LALIT is publishing below, and in full, the “Muvman Liberasyon Fam” analysis on the lessons to be learnt from the exposure as a predatory male of powerful French politician and disgraced IMF boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. This analysis comes the day after charges have been dropped against him in New York, but while he is still ensnared in other similar criminal charges, new civil charges, and a myriad of political problems due to his now-exposed anti-woman behaviour.
The predatory behaviour of one of the most powerful males in the capitalist world is at long last coming under public scrutiny. He is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now disgraced IMF chief, who was in charge of regulating the whole world’s economy, and who has just had criminal charges dropped in a New York Court for attempted rape, sequestration and sexual aggression. The past cover-up of Strauss-Kahn’s anti-woman behaviour over the years, be it by his own milieu, his organization the Parti Socialiste, or by the Press, is now beginning to be analysed in France. But mysogyny dies hard. Some still want him back in the Parti Socialiste. They see the dropped charges as having “blanchi” DSK, rather than for what it actually means: the law Courts are not always ideal places for bringing predatory males to book. He will now be facing a civil suit for damages.
The lessons of this “French phenomenon” of covering up for powerful predatory males are plentiful. It seems that the “French specificity” is due to a right-wing counter-revolution in France over the 20 years after the 1970’s feminist revolution. This renewed anti-woman philosophy, one that colludes with predatory males, is based on two much-touted concepts: one “nationalist” – the French specificity in matters of courtship and “seduction” – and the other, “creationist/universalist” – the supposed natural and thus universal roles of women as “passive”, men as “aggressive”. With ideas like this still floating around, women’s emancipation has still got a long way to go in that part of the world.
The Press in France resorts to the additional subterfuge of the sanctity of powerful men’s private lives. Note it is not just their “privacy”. “La vie privée” (meaning, let’s be frank, “leading a double life”) was an excuse used by domineering men world-wide long ago to cover up behaviour they themselves found shameful: from wife-beating to philandering, from virtual polygamy to paying-for-sex, from predatory behaviour to mysogynist violence. But, in most countries it is no longer acceptable for public figures to lead a double life. The hypocrisy is untenable. Obviously, in France, however, la vie privée is still an acceptable excuse, and this is so precisely because of the counter-revolution-against-women there, even if it calls itself féminisme à la française (See a good article on the web by Prof Didier Eribon denouncing this extreme-right current.)
Anyway, in France, in general, public figures who are sex predators were covered-up until the New York case. Strauss-Kahn’s past violence against women, for example, was him being “un seducteur” , curiously a word with little negative connotation in French, considering it means manipulating women to “get” them. In English, the term is uncomplimentary, to put it mildly. In France, it can refer to even a predator, and yet be “our way of doing things”.
The now notorious, but typical, reactions in France to the rape charges against Strauss-Kahn are startling to the non-French. Reactions included: “Il n’y a pas mort d’homme” or the raw mysogyny and class hatred of “mere troussage de domestique” . This last remark reminds us that the feudal droit de cuissage still haunts French society. Le droit de cuissage remains part of la vie privée
>of politicians. It is only recently that in France there is general outrage against this kind of mysogynist remark. The newspaper, Liberation, castigated other newspapers for the male-chauvinist line of “Frankly, this chamber maid was, between you and me, looking for it, wasn’t she? ... We know them, these girls who hang around in luxury hotels, chamber maids or not. We know what they’re looking for,” Liberation lambasted them.
So, things do seem to be changing in France after the international-level public disgrace of Strauss-Kahn.
Let’s take a brief look at the narratives.
Strauss-Kahn’s own story of the New York Sofitel Hotel should be enough to disgrace him in any other democracy, and knock him out of politics for good. This, on the grounds that he is a slob. But, the French media, in the main, persist in painting him as just a “men will be men” guy. The media, in turn, influences many French people to remain in this old-fashioned mode. The first version Strauss-Kahn put out after the Sofitel accusation was this: he had nothing to do with the woman who accused him of aggression because he was busy having lunch with his daughter and the whole thing was an invention. Then, after DNA results, he put out that he did, after all, have sex with the complainant. But it was “consensual”. For this volte-face, he is not a liar, of course. But, let’s look at what kind of a man he says he is in his new version: minutes before meeting his daughter for lunch, and a few hours before flying home to his wife, this rich, powerful man bumps into a hotel maid by chance; she had walked into his room to clean out, and found him so irresistible that she fell on her knees before him; he did not even pay her (which would make his version more credible, if not more honourable).
His own final version of what happened ought to make him a very bad Parti Socialiste candidate, that’s for sure. A liar, an advantage taker, a head full of male vanity, living a life of hypocrisy. And that by his own reckoning. His friends should be calling on him to change his ways immediately. His party should be debating a motion for his expulsion. The Press should be analysing what kind of man his version means that he actually is. He is a public figure, so his behaviour naturally comes under scrutiny.
Of course what Ms Nafissatou Diallo, the victim, says he did that day is worse, much worse. And his behaviour, if what she says is true, is violent, criminally violent, behaviour. The recently published forensic evidence seems to corroborate her version. And just because there is not enough proof to press charges on Strauss-Kahn, doesn’t mean that what Ms Diallo says happened is not what happened. It just means that, quite rightly, overwhelming proof of guilt on specific charges is necessary before the State locks anyone up. This does not mean that what she says happened is not true. The Courts, though helpful in exposing predatory males, are not always the ideal institution to deal with them. Everyday society – friends, family members, colleagues, comrades, acquaintances – should pull up these men on their behaviour on a daily basis. They should be dealt with by their own organizations, their professions and professional organizations, and by the Press, too. The Courts are helpful, of course, in some cases – even if only as a way of speaking truth to power. And even though power may not be able, for practical and other reasons, to mete out justice.
Ms Diallo’s narrative resembles rather startlingly what Ms Tristane Banon had already said in a TV chat show in 2007 happened to her a few years earlier at the hands of DSK. She had spoken out from before the New York events. The TV film of her was on the internet, out there in public, but with Strauss-Kahn’s name beeped out of her story. Now, she has gone to the Police in Paris.
And in both cases, the women describe sexual aggression, attempted rape, and sequestration with violence. They describe a man who is a sexual predator. A man with serious problems. Someone who actually lies in wait and traps women, or opportunistically attacks them, and abuses them brutally, tearing their clothing and bruising them.
But we see two very different kinds of victim. Ms. Diallo is someone Strauss-Kahn does not know at all. He has sex with her as she comes to clean out his room. He takes advantage of her low status relative to him, and her fear of losing her job. At the other end of the spectrum of abuse is what Ms Banon suffered. She is almost a member of DSK’s household, something of a “daughter”. She is his daughter’s close friend, his second wife’s god-daughter, and his Socialist Party colleague’s daughter. As such Strauss-Kahn is in a privileged almost-family relationship with the young woman less than half his age. There are strict social norms for sexual behaviour in this kind of almost-family relationship. To make his predatory behaviour worse, he had also had sex in his office previously with Ms Banon’s mother, sex she has recently described as “brutal”, and like some kind of a “soudard” or sex-mad soldier, even though “consensual”.
And there are other kinds of abuse. Ms Piroska Nagy, an IMF employee, had already said formally and in writing of Strauss-Kahn in 2008 that “he is a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command” . Think what these measured words so clearly warn of. Why would she say this? And yet her words fell on deaf ears. She also said, “I felt that I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t,” when he, as the big boss, proposed sex with her, a mere junior. Think of what these words mean, too. If they do not mean the “blackmail-type” sexual harassment, then what in the world does? And she concluded, to make her point clear, “... it is, in my view, incontestable that Mr. Strauss-Kahn made use of his position to obtain access to me.” That, too, is how predators work. They use the relative power differential, in all kinds of situation, in order to obtain “consent” or to be able to claim consent afterwards:
o Rich male hotel client v/s Poor, humble, immigrant, widowed, chamber maid
o Powerful, rich uncle v/s Young girl in the close family circle
o Top boss at work v/s Female employee.
It seems that powerful, political, predatory males, especially those on the “left” of the political spectrum, are clever at knowing that they can count on a cover-up from their immediate entourageand political entourage. This is, therefore, what has to stop. Bill Clinton knew he could abuse a 21-year-old “stagiaire” who’s mother got her the placement through her close Democrat Party colleague. He did not even have to resign. Mitterand knew he could live a double life of virtual polygamy, having forced two mistresses and their two children to live in the dim twilight slavery of hidden lives. And DSK can head for the Presidency counting on mainstream media hiding his predatory behaviour from the public.
A woman in Brazil had also accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually aggressing her in a lift she happened to share with him. She was also a mere employee, and in a Third World country. Two other Sofitel women staff have complained about being propositioned by DSK. All this is predatory behaviour. But DSK could counton getting away with it.
A woman lawyer referred to as “Marie-Victorine”, who met DSK through her father being a Parti Socialiste colleague, had a clandestine affair with him although he was twice her age. She said in an interview, referring to the New York case: “Franchement, je pense qu’il y a eu une relation entre eux, une relation forcée. Je ne sais pas s’il s’agit de viol. C’est un homme qui est physique, donc il est tout à fait possible qu’il ait étreint cette femme de façon brusque ou brutale.” She goes on to qualify this statement somewhat.
Even the boss of a New York brothel has now come forward saying she has had complaints from her sex workers about DSK’s brutality. There’s another unequal relationship: rich brothel client v/s poor young woman working as prostitute in big city. Even where there is contractual consent, he is accused of being violent. It is not often that a brothel Madame comes out in public and names a client, for the simple reason that in her line of work, “discretion” is worth money while going public could put clients off her establishment, a brothel being a place that specializes in providing services that nearly all the buyers are ashamed of. She said she felt it her duty to protect women from violent males.
There had been other warnings. Again, unheeded:
A Parti Socialiste woman MP, Aurelie Filipetti said Strauss-Kahn had made a “very heavy, very pressing” come-on to her, and then said “I made sure I never ended up alone with him in a closed space.” Think of what these words mean. Can a woman put out a more dire warning than this? And think of what the words mean coming from a woman in the same political party as DSK. The Parti Socialiste did not pull DSK up.
Another very sober warning came from the Liberation journalist based in Belgium, Jean Quatremer, who as early as 2007 wrote on his blog: “Le seul vrai problème de Strauss-Kahn est son rapport aux femmes. Trop pressant, il frole souvent le harcèlement. Un travers connu des médias, mais dont personne ne parle (on est en France). ” This was another dire warning. He calls DSK’s relationship with women a “travers”. His article was not designed to invade DSK’s privacy, but to warn people in the public interest that DSK would bring disgrace to himself, his wife and family, his Party, his country, and the institution he was head of, if he was not brought to order in time. Could you have a stronger statement than this, pulling up Strauss-Kahn and the French media in public, long before the New York incident? This is what being a good journalist is.
The 2006 book by Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois Sexus Politicus had also already denounced Strauss-Kahn’s “seduction to the point of obsession”, and mentioned that female journalists complained about his behaviour towards them, and a woman civil servant had refused his offer to “come up to his office to relax”. Again, these two journalists spoke out, after doing investigative work. Their warning was not heeded. In fact, this newsworthy aspect of their book was hardly commented upon.
In 2009, the comedian Stephane Guillon also did his job well, not just making people laugh but, like the best court jesters, warning of a serious problem that the powerful are conspiring to hide. He was sacked from his Radio France Inter job, soon after he broadcast a skit unmasking Strauss-Kahn. The Radio Station, he said, had taken “extraordinary security measures” to protect women present ahead of Strauss-Kahn’s coming Broadcast. Female personnel had instructions to wear long skirts and dark, unsexy clothing. His sketch said one woman editor was wearing a hijab. Guillon also declared “dark, secluded places” like “toilets, parking lots and closets” out of bounds. In the event of the emergency of his arriving on any particular floor, he joked, a loud warning siren (which he demonstrated) would go off; female staff should go directly to lifts for evacuation, he said. “No need for panic,” he added. DSK didn’t get into trouble. It’s France! Guillon did.
But now gradually, this powerful man is being pulled up in France. The Parti Socialiste is presumably beginning to wonder if DSK should not have been suspended from the Party long ago. In fact, The Economist has signalled a change in “standards in French public life” after DSK’s case. A year ago a French Senator, Jacques Mahéas, was found guilty of sexual harassment. It had taken six years in the Courts. He was fined, but he kept his seat as Senator. His trial and conviction went almost unreported, The Economist says. “Fast-forward to last month, when a junior minister, Georges Tron, was accused of sexual harassment by two female ex-employees. He denied the charges. The story was splashed on the front pages. A week later he had lost his job.” This certainly indicates a healthy shift in the attitude in public life. Let’s hope it is not ephemereal.
The French media is beginning to study itself and to learn the costly lesson of covering up the behaviour of predatory males, and of using “la vie privée” as an excuse for silence, at the expense of women continuing to be abused. The women’s movement in France is gaining ground and reacting, too.
The IMF must have been sorry they did not heed the warning of Ms. Nagy.
In Mauritius, there is a similar societal cover-up of predatory males. There is the same lame excuse: “la vie privée”. Some companies, political parties, trade union federations, and even media outfits give privileged space to predatory males – even when everyone there is aware of the predatory behaviour, even after it is denounced. Those around him, instead of telling him to stop it, instead of publicly dissociating from him, instead of decreasing his power, instead of advising him to go for treatment, just cover up for him. Just as DSK was covered up for.
One example in Mauritius is that, when young women complained to older women staff members about a predator’s behaviour in “briefings” in 2004 at their work-place, they were told that the perpetrator had “worked in France where women were used to this kind of behaviour. ” The implication was that Mauritian women should, as French women do, accept this predatory behaviour. Let’s hope the argument no longer holds, as the world finally realizes that French women have, for 30 years, suffered an additional oppression which got licence from a uniquely French anti-woman counter-revolution.
Another example in Mauritius is the outrageous mysogyny of a trade unionist. Despite being publicly denounced, on more than one occasion, the man is still supported by unions, even some supposed “left” people, and many in the media – as if the denunciation had never taken place.
In general, powerful predators are given licence in Mauritius – unless there is some partisan reason for exposing them. Then anything goes. Even, as was the case when Dinesh Ramjuttun “needed” to be knocked out for partisan reasons, photographs and the full name of a very young girl-child were published. Later, for partisan reasons, he was rehabilitated, as if all this never happened. Similarly, the “macarena” party comes up only at specific conjunctures in “partisan” history.
What we need is principled action from all those around predatory males.
So, there are many lessons in the DSK unmasking process. In the Muvman Liberasyon Fam in Mauritius, we have held two meetings with members and had one meeting with women journalists on the DSK issue, and we will be discussing the issue at our next open meeting on the New Women’s Manifesto on 18 September.
The excellent 1998 Danish film, The Celebration shows how it is necessary to not just denounce, but to persist in denouncing predatory males. After one denunciation, the party just goes on, as it does quite literally in the film. Even after a second denunciation, the party just goes on. But eventually, his entourage calls him to task. Denounces him. Shuns him. Isolates him from potential victims. And in the film, as in real life, the Courts are shown to not always be the ideal place for bringing predatory males to book.
Ms Nagy tried to denounce DSK. Ms. Banon tried. Mr. Guillon tried. Mr. Qautremer tried. Messrs Deloire and Dubois tried. All the denunciations have accumulated. Finally Ms Diallo’s denunciation may be the one that brings home what a predatory male DSK is. This is happening not in the Courts, but by forcing society to make him accountable for his actions. But he had to be denounced again and again and again. DSK risked becoming even more powerful, and more predatory, had it not been for all these denunciations. He could have been President of France. He has certainly weakened the Parti Socialiste by his behaviour. And they have weakened themselves by not suspending him from membership of their party much earlier. In fact, he is still not suspended.
Lindsey Collen, Sadna Jumnoodoo, Shabeela Kalla, Ragini Kistnasamy, Rajni Lallah,
for the MLF
23 August, 2011.