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Category: Politics, Economy, International, Media, Violence against Women

French Media Complicity in Rise of IMF Head

| May 18, 2011

While IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn cools his heels in Rikers awaiting trial on charges of attempted rape, the French media is daily embarrassing itself with a host of tasteless story-lines ranging from political conspiracy theories to commenting on the physical attractiveness of the alleged victim. Such efforts to discredit the alleged victim are beneath France. The French media would be better served by examining its own silent complicity and role in perpetuating a national mythology that glorifies shows of aggressive, male sexuality by its public figures.

Strauss-Kahn’s past sexual improprieties, both allegedly criminal and questionably consensual, have long been an open secret among French politicians and journalists. Affectionately known in the press as the “Great Seducer” for his womanizing ways, the French media for years turned a blind eye to mounting evidence of Strauss-Kahn’s behavior. This continued despite a young woman’s report in 2007 on national television that she was assaulted by a prominent politician, and her hints that Strauss-Kahn was responsible.

Newspapers both in the US and abroad have been refreshingly willing to explore the cultural factors at play. A correspondent in the Paris bureau of the New York Times tried to explain the media’s silence by stating, “[in France] 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.” But when media liken assault to "sexual prowess," they legitimize rape culture. The UK’s Guardian put it even more bluntly, describing the attitude of French politicians as one where “the lord of the manor has the right to its women.” What is clear is that the man who just days ago was the frontrunner for the French presidency felt entitled to act as he did, and with history as his guide, had no reason to fear repercussions either personally or professionally.