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In France, each ripple in faltering Strauss-Kahn case dissected, debated

Though the case against DSK in New York seems to be cracking, the conversation in France about entrenched machismo attitudes isn't, in part due to new accusations against the former IMF chief.

By Staff writer / July 7, 2011

French writer Tristane Banon, left, filed sexual assault charges in Paris Tuesday against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Ms. Banon, seen with her lawyer, accused the former International Monetary Fund chief, who faces sexual assault charges in New York, of attempting to rape her in 2003.

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

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Paris

The media frenzy over Dominique Strauss-Kahn, until recently the leading contender in next year’s French presidential polls, is so thick that both revulsion and fascination about the case have become a major part of the story line in France. Mr. Strauss-Kahn has become a Page 1 mainstay.

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And just as the shock of “L’affaire DSK” was beginning to settle down, suggestions that the Sofitel hotel maid who accused the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief of sexual assault is not credible has shifted the narrative into “Strauss-Kahn's wild ride.”

Now, as Strauss-Kahn says he will plead not guilty to all charges (if the charges aren't dropped), theories in Paris abound on how a presidential hopeful may have been framed for rape. Add to this new allegations that DSK attempted to rape a young French novelist.

But amid all of the flux in the Strauss-Kahn case, the electric headlines, the French anger at perceived American haste to charge the former IMF director, there remains quietly in the background, heard in cafes and at dinner tables, a pushback against a culture of machismo among French male elites. Call it France’s “Anita Hill” moment, however faintly. Even though the charges against DSK remain in question, one matter is agreed: male harassment is a more open subject.

“In France, there has been a divide between men and women in their response to the Strauss-Kahn case that is as great as the divide between the US and France,” says Dominique Moisi, a leading intellectual at the French Institute of International Relations. “The majority of French women were convinced of his culpability, while men were much more prudent.”

A new dialogue

The glare, vulgarity, and uncertainty over DSK should not eclipse a “virtuous” side of events, notes Sylvain Bourmeau, writing this week in the daily Liberation: “Its worth lies in … debates that were for too long forbidden and which are now taking root in conversations between friends … . By casting a crude light on certain social milieus, starting with politics, it allows for new perspectives on male domination.”

Yet many French see machismo as an entrenched problem and are skeptical that changes in culture will come about over a summer or two.

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