DSK saga is not just a French thing

May 18, 2011

By Maureen Tkacik

Whatever transpired in Suite 2806 of the Midtown Sofitel early Saturday afternoon, it seems clearer with each passing hour that being accused of sexual assault is far from a “Black Swan” event in the life of DSK. In 2007, the journalist Tristane Banon told a TV talk show host he had wrestled her to the ground and torn off her clothes during an interview a few years earlier; the talk show host in turn allowed that he knew “fourteen” separate women with similar tales. DSK’s name was eventually edited out of the broadcast for largely legal reasons, but it surfaced the next year when the IMF was forced to launch an investigation into his affair with a subordinate.

Indeed, on Monday the phrase “Who hasn’t been groped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn?” gained wide currency, even though it was first uttered (albeit in French) years ago by the actress Danièle Evenou.

But for once, there was a perfectly obvious explanation to the vexing mystery of how such a towering public figure might have got away with such prolific predation for so many years — but of course, c’est France vee are talking about! Zee French media do not pry into zee “sex life” of politicians zee vay vee repressed Puritanical Americans feel so compelled to do.

And, okay, sure, there does seem to be a French tendency to look the other way. Banone’s own mother, a family friend and fellow Socialist party member of DSK’s, now admits, she advised her daughter against turning in the assailant (call it laissez faire parenting).

But we kid ourselves if we try to confine either the sexual behavior, or the culture that supports it, to France. Commentators seem to have missed, for example, echoes of the “loudly American” bestselling novel Freedom, in which the main character holds a decades-long grudge against her mother for essentially dispensing the same advice as Banone’s under near-identical circumstances.

In truth the DSK alleged-rape saga is as international as the bastion of the ”New Global Elite” he helmed for so long, another powerful testament to the alarming growth in the impunity accorded the typical “Davos Man” with membership in the reigning Plutocracy Without Borders. That media on both sides of the Atlantic persist in covering DSK as a uniquely “French” phenomenon — even as it competes for page views with the “shocking” new revelations of a Mitterand-esque 10-year-old love a certain serial groper managed to conceal from the press for two straight terms as California governator — simply betrays a multilateral cognitive dissonance that underscores this depressing truth.

Now, our information society has made admirable progress learning to appreciate the behaviors and pathologies of the New Global Elite over the last few years (and adjust our expectations accordingly). We have given up our naive belief that laws will be used to prosecute “fraud” and made our peace with their brazen tax avoidance schemes, and we have, for the most part, come to recognize that whatever “rage against the machine” we harbor is best targeted at unionized sanitation workers, public school teachers and the like.

What we have not fully come to terms with is how the unstoppable rise of the New Global Elite has ravaged gender relations — namely because the New Global Elite essentially comprises one gender. Also for this reason, attempts like American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner’s to place DSK’s crimes in a broader moral context and extrapolate their larger meaning for “the left” and “the progressive cause” and so on have … seemingly fallen prey to some of the failings they hope to indict:

The apparent self-destruction of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a New York hotel is emblematic of a European left that has ceased to be much of a progressive alternative, either in terms of lifestyle or policy alternatives.

Ladies, do yourselves a favor and try not to fixate on the deranged imbalance in authorial empathy that moved this man to describe an alleged violent sexual assault as an act of “self-destruction.” There’s also the curious suggestion that DSK’s primary victim is the progressive “lifestyle” brand, apt to turn off consumers who seek “alternatives” to prevailing social norms.

Because Kuttner eventually fixes his tortured verbiage on what seems to be the main talking point of the left-“leaning” consensus-seeking pundit class: DSK is a bad socialist. Too many $3,000-a-night hotel suites, his logic seems to follow, and even the most committed leftist is bound to want to help himself to a maid in one of them! (In the sharper version of this metaphor, DSK’s day job inflicting economic BDSM on developing economies spills out into his off-hours, or as Jon Stewart put it, “it’s like the guy was posing for his own political cartoon!”) But whatever his political hypocrisies, it seems clear that DSK’s prodigious libido exists in a raceless, classless utopia. Before an African-born hotel maid turned him into the NYPD, at least two affluent blonde Europeans made their own attempts to blow the whistle on him. And the most illuminating case for understanding the degenerate mindset and mores of the New Global Elite involves a titular member of the New Global Elite who worked as an economist for the IMF and famously took up with DSK at Davos itself.

Piroska Nagy’s brief dalliance with DSK at the 2008 World Economic Forum, widely publicized in Europe, had, prior to last weekend, marked his closest brush with jeopardizing his career. Press accounts at the time depicted the affair as a hot-and-heavy if short-lived Davos fling that had abruptly gone sour when Nagy’s estranged husband discovered “steamy” emails between the two “lovebirds.” Nagy had to hastily resign and the IMF had to launch an internal investigation into whether DSK’s affections had unfairly bestowed upon Nagy any sort of special treatment during her tenure at the organization.

This week brought a startlingly different narrative of that liason: Nagy’s, as told in a 2008 letter to IMF lawyers in which she described her old boss as a ruthless predator who briefly got in her pants via a combination of relentlessness and brazen abuse of power. “I felt I was ‘damned if I did and damned if I didn’t’,” she wrote, describing him as “a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”

If women mattered in the global elite, this would have been a serious allegation. But they do not. Only about 15% of the attendees at Davos are women, and when quotas were introduced earlier this year mandating that all delegations bring along at least one women for every four men they sent to the conference, organizers tellingly estimated the new rule would raise female attendance to exactly 20% of the total — suggesting that exactly zero delegations could be expected to exceed this quota (and further, with just the tiniest bit of conjecture, that approximately zero of the individuals charged with doing the inviting were women. It’s probably safe to say that all women at Davos are, as Nagy was in 2008, invited by men.

The challenge of navigating the ersatz “meritocracy” dominated by men like this can often to a woman appear like a never-ending series of negative-sum “damned if I do/don’t” decisions. If I were an economist, I could design a theoretical model to plot the self-perpetuating feedback loop mechanism by which the ever-expanding concentration of wealth and power within the global financial elite perpetuates and intensifies the marginalization of women by some function of corporate profit growth, global capital flows and the spot price of an average evening’s bottle service at a trendy West Village nightclub.

But I’m a woman, and no one would listen anyway.


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There are hundreds of millions of men in the world who would never commit such an act. They are not in jail. There are millions of men in the world — a tiny minority but a huge number — who would commit such an act if they thought, as DSK clearly did, that they could get away with it. Some of them have such poor impulse control that they don’t visualize the consequences, as he clearly did not.

But most of the men in the world are not like this, and find his actions disgusting and cruel and repugnant.

Posted by NewJerseyBadger | Report as abusive

If you wanna say the guy is a misogynist and rapist and so colour his whole career as being a fraud, fine – it’s valid perhaps in the court of public opinion (and now American court). But please do stop with this victim-complex and attach it to all women. Empowerment comes from being strong and leading yourselves not begging for help at every turn and crying foul at any offense.

Though there are not many women in high finance, it’s more to do with the fact that very few women take the educational tack that is required to meet the challenge – which is to say, what % of Harvard MBAs graduating this year were female? If you’re not in the game at the beginning, you won’t be there at the end either. Don’t chalk that up to misogany…

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

DSK is statist and corporatist leader. What else should be call the leader of the IMF? Thus we should expect from him the ruling elite behaviour, a la Louis XVI, we have observed. The “socialist” veneer he wears has grown thinner than his hair. The self-deluded behaviour of the working class that embraces such leaders justifies the oppression that they, apparently unknowing, suffer.

Posted by alconnelly | Report as abusive

CDN_Rebel, she coloured his ‘shadow’ career as a brazen sexual offender. I have been reading the male responses (yours as well) and they exclude the victim and gloss over the man’s past.

It is rather nauseating that having heard of his sleazy past, many are stating that it didn’t effect his work. If a man (or woman) has the propensity to abuse 50% of the population, then yes, it does effect the job immensely, whether you agree or not…

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Sure, the global elite is male dominated. But there are women up there. Angela Merkel is one obvious example.

I am sure Nokia and some other Nordic companies will be sending women representatives, with or without Davos quotas. And what about the president of Brazil?

It isn’t that the Global Elite treats women in particular as dirt, but that is how they view all normal people in general.

You make a big mistake to reduce this to a gender thing. The answer of the Global elite will be clear and easy. “We will share, with our sisters”.

That will get us exactly nowhere.

Posted by Dafydd | Report as abusive


You are very close in your pursuit of the core issue. You say that the global elite doesn’t care about women… that is true. The real issue, though, is the universal truth that so many people seem to forget – no elite ever cares about anything except itself. It is incredible that a single “little guy” in France would think for a second that DSK cares the slightest whit about them, with his obvious allegiance to the elite lifestyle.

The recognition of the dangers of elite selfishness were embedded in the founding principles of the U.S. constitution. The U.S. started out with an purposeful revulsion towards rule by the elite and this was good. Unfortunately, most Americans have forgotten these basic principles and now support the elite class that has assumed the vacuum of power. This apparently includes members of the individualist Tea Party, who put 20-year veteran elite John Boehner in charge, then acted surprised when his actions favored the elite, not them.

So indeed, it is not just a French problem. It is a persistent and irretrievable human problem of failing to remember the basic principles of our primitive essence. This is why kingdoms will rise and kingdoms will fall, and the folks in the risen kingdoms will exhibit that other wildly foolish, but apparently irresistible, belief… that the way things are is the way they always will be.

Posted by russdward357 | Report as abusive

I applaud the NYPD and the prosecutors for sticking to their guns. Putting this guy in a U.S. prison for a long time for rape would be a great statement not just to the diplomatic world but to everyone about equal treatment under the law. Who cares what the French think of us anyway?

Posted by BuckeyeNick | Report as abusive

Not to completely undermine your point or anything, but 36% of graduating Harvard MBAs this year were female.

Posted by genelovesjez | Report as abusive

Reuters allowing Moe to print her interesting and controversial views – is likely the best decision the publishing company has made all year.

Posted by tbuhl | Report as abusive

[…] The DSK saga is not just a French […]

Posted by FT Alphaville » Further further reading | Report as abusive

i read about 4 books and dozens of articles on Bear Stearns… and i only remember one or two places that mentioned the harassment charges against Ace Greenberg. the other books? “Ace Greenberg, the wise old man who saved rubber bands”.

jeffrey epstein…whose teenager prostitute reportedly rubbed the feet of Matt Groening… (which reminds me of Pulp Fiction, ‘its definitely in the same ballpark’) Epstein was one of those ‘investors’ in one of those Bear CDO hedge funds that blew up, amiright? but nobody seems to know where his money comes from. he called whoring teenagers equivalent to a crime like ‘stealing a bagel’. and who defended him? Alan Dershowitz… civil liberties hero.

In Ferguson’s film ‘Inside Job’, there is an interview with a madam describing the big bankers using company cards to hire prostitutes. That’s where our tax money went/goes.

‘The Zeros’ by Randall Lane, he describes .. prostitution, drugs, lots of things.

If the average person looked up their pension retirement plan, and saw ‘$30,000 – Management fees to Goldman Sachs’, they might wonder which part of that fee was going to the prostitutes and cocaine. If they looked up their 401k and saw that it was invested in companies whose CEOs main reason for doing deals was how many prostitutes a prospective client could provide during an ‘outing’, i think that they might wonder about these things.

To the commenter said there’s no women in finance… oh there are plenty. There was a brilliant Phd who was a risk manager at Lehman brothers, she won an award in 2006 as ‘risk manager of the year’. They fired her a few months later, because she was raining on the real estate parade when they were just beginning to ramp up with McAllister Ranch and Archstone. They hired Erin Callan to be the ‘face of the company’, then they fired her alongside Joe Gregory. Joe Gregory, who had spent the past several years obsessing over ‘diversity’, helps fire a female PHD and then hire an inexperienced younger woman to do a job she wasnt prepared for.

There was Janet Tavakoli, who wrote two entire books on structured finance, CDS, and CDOs, and warned about a lot of these crappy investments years before the crash. Oh, one of the Magnetar guys, David Snyderman, tried to get her to help him use one of her book examples as a way to profit; she told him no because her book example was an example of unethical behavior that she was warning people about.

Then there is Yves Smith, of nakedcapitalism.com, which is basically really annoying to a lot of the financial establishment because it uses logic and reason and has torn apart everything from Michael Lewis’ Big Short to the ‘robosigners’.

Then lets see. there is Blythe Masters, who was one of the people who birthed the Credit Default Swap, and the BISTRO (precursor to the Synthetic CDO), and currently in some unknown relationship to JP Morgan’s assault on the metals commodities market. Of course when the crash came, everyone blamed her for ‘inventing the CDS’. NEvermind the team of people around her, and nevermind that there were rules you were supposed to follow when creating CDS and CDOs that JP Morgan, to a large extent, followed, while other companies (Merrill) ignored them.

but yeah other than that. not many women in high finance. must be a lack of education. like you said.

Posted by decora | Report as abusive

that was some crap writing. hope my point got through.

Posted by decora | Report as abusive

f*** me i forgot Brooksley Born. If Larry Summers had listened to her instead of screaming at her about the ‘[13 bankers at his desk]’ before the CFMA in 1999/2000, then we would have had some form of regulation of default swaps, at the least, which would have softened the whole bubble and the crash, since most of it was made out of synthetic CDOs, which were made of default swaps. whatever. !!!!! Born was top of her class at whatever ivy league school she went to…..

Oh did i mention Alan Greenspan, one of the guys who shut her down at the CFTC in the 90s? Well in his book he writes about hiring women for his company. . . why? because he said he could get the same quality work at a lower price. Oh equality!

hey but like you said. its probably all just an education thing.

Posted by decora | Report as abusive

Listing a handful of female CEO’s who are also part of the global elite doesn’t do much to challenge the argument. Should we play that game and try to list the names of men in control of large international firms? Obviously not, because it would be tedious to list so many. The fact that it can be done for women supports the author’s original point.

Statistics for graduates bear little correlation to the percentage of women in positions of power a decade later. But I’m sure the “victim complex” is behind the imbalance.

Posted by archinerd | Report as abusive

Dear Maureen

You make an important about representation of women at the top of business, IOs etc. But, on behalf of the World Economic Forum, Davos is not a proxy for the global elite, and DSK is not the ultimate “Davos man”. There are as many labour leaders as central bankers in Davos, and half the representatives are from NGOs, civil society and academia – none of which, incidentally, have come close to approaching the 20% level of female leadership participation which we have there.

The ultimate Davos man is probably a woman – Christine Lagarde sits on the Forum’s Foundation Board, and surely represents the direction women’s leadership is heading globally.

By all means be angry but not all stereotypes represent the truth. And if you want to follow our work on business and gender, it’s here.

Adrian Monck

Posted by AdrianMonck | Report as abusive

[…] you need to read something about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, try Laila Lalami and Moe Tkacik. Also, as Jon Cogburn points out: One of the ironies in this situation is that if BHL and others […]

Posted by Sunday Reading « zunguzungu | Report as abusive

[…] saga is not just a French thing (Reuters) Maureen Tkacik argues that the allegations against DSK are just another example of the global […]

Posted by Daily Digest for May 23 » New Deal 2.0 | Report as abusive

Hotel maids cannot be weak, most have to change the sheets on mattresses weighing up to 300 pounds ten times daily. It is almost impossible that 62 year old dominique could move one of those heavy mattresses an inch. In a wrestling contest between DSK and his six foot tall African maid I would bet my life savings on her flipping him in ten-seconds. Those that dream he was strong enough to hold her down while he was getting a BJ are masturbating or determined to send a fragile old man to prison.

Posted by morristhewise | Report as abusive

“Listing a handful of female CEO’s who are also part of the global elite doesn’t do much to challenge the argument. ”

the argument being challenged is as follows: “[women arent in finance because they lack the education. it has nothing to do with misoginy]”

i disagreed by listing plenty of women (not ‘CEOs’) in finance with high level educations. even when they were right about the most important financial crash in decades, they still got sidelined, fired, and ignored partly because of discrimination (partly because anyone challenging fraud got fired). therefore the lack of women in finance cannot be explained simply as a ‘lack of education’. discrimination plays a part.

Tkacik’s article (if I understand it…) helps to break down how the system works. She argues against the nationalist model of discrimination in high finance. She postulates a model linking sexism to the rise of a ‘global elite’.

Your argument is that there is a ‘victim complex’. Yes, victims do tend to have ‘victim complexes’. You are blaming a victim for something a perp did to them, instead of blaming the perp for their violation of the law. The ‘rule of law’ is much vaunted by certain modern philosophers, often to prop up the notion of ‘property rights’. Well, isnt an assault perp then guilty of violating a victims ‘property rights’? When the system fails to uphold the ‘rule of law’ when the plaintiff is a woman, the philsophical edifice crumbles into nothing. But we see it happen over and over and over again.

Posted by decora | Report as abusive

Very interesting piece, that challenges national stereotypes. As a French woman living in the States, and having reacted to the French elite’s initial response to the DSK scandal, I do think that there is a bit of both: a specifically French ingrained cultural attitude that dismisses instances of sexual harassment and sexual agressions, and a more general, global issue of gender relations.
If you are interested, the issue is discussed (and you are quoted) here:
http://arcade.stanford.edu/french-femini sms

Posted by alduy | Report as abusive

[…] and the alleged victim. In both cases, there have been public debates as to whether or not the “global elite” enjoyed significant levels of impunity and how their celebrity-status affected the […]

Posted by Jessica Espinoza » Blog Archive » Power, Sex and Public Opinion | Report as abusive

Maureen, I think you gave Piroska Nagy and easy out by accepting her claim that she was coerced without providing any details. I’d read that he had bugged her incessantly and I don’t doubt it but I’ve never read that it was anything more than a matter of persistent pursuit. So, I don’t understand? Was Piroska powerless to refuse?

Posted by GibsonBlock | Report as abusive