Opinion

Anya Schiffrin

Can we please calm down about DSK?

By Anya Schiffrin
May 23, 2011

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.

By combining these four different subjects, the Times muddied the subject without adding much to our understanding. Many people in many organizations have affairs with people they work with. Sometimes it’s a problem but often it’s not—just provides more fodder for water cooler gossip and great enjoyment to the colleagues who snicker as they watch the furtive lovers try to arrive separately each morning and ignore each other during working hours. Sometimes these office affairs end in marriage. Sometimes they don’t.

Worse, dragging up every affair that sundry  international  officials have had over the last twenty years, distracts from other critical happenings at the IMF: its history of imposing austerity on developing nations, its recent gentle, edging away from some of its closely held economic orthodoxies  and its long overdue reversal of its hard line against capital controls. The future leadership of the IMF, the undemocratic way its heads have been chosen, the fact that it’s time to open up the process to bring in someone from outside of Europe and the U.S. and the future of the Greek economy are all vital topics. Let’s talk more about these and less about office trysts.

Comments
5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

It is very funny that you are using this expression “calm down dear” which was used two weeks ago by the Tory PM in UK making an imediate row inside the Commons. He was criticized for that. Cameron adressed a women and suddendly because of the DSK case you should be right to do the same because in this case on contrary of Cameron you adress the men!

Moreover don’t you intend to adress directly to Obama who is in an official trip in UK to day. Would you say that Obama and Cameron belong to that category of men ready to make a joke of a maid’s rape? Or would you advice the two leaders to calm down the other men so easyly jerking and flirting during their working duty?

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive
 

I’m betting that in three to six months there will be a little byline or article hidden somewhere that DSK was found innocent of all charges. The American media was used for political reasons. It’s sooooo easy to do.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@meleze

Where does she say “calm down dear”? I don’t see this anywhere?

Posted by joechip | Report as abusive
 

this is not about the imf. that is a tangential byline, due to the fact that this dangerous bully has attained a high position with an important organization.
when anyone can tell me they would take it casually if this criminal raped or forced sex upon any of their dear female family members, i will consider them to be sincere, albeit mentally ill.
it is reprehensible on more than one level what this trusted official did to this vulnerable woman. very simply.
i so hope he is finally stopped and punished, and removed from society , like anyone of his ilk should be.

Posted by indian2002 | Report as abusive
 

It’s not possible to reduce the DSK case to a simple “alleged rape, wait until the court case is decided”. The issue is far bigger. The public responses on both sides of the Atlantic illustrate social and cultural differences between the United States and France (dare I say Europe?), and not, IMO, to the favor of France:

1) French culture apparently discourages women from reporting sexual assault and harassment. Now that one ordinary woman had the guts, it seems, to come forward, others in France have had the courage to speak up. Better late than never… I’m sorry none of these women think now, “If I’d spoken up when it happened to me, maybe he wouldn’t have gone on to harass other women?” So let’s applaud the courage of the woman who did speak up. And the culture that supported her. And hope justice is done.
2) Then there’s the “he is somebody important” and “she is a lowly maid”, so how dare she accuse him? Sadly, I’ve read a few of these kind from fellow Americans (the most offensive assumed the maid was Hispanic!). But in general, France exhibits this sense of shameful entitlement most. The last times sentiments of class and gender equality rang loudly in France might be… um… Revolutionary times? The modern sentiment is the Rich And Powerful Are More Equal than Others. (Over here, alas, the rich afford better lawyers, but we’re at least paying lip service to the principle).
3) French media look complicit in tacitly ignoring sexual crimes. The French seem to perceive promiscuity from powerful men as a demonstration of personal charisma and power. (Not strength of will power, that’s for sure).

Face up, France. You had a problem so big it crossed the Atlantic and we had to deal with it. If the lifted rock shows the uglies, take a good hard look and do some thinking. That’s whether DSK is innocent or guilty. We’ve seen and heard enough to know you have a problem. I wish I could think of Paris as the City of Love in the way I used to.

Posted by Dannygirl | Report as abusive
 

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