the world’s most powerful men, was entitled to make violent use of her body—to take action. Now DSK’s defense attorney is saying the sex, if it took place, was consensual. Because nothing is more likely than that a housekeeper—a Muslim widow in a head scarf, no less—will leap at the chance to fellate a 62-year-old hotel guest who springs naked out of the bathroom. […] Powerful men molest with impunity, enabled by friends, wives, political cronies, a servile press and a culture deeply hostile to women. Tell me again how feminism’s job is over.
One final note, completely beside the point:
As the head of an immensely powerful international organization ostensibly dedicated to reducing global poverty, I find it tactless that DSK was staying in a $3,00o-per-night hotel in the first place.
I read an editorial in a French paper that blamed the whole scandal on America’s rampant francophobia. To that, I roll my eyes and say: Yeah right, France—your military strength, superior capitalism, and fabulous customer service are so very threatening to us that we just had to take it out on your potential Socialist presidential candidate. Now will you please pass the ketchup for my Freedom Fries?