Why do so many French women – and not just powerful women in politics and the media  – see DSK as the victim?

Listening to the French equivalent of BBC Radio 4 this morning (France Inter) brought it home to me: France is one of the last great patriarchies. I could hardly believe my ears. There, in the recording studio, a female journalist called Pascale Clark sat tittering at male comedian, Sami Ameziane, who was impersonating DSK in his hotel room in New York trying to talk some sense into his penis: “Listen I don’t like the look of this chick, she’s going to get you into trouble, put away the merguez, buddy…” But it’s the other voice that wins: “Come on Dom. Have you forgotten who you are, Dominique-nique-nique-nique*. Whip out the tools, mate…”  The three minute sketch was a festival of macho inanity the subtext of which was, either the maid was asking for it and changed her mind half way through, or it was a set-up. In both scenarios DSK is the ‘vigorous’ male (as Christine Boutin described him), a Samson figure, being brought low by a woman.

When Segolene Royal ran for the presidency, I was stunned by the misogynistic comments, from both men and women, that polluted her campaign. When she failed to get elected I wondered if it was what the French call a strategie d’echec, her own unconscious urge to fail, because she was not ready to question her own conditioning. Today, the widespread view of DSK as a victim confirms my misgivings. Willfully unreconstructed, France is a society in which women collude in a continued phallocracy.

If Brits and Americans want to understand this mindset all they have to do is watch Joan Holloway, the curvacious redhead in Madmen, a TV series set in an advertising agency in 1960s America. Joanie is clever, sexy, witty and submissive. She’s admired, valued, often worshipped and always dominated. This is the unspoken pact most French women are still willing to accept.

*nique : screw


23 thoughts on “DSK

  1. Commenting on behalf of the League of Retired Hacks, this is the kind of story that proves God exists. Conspiracies? Why not?

    But reality intrudes as DSK makes the transition from future Berlusconi of French politics to celebrity criminal, complete with BHL cheering section.

    My agonised French friends are going to have to suck it up because thanks to DSK’s zipper problem, it will be 4 more years of Sarko.

    As for Carla’s & chou-chou’s baby – les mauvaises herbes se pousse…

  2. It’s hard for me to get a huge feel for attitudes in France when I don’t have a TV, and only read Direct Matin on the Metro in the morning, but I feel like I’ve heard more outrage expressed at the fact DSK has been photographed in court,”mal rasé et menotté”, than I have about the fact he has been accused of attempted rape. And I did hear someone say that the victim in all this is France itself…

    I can’t watch the Mad Men clip, but I know what you mean. I went out with a French boy a few times who complimented me incessantly, mostly on my looks. True, we didn’t have much in common anyway, but the death knell sounded when I told him I wanted to be a femme politique after my studies, and replied by saying that was “trop mignon!” I don’t know if I could grow old in this country.

  3. A male journalist was questioned this morning on France Inter about whether or not the French press had been negligent by not reporting on DSK’s widely known habit of ‘pressing’ women for sex. He replied that he was still thinking about it but that he did see that there was a difference between being a ladies man and being ‘lourdingue’ (heavy-handed). He then mentioned that he had a friend, a woman, who recently felt the need discretely to change jobs because she was being “repeatedly hassled by a high-ranking member of the UMP.” (Sarkozy’s party). No one suggested that this kind of behaviour might be illegal. It feels like France is just beginnning to wake up to the concept of sexual harrassment.

  4. I don’t know if anyone else saw this but…yesterday TF1 broadcasted a special dedicated to this affair. They had a correspondent in NY who was sending them regular updates from the courtroom. One update came through while DSK was appealing for bail. The presenter turned to one of the guests to ask his opinion, and instead of saying “is this a good sign for DSK?”, she simply said “is this a good sign?”

    What annoys me most about this affair is the sheer amount of people who are so quick to defend him when we don’t even know what happened yet.

  5. Re. Jonathan Miller’s comment about setting back your watches twenty years, isn’t that just why many people love France as a place to visit if not to live? If you leave the UK to visit just about any European country, you feel you have gone back a little in time as you enter a world of values that are not solely pecuniary, unlike the UK where even Christmas seems to be about how much was sold in the shops.
    That’s not a defense of the French, jut an observation. Their propensity to dismiss uncomfortable news as conspiracy suggests a culture in denial, but then that can also be what happens when an external event threatens to break up a cosy collusion between politicians and journalists.

  6. Rape is a crime of violence. Regardless of one’s or society’s attitude about sexual conduct, it cannot or should not condone rape. It is the equivalent of saying I support the right of free speech, therefore, I must support the license to commit murder. It just does not follow.

    Individuals and societies have differing attitudes toward sexuality and fidelity. Even if DSK was a serial seducer, it does not follow that he is a rapist or will become a rapist. If the charges are true, it bespeaks more of his hostility and desire to hurt a woman, rather than his uncontrollable desire to seduce a woman. Not being a psychologist I cannot say with any degree of certainty, but I suspect the desires are very different, driven by different causes and should be dealt with differently. Depending on the society, the serial seducer may be pitied or feted. He may be the subject of shame and derision or he may be winked at and treated as a cultural hero. However, the rapist is very different. He has committed an act of terrible violence against another person. He must be treated like a criminal and receive society’s penal sanction (The US Supreme Court only recently has ruled that the death penalty cannot be imposed for rape without murder).

  7. The US Supreme Court is loaded with Right Wing Ideologues and are therefore patriarchal and have voted over the past few years against anything “female” oriented. The court now led by Roberts and his four cronies don’t care about anything about equality other than being male, white and Christian.

    If I sound angry, yes I am.

    The US courts have recently approved the draconian laws in Arizona regarding illegal immigrants. Soon, the US will be back in the 18th century in Salem MA. Sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. Maybe I exaggerate a bit…

    Sorry for the diatribe – now, please continue with the debate.

  8. Having just this morning finished your SSoF and enjoying it for its rather insightful observations of a country I have lived in for nearly ten years, I have to say how disappointed I am that it took you less than a nanosecond to come to some assumptions and conclusions which fly directly in the face of your native Anglo-Saxon principle “Innocent until proven guilty”…a principle that has been reaffirmed by DSK and the search for Truth.It is not the first time a man of some importance has been “set up” by someone with an agenda.

    However I have to say that the principle of men-women relations as you describe them is closer to the truth. And why not? When I first came here I was as non-plussed as any up-tight Brit but I learned that it is a different view of sex here; that it isn’t an expression or sealing of “love” but a pleasant way to spend the evening and that Anglos attach far too much importance to it. I hope that acceptance prohibits the rise of the awful celeb magazine which wags a finger while winking at the carry-one of known, temporary people. On the other hand French couples adore their children and make far better parents that many Brits do and that Family IS very important…perhaps the most important thing.
    I am not sure French women are dominated. They understand the way the Game is played in bed, are happy to please their partners and as you have mentioned, are playing out the role of the female. I personally find this refreshing as it avoids all that control and competition stuff. They don’t feel less for being traditionally feminine. In the workplace, women have the same opportunities as they do in GB…the glass ceiling is a universal one. As in GB, women are ubiquitous in the media and the best rise to the top in politics. And as in GB, top women are few and far between in business.

    I shall pass your book to my dearest friend, a Dutch woman who has been here for about 20 years, fully integrated and raised two children in France. She is now going through a divorce and seeing a French friend on a serious basis. I will be interested to hear her comments. There is much in it which made me nod. I think it may make her smile too.

  9. I’m regularly slack-jawed at what I hear on the radio. “And let me just introduce ‘X'” (an intelligent woman with responsible position and clever brain) “and may I also add that she’s looking very pretty today in a sky-blue cardigan.” It’s astonishing. I was v. happy to find your blog today (I linked to it in a post) because I loved your book. Brilliant, insightful writing about la belle France. You put into words all those half-formed observations that are always swirling around my head. When is the sequel?! Pig x

  10. Lucy,

    The French politicians and media pundits who blindly support DSK are the same who had been siding with Roman Polanski, from Bernard-Henri Levy to Jack Lang, Alain Finkielkraut, Jean-François Kahn, Laurent Fabius etc.

    How come you are not mentioning France’s Catholic background? Should you ask your friend Michèle Fitoussi?

  11. Hello Passager.

    The reason for not mentioning France’s Catholic heritage is because it is the main thesis of my book and I don’t wish to be too repetitive.

    This post was another, lighter take on a subject that I explore in detail from a historical and cultural perspective throughout SLoF.

    Go on…Be a devil…Read the book.

    Very best wishes,


  12. I’ve read the book – shortly after reading “French Toast” by Harriet Rochefort. Another book that I found revealing was “The Discovery of France” by Graham Robb

    I’ve lived in France now for going on 9 years and my illusions about the French are pretty much shattered. What interests me the most is the upbringing the French are subjected to since this probably is what makes them the way they are. I have to thank you and Ms. Rochefort for helping me understand the horrible experience my youngest child went through in the French school system. It also helps me to understand what I am currently experiencing vis a vis the xenophobia of the French… Perhaps you would be interested in reading an account of an even that involves a woman of an abusive husband that I befriended and how he has accused me of being a “cult leader” because, during the course of our friendship and association, she decided to leave him. See: http://www.sott.net/articles/show/232704-The-French-Connection-Redux-Cult-Accusations-and-The-Deviant-Mind

    I would have to say that what is most shocking to all my sensibilities is realizing that the French, despite all their claims to intellectual superiority, have no regard for Truth at all. It isn’t even a value in their lives.

    Anyway, thank you for your precious insights – it HAS helped a lot!

  13. Oh boy…. I am truly saddened to read what I am reading; I thought only the French were doing that: being plain stupid…. well, I was wrong! As a french guy leaving in the US, I always get pissed off when I see, in the news, dumb comments that French readers make about the US or ‘anglo-saxon” culture, one-fit-all type of comments, with no understanding of the context. Force is to admit that the same kind of short-minded warped “understanding” is very true on the other side of the channel…. “the French” is exactly how one should sum up everybody in France….. we are all the same!!! And don’t get pissed at an entire nation because you got dumped by your French partner, please…. Oh, and by the way, it is OK to say that a woman looks good, whether it is coming from a man, or a woman actually!!! A compliment is not necessarily meant to be demeaning… or is it? My boss, a woman, is as American as it comes, and makes comments like this to gals and guys, and I don’t see the big deal, unless you have a very perverted mind. As for people projecting their inferiority complex on “the French” (again) because there are going out with somebody on the basis of “not having much in common” i.e. for sex (quest for something new and foreign??!), don’t be too startled when the guy is essentially commenting on your look….. what do you expect? Meanwhile, is it a bad thing to compliment a woman on her look? This is beyond me… I guess for people dressed in trash-bags and flipflops this does not apply (and good for them if they like it), but where is the problem to acknowledge somebody (man or woman) who is actually pleasing to see? Wouldn’t you say to somebody she/she is smart, and/or funny, and/or kind? Is your puritanism and fear of the body anchored so deep…?
    As for DSK, it was just shocking to see an “innocent” man doing the perp walk…. because innocent until proven guilty, that’s the law. Meanwhile, the guy is a douchebag with severe control problems, no question about it, regardless of what happened in his suite.

  14. France is a society in which women collude in a continued phallocracy (whoops?)

    If you wanted to reinforce the average US cliché, that’s excellent. The US worldview is a series of clichés from Disney studios (Germans are like the dwarves in Snow-white, hardworking, thick and orderly types, Greeks are all gay, the French are… etc.). Appalingly short-minded. That’s a very CNN-like piece of literature, carefully crafted, pleases most US readers, sells well… but fails short of bringing out the truth.

  15. So that I understand, Alan…Are you disagreeing that France is a patriarchy, albeit a civilized one? Having lived here all my adult life, I think it is. This, by the way, is an observation, not a criticism. No society is perfect, let’s face it.

    The fact that the American press spent the week after DSK’s arrest comparing his crime to Schwarzenegger’s fathering of an illegitimate child revealed to me their clear tendency to conflate a crime and a sin. This led me to the following question: where would I rather live, in a phallocracy ‘a la francaise’ or a theocracy ‘a l’americaine’? I think you can probably guess the answer.

    Best wishes,


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

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