France’s Women Wake Up
Two weeks since the head of the International Monetary Fund and great Socialist hope for president was arrested and charged with attempting to rape a New York hotel maid, a sexual revolution is underway.
Strauss-Kahn denies the charges against him, but whatever the outcome of his case, it has sparked an outpouring against French sexism and harassment disguised as “gallantry”, as well as a new openness about tackling rape.
It wasn’t the Strauss-Kahn charges themselves that caused the backlash. It was the perceived belittling of rape and sexism of leading French thinkers reacting to his case. Suddenly France, the land of feminist luminary Simone de Beauvoir, was being lampooned abroad as a macho backwater. Feminists held street protests and young male politicians rushed to sign a mayor’s anti-sexism petition distancing themselves from what the US media called the reign of the French “dirty old man”.
Despite outrage, the Socialist Jack Lang has stuck by his comments that Strauss-Kahn should have been released on bail earlier, considering that “no one had died”.
The journalist and philosopher Jean-Francois Kahn dismissed the case as a “troussage de domestique”, a phrase suggestive of French aristocrats having non-consensual sex with servants. He later apologised and quit journalism. Women politicians are speaking out. One female Socialist MP wearing trousers and a summer top to a recent commission hearing was reportedly told by a rightwing MP: “Dressed like that, you shouldn’t be surprised at being raped.”
The former environment minister Corinne Lepage told Libération she had seen a female MP raise the issue of a rape in parliament and a male MP shout: “With a face like that it’s hardly going to happen to you.”
I really, truly hope that this changes things in France, that they are set on a path towards a place where women are much freer to stand up for themselves and take a hard line against their rape culture.
I truly hope that woman that was attacked not only gets her justice, but is able to heal from this nightmare.