When I first heard the news of Dominique Strauss Kahn’s arrest in New York I clapped my hand over my mouth in horror. The news was shocking in itself – attempted rape…unlawful imprisonment – but my alarm went deeper than the accusation itself. It felt like a kind of reckoning, a death knell to a certain idea of France. Suddenly, DSK, the Grand Seducteur, the infamous lover of women was revealed as nothing more than a dirty old man unable to control himself. In the process, the very French mythology surrounding sex – particularly of the extra-marital kind – as a private, elegant and decorous game, was exposed as a big lie serving, primarily, as a rampart for the patriarchy. How fitting it was that the nemesis (both of the man and the myth) should be played out in America, the home of the witch-hunt and the cradle of political correctness. And how predictable that so much of the reaction to this story has centred, on both sides of the Atlantic, upon a visceral clash between two world-views.

On the morning after DSK’s arrest, words like “Incredible”, “unbelievable” “Inconceivable” peppered the French headlines. America was universally outraged by the details of the case while in France Twitter was awash with conspiracy theories exonerating the politician. DSK’s socialist colleagues all leapt to his defence. Former prime minister, Laurent Fabius (“in shock”) spared a thought, not for the supposed victim, but for Strauss Kahn’s wife and family. Even his political opponents alluded to a possible set-up by Sarkozy’s entourage to undermine his candidacy for the presidential elections. Former minister for housing, Christine Boutin, in the manner of a true courtesan and guardian of the patriarchy said, “To me the whole business seems highly implausible! We know that he’s rather vigorous, if you know what I mean, but that he should get himself caught like that, seems unbelievable so I hope he’s just fallen into a trap.” The general state of shock in France, then, is not so much that the alleged crime should have taken place but that DSK allowed himself to get caught.

My friend, the journalist and writer, Michele Fitoussi, feels that what’s happening to DSK is being lived out as a national trauma. “We had all heard about him, some made jokes and some knew what he was capable of. For years during our Parisian dinners we’d sit around slyly alluding to DSK’s dubious behaviour with women. We made jokes about the fact that a sexily dressed woman shouldn’t be left alone with him. There were rumours that it went further than the occasional visit to Les Chandelles (Paris’ most elegant swinger’s club). There’s a climate of maximum tolerance towards our male politicians that we’re just waking up from. It feels like a real collective trauma.”

But will this trauma cause a change in behaviour? Not necessarily. French reaction – male and female, public and private – to what is widely seen as the ritual and unnecessary shaming of DSK, betrays the entrenchment of patriarchal values, still being disguised as Epicureanism or savoir vivre. Listen to Bernard Henri Levy’s priceless response on French national radio: “Do you think for one second that we would be friends if I thought that DSK was a compulsive rapist (love the use of the word compulsive here), a Neanderthal man, a guy who behaves towards the women he meets, like a sexual predator? All this is utterly grotesque.”

Significantly, BHL ends the interview by stating that not everyone is the same: “Everybody is not everybody! The President of the IMF, the man who was about to be a candidate for the presidency of the French Republic, handcuffed! It’s obvious that he’s not some commoner (quidam). This American justice is an outrageous hypocrisy (Tartufferie), something I already knew but which today is blindingly obvious to me.”

BHL, with his humanitarian posturing and his patrician lecturing, is the living embodiment of the endless struggle that lies at the heart of French culture, between the myth of Republican equality and the hierarchical values of the Ancien Regime.


14 thoughts on “DSKNY

  1. such a great piece on the DSK drama, trauma, frenzy. I am left open-mouthed… clumsily stomping around in a state of dumbfound-edness…! But not because of the USA/french gaping gap of political correctness/patriarchal hole… because of the horrible reactions of the “people”…! The comments, the shock, BHL, the lame conspiracy theorists… etc. Not once have I seen written — oh my, the poor woman –how awful for her, is she all right? etc. In fact, the woman spoke to a reporter and said she feels totally alone, a societal outcast!

  2. Great piece, but I wanted to raise my hand to say that I don’t think that “sex addiction” includes “rape.” So what do we do with that one?

  3. I wouldn’t entrust myself to the French justice system now. When I lived in Paris fifteen years ago I had politicians, in-journalists and diplomats as friends but not anymore. In the US you need money to hire a very good lawyer and you can get it by selling lots of stuff, in France you need friends in high places which you may need to sell yourself to get. Voila la difference, imho.

  4. Absolutely brilliant summation, I hoped you’d write something about the issue and I particularly liked the last paragraph. The conflation of sexual assault and sexual infidelity regarding various French and Anglo-Saxon politicians has been pretty sickening, with some French commentators comparing DSK’s treatment in the press to that of Clinton with Lewinsky.

    I can’t quite believe the situation either, and as a crucible for examining certain attitudes with French (and American) culture, I can’t think of a more explosive incident than this. Without wishing to underplay the shock and sympathy I feel for the victim, it’s been, in a horrible way, fascinating.

    “Allons enfants de la Patriarchie…”

  5. I am a french parisian woman ,that’s all.
    I do believe simply that you are right saying DSK is” a dirty old man unable to behave himself.”

    I am amazed to realise that most people in France believed it was a plot…. because the behaviour of the man was so well known among french journalists and population.

    I am very glad this happened in United States because IN FRANCE HE WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN CAUGHT AND ARRESTED .
    Most probably , the young maid would never have dared complaining to the director of the hotel because she would have feared loosing her job; If so , he most probably might have propose some kind of arrangement to her: something like giving her 2days off paid; and most probably would have sent a team to clean the room immediately.
    If she had belonged to a strong trade union or women association ,you could have read one single line in some newspapers,no more and the case would have been stifled,covered up ,because of mighty pressures of influential people.
    No way.these people ,socialists or not ,are above the laws especially when they have a very poor servant in front of them.
    they have the arrogance of power and money.
    Have a look at the interview of Jean François Khan famous french journalist “un troussage de domestique”The words can’t be more disdaintfull .
    Jacques Lang the former socialist french minister said “il n’y a pas mort d’homme “meaning it was of so little importance,because no one was dead.

    Congratulation America ,up to now a very good job.

  6. Excellent summary! Thanks.
    However, Christine Boutin is not a socialist, but a Christian Right leader, about as far from the left as you can be without being in Le Pen territory, what is called “la droite versaillaise”.

  7. Thanks for this and all the comments. I read about the comment “troussage de domestique” and it curdled my blood (I’m an American woman…ie I AM A WOMAN) that a mainstream person could say that…dismissing a woman’s reported RAPE because she was a servant/maid and had much less power than the politician. There are racist/socieconomic/power issues here that make it even MORE of an abuse if he raped her, in my opinion. Yes, innocent until proven guilty and also, you need to believe a rape victim. You hold your mind open but you need to have compassion for her.
    I came to your site because I googled “troussage der domestique”. Thanks for the explanation for what’ s going on in France. Being in a position of great power and taking advantage is worse because you think/know you’ll get away with it.
    If he had a reputation..my bet is he did it. Because there is no payoff for this woman to report it. In many cultures rape is shameful to the woman, at least embarracing. She gained nothing. When you make little money and lack power usually you dont’ want to draw attention to yourself. Especially if you have a child, like this woman reportedly does. We’ll see…but it’s looking tentatively like he’s guilty and those defending him are supporting a rapist.

  8. On the subject of the ‘rightful’ victim (if it transpires that he did it) the only politician who spoke about her was Marine Le Pen. And she did so with such simplicity and, dare I say, eloquence. Frightening, no?

  9. Hugo Glendinning: Would love to know what you mean. I mean, I get that you are pointing to his Jewishness – but what do you mean by saying ‘I also think there is further trauma for France and particular awfulness to be found in the ethnicity of his victim’? I find that rather impenetrably difficult to interpret. Why particular awfulness?

    In fact, if there’s one rather tentative silver lining to this whole affair, it’s actually that his Jewishness seems not to have made any headlines, either when he was considered the leading candidate to unseat Sarkozy, or since his arrest. It gets occasionally mentioned in passing, but nothing more. That says something about France, no?

  10. Thank you Lucy very well put. As a single woman living in France I have found your insights so useful.
    The only “good thing” that can perhaps come out of the awful suffering this woman has gone through and is going to suffer in court is that perhaps more women in France will feel able to complain about the abuses that have been covered up in the past. I do feel that feminsim and equality have somehow passed by France – living in a Catalan area where it is considered that the place for a woman is in the kitchen or the bedroom – oops – sorry that is for “the other woman” . I am now quite angry about the French male attitude towards women. – good article about the burka also – perhaps men should be banned from wearing ski masks …….. too silly. I just hope that justice will be served in NY.

  11. Pingback: France, US and UK: Misogynistic Patriarchies | The French Connection

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