You are on page 1of 2

html Strauss-Kahn Case Curbs Libertine Ways of Frances Powerful

May 24, 2011, 12:46 PM EDT By Helene Fouquet May 24 (Bloomberg) -- The sexual escapades of powerful men in France have always been met with Gallic shrugs. Not anymore. The arrest in New York of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of attempted rape is forcing men to watch what they say and emboldening women to challenge the modern-day version of Frances droit de cuissage, a feudal practice giving masters the right to have sex with female servants. Its prompting introspection in the media over whether its laissezfaire attitude toward private lives of those in power helps them act with impunity. Since power is often thought of as an aphrodisiac, there was a sort of acceptance of mens excesses toward women, said Rachel Mulot, a member of a feminist group called La Barbe, or The Beard, which on May 22 joined protests in Paris against the dominant male. The Strauss-Kahn case may serve as a trigger to help victims of sexual assaults to break the taboo of rape in France, she said. Strauss-Kahn, 62, was indicted May 19 on charges of criminal sex, attempted rape, sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching of a 32-year-old maid at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan. The former French finance minister, who had been a leading contender for next years presidential elections, denies the allegations and will plead not guilty, his lawyers say. DSK, as hes known in France, is under house arrest in Manhattan. After DSK Early reactions from male French commentators to the maids allegations sparked outrage. Jean-Francois Kahn, founder of weekly magazine Marianne and a witness at Strauss-Kahns third marriage in 1991, laughed as he said on state-owned radio station France Culture, that there may have been a careless action, how should I put it the shagging of a servant. He later apologized. For France, there will be a before and an after DSK, former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was quoted as saying in Le Figaro newspaper over the weekend. We are not saints, but our actions need to be coherent with our thinking. Those in power need to be exemplary. In a 24-hour online Figaro poll that ended today on whether the reaction to the DSK case in France has been chauvinistic, 73 percent said yes, with one reader, Claude-Noelle Rafaldi, writing, We keep hearing that DSK loves women. His behavior and his sleazy pushiness is nothing but contemptuous. That is not love. While sexual assault and attempted rape allegations that Strauss-Kahn is accused of in New York are also crimes in his home country, the French have been more indulgent when it comes to the indiscretions of their politicians. Sexus Politicus Earlier, kings had their droit de cuissage with servants in palaces; this looked like a powerful person trying it on a maid in a New York hotel, Jean Quatremer, a journalist with newspaper Liberation, said in an interview. Unlike in the U.S., where sexual scandals have forced the resignation of four members of the House of Representatives in the past five years and ruined the careers of a former vice- presidential nominee and presidential candidate, sex is treated as private matter in France. No French politician in recent years has been brought down by a sex scandal. In a 2006 book called Sexus Politicus, co-authors Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois show how sex and politics are inextricable in France, even though there is little in the press to prove it.

Laissez-Faire Former President Felix Faure died in 1899 in the arms of his mistress, the wife of painter Adolphe Steinheil. President Jacques Chiracs nocturnal adventures were widely known, the authors said. Do you know where my husband is tonight? his wife is supposed to have asked the chauffeur, the book said. During Francois Mitterrands reign, it was an open secret that he had fathered a daughter with his mistress. Just last year, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, who admitted to having paid for sex with boys during trips to Asia, kept his job after saying the boys were of legal age. The laissez-faire attitude gives powerful people in France a sense of impunity, said Claude Katz, an attorney specializing in sexual harassment cases. The Strauss-Kahn affair can move the lines slowly but surely, Katz said. It will empower victims of sexual abuse in France because if a maid can speak against a powerful man, others will have a stronger voice. Code of Silence Laws reinforcing womens rights and safety are relatively recent in France. The law making rape a crime dates back only to 1980. Earlier decrees were based on 19th century moral codes. A law on sexual-harassment was approved in 1992 and one on moral harassment was passed in 2002. The last bill to fight violence against women was passed last year. Government studies show there are 75,000 rapes a year in the country. Only about 10 percent of the victims filed complaints, womens groups say. The sufferer is often seen as a bit guilty, said Chantal Brunel, a lawmaker from President Nicolas Sarkozys Union for a Popular Movement party who submitted the 2010 bill on violence. Some people said the maid wanted it, which was stunning and revolting. The reality of a possible rape has broken the code of silence. Brunel said the mood has begun to change among lawmakers at the National Assembly, the lower chamber of Parliament. The mens views and jokes have changed, she said. You can sense that they are and will be much more careful from now on and we wont hear as many sexist remarks. Soul Searching The press is doing some soul searching of its own. In this country of sleazy men, will we finally dare to say that macho behavior breeds impunity? Christine Lambert, a reporter for Marianne, wrote in the May 21 issue. Liberations Quatremer called Strauss-Kahns relations with women a problem in a 2007 article, before he took the IMF job, saying he often skates close to harassment. Debates on the media since the DSK case have focused on whether journalists owe their readers more than what they are often ready to divulge on politicians private lives. The effects of Strauss-Kahns case also may be felt in other walks of French life, said Catherine Mabileau, who heads international human resources for Roseland, New-Jersey based ADP Inc., a payroll-services company. Were not like in the U.S. where work relations are extremely respectful, codified in ways that sometimes kill spontaneity, she said. But we are changing what is acceptable and what can no longer be accepted. There is a cultural leap here to be made. --With assistance by Carol Matlack. Editors: Vidya Root, James Hertling