The DSK Debacle Uncovers a Cultural Divide on Rape

by on June 2, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The French and the Americans are at odds thanks to the arrest of “The Great Seducer,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now-former head of the IMF. I feel required to mention Strauss-Kahn since I’m the SunBreak’s beleaguered correspondent in the Paris hot zone, but it’s not easy for me.

For one thing, typing the words “The Great Seducer” up there made me feel dirty and angry. For another thing, I usually write humor, and after examining this story from all angles, I’ve determined there is not a smidge of humor to be found in it.

Our French friends love to talk with us about the case, in particular, about how they think the U.S. sucks. Also, we are prudes. They’re upset their DSK was shown in handcuffs. They’re horrified cameras are allowed in American courtrooms. They are disgusted by our “perp walk” and the American penchant for crime spectacle. (That’s one thing, at least, on which we agree.)

My French teacher believes the DSK affair has been made a bigger deal than it really is because it happened in America, and Americans are uptight about sex. I said, Yes, it’s true we are more uptight about sex, but what we’re really uptight about is people raping people. The two are not the same. She then said rape isn’t as shocking to the French. I responded with, Why the hell not? Honestly, what the hell is wrong with you, woman? Not my most coldly logical argument but my incredulousness overruled my reason.

When I brought up allegations of DSK’s past sexual aggression, a friend of ours acknowledged perhaps he has “a weakness.” A weakness? A weakness? I don’t think “being rapey” can be considered a weakness–it’s more a sociopathic character trait that makes you a menace to civilized society. That same friend said, “So he loves women….” and let the sentence trail off with a shrug of the shoulders. Another friend’s mother-in-law said it couldn’t be rape because rape only happens when the “propositioning man” has a weapon. Then my head exploded.

If my husband mentions Strauss-Kahn at work, his co-workers fire back that our politicians aren’t perfectly behaved either–why, just look at Bill Clinton! It’s true powerful men the world over have tried to get away with things, but the relevance of the Bill Clinton argument eludes me. Monica was a willing participant. Monica liked cigars. If she had said, “I don’t want a cigar anywhere near me,” we would have had a whole different problem with what happened in the Oval Office. I think we, as Americans, make the distinction between extramarital dalliance and act of violence. I’m not sure the French do–in fact, I’m starting to wonder if they even know what rape is.

The majority of French people seem to believe Strauss-Kahn was set up. Others say the maid is lying for money. Most say there’s no way he would have done something so careless, and in the land of uptight prudes no less, right before a run for the presidency.

He is vigorously defended; the victim is persecuted. The victim’s full name has been printed in the French press. It was suggested early on we needed to see a picture of her, hinting that her attractiveness or lack thereof would be a clue to what happened. I’ve now stopped reading French press on the subject, for while there are many level-headed people out there calling for an examination of deep-rooted misogyny in French culture, there are just as many, if not more, stuck in their caves.

I understand the French don’t want the allegations to be true. Strauss-Kahn is a respected politician and their best hope to beat a hugely unpopular President in the next election. I understand they want him to emerge from this unscathed and come home to beat Sarkozy to a bloody pulp. Perhaps they’re willing to defend anything to make that happen. Who knows, maybe it will happen; maybe it will turn out to be a perfectly executed plot all along. All we can do is wait, and hope the trial brings the truth to light.

But regardless of the outcome of the trial, another truth has already been exposed, and it’s ugly. France is not the sexually open, sexually progressive society it would like you to believe. What it offers is sexual license for powerful men. Is it “open” of the French to excuse the extramarital affairs of their politicians and argue they don’t affect a person’s ability to govern? Perhaps. Is it “open” to excuse sexual assault, and obvious disrespect for half the population, and argue it doesn’t affect a person’s ability to govern? I say no, but I’m an American prude.

We’ve got a long way to go in our attitudes towards sexual assault and victim-blaming in the U.S, too, but compared to what I’ve seen here, we’re light years ahead of France’s fabled sophisticated sexuality. I’ve lived in both cultures now, and I much prefer the one where a rape victim at least has a chance of being heard.

Filed under News, Politics, Travel

9 thoughts on “The DSK Debacle Uncovers a Cultural Divide on Rape

  1. Dear Mindy, thank you for expressing your frustration and your very on-target criticisms to various entrenched problems found in French culture about sexuality. I share them all.

    It personally makes my stomach turn to see how widespread these harmful cultural notions and excuses are in France, and the endless way they minimize and trivialize sexual violence and harassment, while always sullying and viciously attacking the victims. It’s no wonder that in many European countries promiscuity, pornography, prostitution, and homosexuality have been completely normalized and are touted as hallmarks of progress, while in truth, a lot of we see in personal attitudes and behaviors is nothing but expressions of a violent, sexual sewer.

    Nevertheless, I feel a there was really a crack in the French “law of silence” with these three recent scandals (DSK, Tron, pedophile). Will it last? Let’s hope that the international media will not turn their attention away from misbehavior in France, because without outside pressure, France seems to lack enough lucid and ethical people willing to bring about a revolution of their system. 

     http://socimages.blogsome.com/

    • You are perfectly right … since the age of kings, and nonetheless the French Revolution, the frenchman has got a problem : he can’t help bowing and kneeling before  his elites, even if this means being raped. Somehow it’s the relic of the ancient cast system. Yes, some of french people still have privileges .And yes, all this is hypocritical and disgusting.

      And I know what I’m talking about : I am one of them.

      (by the way, please  excuse my english :-)   )

      • To Fusible1:
        (by the way, the important thing is that people communicate, English is not your native language, you are not obliged to know it as a native, and you did just fine :-)

        I think that French people need to change their privacy laws for public figures. Otherwise the French public can’t point their fingers at their misbehaving elites, both the public and the elites are all happy with their infamous omerta…
         

  2. A a French woman living in France, I would say that the reaction in France you write above was true at the beginning, a few days after the 14 of May. In the meantime, you can read all main French magazines “Le nouvelobs”, “L’express”, “Le Point”, and you can see that most comments of readers suggest they believe more the maid and most people writing comments tend to believe her story and do not speak any longer of conspiracy or complot Except some high members of the socialist party who are upset not being able to become minister in the DSK government, and even these people seem to turn the page and go along with there future.

  3. What a difficult situation. The only way to explain how Americans view this, I’ve found, is to offer the same scenario w/ role reversal, e.g. if an African staff member had forced a French woman guest to perform sexual acts, would that be rape? Would the apologist still be apologizing, or does his/her head explode trying to explain how the two cases are different?

  4. Ah, I kind of skimmed a part of the above article, but now I have noticed just how bad it is.

    “If my husband mentions Strauss-Kahn at work, his co-workers fire back
    that our politicians aren’t perfectly behaved either–why, just look at Bill Clinton! It’s true powerful men the world over have tried to get away with things, but the relevance of the Bill Clinton argument eludes
    me. Monica was a willing participant. Monica liked cigars. If she had said, “I don’t want a cigar anywhere near me,” we would have had a whole different problem with what happened in the Oval Office. I think
    we, as Americans, make the distinction between extramarital dalliance
    and act of violence.” 

    What Americans have trouble facing is sexual exploitation and harmful personal relations, when there is no physical violence involved.

    Lewinsky had an entire personal history of serious psychological problems (family history and personal relationships). Her “desire” to have sex with Clinton was nothing but one more expression of these
    problems (and not the first one). Seriously troubled people are the first to consent to self-exploitative and self-destructive and irresponsible actions.
    Your characterization of the Clinton-Lewinsky interaction as a “dalliance” just goes to show how 
    much in denial society is about how sexual and emotional exploitation works in practice. Clinton exploited Lewinski’s troubled psychology to his heart’s content. Given his putrid mind about sexuality and women, no
    surprise there. There is nothing trivial about an older piece of turd exploiting a
    younger person full of psychological problems, including sexually. It takes two to have any sexual interaction, and it takes a slime of a human being to engage in any kind of a sexual act with a completely
    exploitable person, who is not capable of having a single, wholesome personal relationship, because of their many psychological problems. This was Lewinski’s profile.

    The many older victims of the Catholic Church’s abusive priests were in a parallel situation to
    Lewinsky. Many of the older victims were vulnerable, with psychological problems and suffering a tremendous power difference compared to  their abusers. Easy to abuse, exploit and manipulate. Nobody pointed a gun to
    their heads or used physical violence. Just like turds of older men like Clinton who exploit younger women who are full of psychological problems.
    The fact that their respective sexual interactions did not involve physical violence does not erase the fact that emotional exploitation (leading to sexual interactions) is also one very serious type of harm. And to frame such interactions as consensual when there was a serious component of exploitation is really disingenuous and
    dishonest.

  5. i’ve lived in France for 35 years, except for stays in the United States, and I’ve never come across anybody who claimed that rape was not a big deal. By the way, the legal definition of rape in France is any act of sexual penetration committed on another personal through violence, coercion, threat or surprise – there is no need for a weapon.

    I respecfully doubt your friends are representative of French society. Consider the Polanski case: didn’t Woopie Goldberg claim it was not “rape-rape”? (I suppose she meant that true rape is with a weapon or uses massive physical force?) Is Woopie Goldberg representative of American society?The French, however, have had in the past decades several high-profile inquiries and trials where horrific sexual acts were alleged (we’re talking pedophilia, murders, etc.) and it turned out the claims were bogus (see the Outreau and Allègre cases). Because of this, many in France are prudent when they hear lurid allegations. Everybody knows that DSK is a smart man with immense ambitions, and such people tend not to do so rash as to rape a maid one year before the presidential elections to which they aspire. Thus, it is natural that people initially doubted the allegations.

    So, indeed, I myself and many in France believe that extramarital affairs that do not impair the ability to govern are not to be discussed in the press. What happens in a couple is private – maybe they have an “open marriage” (both partners can have sexual adventures outside), maybe they’re staying together for the kids but don’t love each other anymore, and so on. Who are we to judge what’s appropriate or not?

    This all stops, however, when crimes are committed, or at least, professional behavior becomes unprofessional. It should also stop if the politician makes public claims about morality – for instance, by touting “traditional family values”.

    @google-7a1b985e51b998eae5d4d88bdf2c31d1:disqus Alessandra Reflections Reflect: Excuse me, but what exactly is wrong with homosexuality and promiscuity? Neither are violent per se; regarding pornography, some studies seem to indicate that widespread Internet pornography coincides with a decline of rape.

    • Grouch: Excuse me, but what exactly is wrong
      with homosexuality and promiscuity? Neither are violent per se;

      They are both sexually and emotionally dysfunctional in a variety of ways and degrees, and in many cases are  an indication of profound psychological and emotional problems.

      To say “neither is violent per se” is just a way to cover up a lot of real violence perpetrated by a large number of homosexuals. A considerable number of homosexuals have a violent
      sexuality and intimate relationship mindset.

      Grouch: regarding pornography, some studies seem to indicate that widespread
      Internet pornography coincides with a decline of rape.

      Just as widespread broadcast of cigarette ads coincides with many people being thinner because they smoke. Interesting how we can distort any bad thing to make it sound good. There is absolutely no truth to the claim that consuming pornography reduces a propensity to rape in a rapist’s mind.

      On the contrary, porn teaches people to have a debased attitude about sexuality and to treat others in a debased way, in order to get their sexual kicks. How far each porn consumer will go with in this direction to the point of harassment or violence also depends on other aspects of their psychology.

      •  [Ed.: Comment portion deleted for lack of factual data to back up
        assertions that verge on/are hate speech. The SunBreak doesn’t have a
        lot of patience with bigotry.]

        What a ridiculous claim. I’m sure the irony will be lost on you, but I wager you  don’t ‘t have any facts to counter anything I wrote. Smear away because you don’t like the truth.