French outrage over 'inhumane' treatment of Strauss-Kahn highlights culture clash
Unless it is proven that International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn raped a hotel maid in New York, it's none of the public's business, many French say.
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The French outrage opens a window into the country's vastly different opinion of what sexual behavior is unacceptable for a public figure.
In the US, philandering could easily sink the career of a politician or anyone of prominence (other than a Hollywood celebrity, perhaps). When's the last time you heard anything about former US presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards that didn't also involve Rielle Hunter?
Not so in France, says a Paris-based correspondent for The New York Times. She gives an account of the vastly different political landscape when it comes to what most in the US would consider unacceptable sexual conduct, such as extramarital flirtation and affairs.
… Politicians in France are not hounded out of office for sexual indiscretions (although violence against women is another matter). Traditionally, a political man who reveals his sexual prowess is proving his vigor: he is showing his constituents that he is fully and physically capable of running the country.
During the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal in the United States, even some French politicians associated with Catholic causes chose to congratulate President Clinton for his strength of libido. “He loves women, this man!” Marie-Christine Boutin, a deputy in Parliament and a leader of the religious right, said. “It’s a sign of good health!”
French feminist organizations have called for balance in the media coverage (link is to an article in French) of Strauss-Kahn and the hotel maid who accused him of assault. "[Strauss-Kahn] is presumed innocent" but "to cast suspicion on the intentions of the complainant is equally grave," said the Dare to be Feminist organization.
British media more in line with US views
The British media, with opinions on sexual conduct more similar to those of the US than their neighbors across the channel, have been critical of French coverage and what it says about the country's mentality toward sexual misbehavior.
A Guardian op-ed titled "Don't let Dominique Strauss-Kahn become the victim" rails against the amount of attention paid to Strauss-Kahn and the comparatively scant attention given to the possible plight of the woman who accused him of assault.
How this news has been treated by the French media says a lot about the country's tolerance for sexual misconduct.
[Strauss-Kahn's] reputation with women was an open secret. The journalists knew, the politicians knew. But, as Libération journalist Jean Quatremer writes, "having written about it in July 2007 … I incurred the wrath of some of my colleagues and part of the political class."
Indeed, following the appointment of [Strauss-Kahn] at the IMF, he wrote on his blog: "The only real problem with Strauss-Kahn is his relationship to women. Too forceful, he often borders on harassment. It's a flaw known about in the media, but nobody is talking about it openly (we are in France)."