Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Image via Flickr/Creative Commons
At the trial of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Lille, the brilliant, left-leaning economist, referred to as DSK and once considered a “world savior,” stood before the world accused of aggravated pimping.
Although the charges are likely to be dismissed, the DSK scandal triggered the most significant shift of French consciousness around gender issues since the publication of “The Second Sex. ”
In the 1980s and 1990s during François Mitterand’s 14-year presidency, DSK was a leading socialist economist. French women who worked for the Socialist Party at that time, described a behind-the scenes libertarianism that corresponds in detail to all that DSK calmly described at his trial.
The sexual assault case against the former I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn seems to have all but unraveled. The credibility of the hotel chambermaid who accused DSK of forcing her to perform oral sex and attempting to rape her has been called into question by the defense team, which says that the accuser has been inconsistent in her account of the alleged assault, spoke some damning words to her boyfriend after the incident, and lied on her asylum application. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is said to be considering dropping the case.
While we still don’t know what went on that afternoon — John Eligonin in The New York Times goes through three possible scenarios based on the evidence — we do know that DSK has a history of being a lothario and there is still something fishy about what happened in his luxury hotel suite, even if it wasn’t outright assault.
But the fact that there is a big chance DSK will walk away from these charges does not mean that this case has been a total loss for the way sexual violence is spoken about and acted upon overall.
Weinergate is no doubt about as juicy as scandals get — between the congressman’s waxed chest, his silly and salacious flirtations with the women he “met” online, and even a jab against Jewish women. While the fascination with Weiner is more than understandable, I think it is time we all take a step back and ask ourselves what exactly it is that he did wrong. This is important for determining what expectations we should have for our politicians, and also how we think about the women involved.
If Anthony Weiner flirts online with women, I can understand why his wife would care, and also why her mother and sister and friends would care. If my husband or a friend’s husband behaved this way, I would certainly object. But if a politician whose politics I generally agree with behaves in a way that I find disagreeable on a purely personal level I am not sure I should care. I don’t like when government officials tell the country how we should be married — and who can be married — and I would like to offer back to them the same level tolerance.
The sexual assault and attempted rape charges against I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn — he’s pleaded not guilty — got me thinking: What propels men who most certainly know better to engage in the type of morally repugnant behavior, such as that which the French politician stands accused?
How much is it a matter of class or race? His alleged victim, an immigrant from North Africa, is a chambermaid at a Manhattan hotel. And maids have long been vulnerable to sexual assault and intimidation due to the solitary nature of their work and the little respect the profession is given — due in part to it being “women’s work.” Though while race and class are no doubt part of the power hierarchy that propels one human to try to have his way with another, they don’t alone tell the whole story.
You see, Tristane Banon, a young journalist, novelist and daughter of a Socialist Party official, is also alleging that DSK attempted to rape her, back in 2002.
In a culture in which predatory sexual encounters and sexual assaults are so prevalent, what’s to blame?
The French public is wrestling with the arrest a man who sat proudly on the top of the ladder of prestige and privilege, who is supposed to represent their country to the world and bring it pride.
Instead, they are wallowing in the sordid details of his alleged sexual attack on a maid in a $3,000-a-night New York hotel room, and the possibility that he had previously taken advantage of his status and privileges to exploit women. The New York Times reports on the “soul-searching” taking place among the French:
The arrest in New York of one of France’s leading global figures and a possible next president, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges of attempted rape produced an earthquake of shock, outrage, disbelief and embarrassment throughout France.
That description sounds very familiar to Israelis, who have been carrying around that particular cocktail for several years now, when the rape charges against former President Moshe Katsav were first announced in 2007.