Anya Schiffrin

Can we please calm down about DSK?

Anya Schiffrin
May 23, 2011 00:08 UTC

The world seems to have gone sex mad this week:  the male libido dominates the news all across Europe and  even in Tunisia – where there is some local news of interest — the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the lead on the evening news when we got there. It’s a terrible story but a juicy one and I don’t blame my fellow scribes for going to town on it. It’s also confusing with the narrative in constant flux as new details have emerged. If DSK is guilty of this serious accusation then he must be punished, of course. But I am afraid that by trivializing the story with gratuitous details we are losing sight of the main point. Rape is not the same as sexual harassment, and these problems are totally different from affairs in the work place.

Many organizations employ jerks who harass woman and –if they are senior enough—the jerks often get away with it. Sometimes these harassers  are quietly forced to retire early but not always. Many organizations do not pay their women staffers on par with men and do not promote them into management jobs.  Unfortunately these two problems persist all over the place (not just at the IMF) and are worthy of a broader investigation than we’ve been seeing.

The fact that DSK’s wife is wealthy and loyal is interesting but also off the point. Also irrelevant are the constant references to DSK’s $3,000 a night suite at the Sofitel and his first class flight on Air France.   The NY Times pointed out on Tuesday that the suite was booked on travelocity.com and only cost $500 and that DSK used his own air miles to pay for an upgrade to first class.  But these new facts have been missing from most of the stories I’ve seen, and don’t exactly erase the image left by the earlier reports.

Note to ADA Artie McConnell:  departing from Times Square at about  1:30pm for a 5 pm flight is not a sign of haste, it’s a sign of wanting to catch your international flight. There are later planes to Paris but DSK was apparently willing to arrive at 5am Paris time in order to get a connection for a morning meeting with Chancellor Merkel. Nor is leaving your cell phone behind a sign of anything except foregetfulness. (Full disclosure: I have left my cell phone behind  innumerable times even when I wasn’t rushing to get a plane. I’ve also dropped it and spilled things on it)

Much of the reporting has been done in haste and that’s too bad. One example was The New York Times’ piece on the sexist culture of the IMF which  conflated  rape, sexual harassment and work place discrimination against women with the mundane subject of  affairs at the office.

Tunisia’s spring

Anya Schiffrin
May 19, 2011 17:47 UTC

It turns out that starting a revolution in the age of social media is a full time occupation. After bringing down their government, launching dozens of new television and radio stations and about 70 new political parties and posting endless leaked documents on Facebook all the while working on rewriting their constitution, many Tunisians are now busy speaking at conferences, answering questions from journalists and politely agreeing to meet the endless flood of people coming to their country to learn more about the revolution.

Recent arrivals include Felipe Gonzalez, who led Spain in the tumultuous years after Franco died, and Lech Walesa, the trade union activist who went on a pro-democracy mission with a delegation from Poland’s foreign ministry to Tunisia in late April. They are excited to see someone else go through the transition they lived through in their own countries, and pass on some lessons they learned.

This week we were generously hosted by this nation that has been through an unimaginable upheaval and is still not at all sure where it will lead. The woman in the government who planned our visit was formerly a banker in New York. She is now working pro bono for the government. We met other Tunisians who dropped everything overseas and moved back home to do their part in building a new country.

Lunch with Saif Gaddafi

Anya Schiffrin
May 3, 2011 16:00 UTC

I don’t remember why we had lunch with Saif Gaddafi. The invitation came through an intermediary about five years ago.  It was him and a friend and Joe and me. We met at an old hotel in Rome and lunched in the rather formal dining room. He and Joe talked for a couple of hours about economic development and some of the different possibilities for a country like Libya. Nothing too exciting — irrigation and credit, the need to spend money on education, share the oil wealth, create jobs. He invited us to visit and someone from the Qaddafi Development Foundation followed up a few months later.

For obvious reasons (human rights, anyone?) we didn’t want to go and so never bothered to get back in touch. It was clear he was positioning himself for what he thought would be his eventual job of running the country one day and thinking about how he would do it. His last question was unforgettable: he bit his lip, looked perplexed and said to my husband, “tell me: does anyone still believe in Marxist economics anymore?”Joe said no and launched into a long explanation of why this was the case. Saif looked very relieved, unfurrowed his brow and exclaimed, “I knew it! I keep telling my father but he just won’t listen.”