The endangered lifestyle of the rich and famous alpha male
Mark Anthony, in his oration for the murdered Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play, observes: “The evil that men do lives after them.” Indeed, in our supercharged world, evil lives with its perpetrator, tearing him down while still in his prime. Anthony’s musing would bring a grim smile to the faces of many men; none grimmer, perhaps, than that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, former presidential hope of France’s Socialist Party, and – given the success that the more modest Francois Hollande had in beating Nicolas Sarkozy – a former future president of France.
In an interview given to the weekly Le Point earlier this month, the former and future world statesman complained that he was the victim of a “manhunt” but added that he had been “naïve” and “out of step with French society.” Cleared of sexually assaulting a maid in New York, he still faces charges of being part of a prostitution ring in which fraudulently acquired money was used to pay the women. He denies them, calling the accusations absurd. All he did, he says, was to go to sex parties in which many people – including many distinguished people –took part. He has never denied he was a swinger himself. Reportedly, he told his wife, Annie Sinclair, before their marriage 20 years ago: “Don’t marry me, I’m an incorrigible skirt-chaser!” Ms. Sinclair, indulgent of faults for which she had been warned, stood by him for months but left him this summer.
He says he was never a rapist, though a journalist, Tristane Banon, who sought an interview with him in 2002, alleges he tried to rape her and threatened a civil suit against him.
Strauss-Kahn implies he is guilty only of misreading French public opinion, with more than a suggestion that he is being judged by a bunch of hypocrites who do, or wish to do, what he does.
But it’s more than that. He’s being judged against a modern, feminist view that power – economic, social, political – remains deeply unequal between men and women, and that sexual power is thus also unequal.
That perspective got dramatic and Prime Ministerial underpinning last week when Julia Gillard, the Australian premier and Labour leader, rounded on opposition leader Tony Abbott. Pointing a finger at her opponent a few feet away across the parliamentary chamber, Gillard said, “I will not take lessons on misogyny from that man!” She listed a series of occasions in which she was offended by his actions, including his posing by a placard that read “Ditch the Witch.”
Australian comment, much of it in News Corporation newspapers opposed to the Labour government, upbraided her for hypocrisy. Her speech drew attention away from the fact that she had felt constrained to support a party colleague whose public sexism – comparing women’s genitalia to shellfish – was more obvious. But it has been widely lauded elsewhere an expression of exasperation by a woman, unmarried and childless, accused by a Liberal Party senator, Bill Heffernan, five years ago of being “deliberately barren” and thus unfit to lead.
The world’s most seductive statesman, Silvio Berlusconi, also, like DSK, faces a trial, in which he is accused of paying for sex with an underage woman, Karima el-Mahroug, a.k.a. Ruby Heart-stealer, a Moroccan exotic dancer. The trial, postponed during Italian justice’s extensive summer pause, resumed in Milan earlier this month. No one will bet that Silvio will be found guilty. He’s beaten every one of the many raps against him so far. Even when it was clear that associates ferried busloads of young women to his parties and that he told many transparent lies about his activities, he retained his popularity with a majority of voting Italians. Never charged with rape, his money and media holdings made him as much a target of seduction as an initiator. In her book, We, Silvio’s girls, Elisa Alloro, a former employee of Berlusconi’s Mediaset channels, presented him as a man of kindness and honour, saying in an interview, “I have always considered every moment I have spent with him as a gift from God.” as Along with the attractions of money and media, Berlusconi has been able to count on a culture more accommodating than the Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian ones to the use of power and wealth, including its use to attract young women to older men.
But no retreat to smugness. Most of the male world saw wealth and fame that way (and many women acquiesced), including the Anglo-Saxons. Britain, not for the first time, is transfixed by a sex scandal, this one involving a famed and popular broadcaster, Sir (no less) Jimmy Saville, who died last year and who reveled in his riches and fame – Rolls Royce, big cigars. He did much for charity – hence his knighthood – and, it now appears, used charitable activities with the young and vulnerable to force himself upon them. He stands, posthumously, accused of many cases of harassment, and two of rape. The BBC, his main employer, also stands accused of assuming, as he did, that wealth, celebrity and power would shield him from investigation.
That is less – much less – likely to be true now. But it is true, still, in much of the world. In some parts, women don’t report rape because they, not the rapist, will be punished. Yet even where only shame has attended women who are sexual victims, there are a few hopeful signs. A friend of mine, Supriya Sharma, a reporter at the Times of India, wrote last month of an alleged gang rape of a Dalit (lower caste) girl in the state of Haryana in India’s northern area of Punjab by a gang of boys of a higher-level Jat caste. One of the boys had been identified to the police by a Jat girl, a schoolmate of the Dalit victim. She won’t be identified, but she said, “These boys should be punished. … It could have been any one of us (girls).” “Sisterhood triumphs,” was the optimistic title of Sharma’s piece, ending with her comment that “when it came to choosing between her schoolmate and her caste-cousin, the college girl who tipped off the police says she didn’t have to think twice.”
Sisterhood is, we must hope, triumphing. It may at times dish out rough justice in the rich states, but it is hard and dangerous in the poor ones. The fate of 14-year old Malala Yousufzai, nearly killed this month by a Taliban hitman for championing girls’ education in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, is a lesson in just how dangerous. For men in comfortable societies, Edgar in King Lear put it well (Shakespeare foresaw everything): “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices/Make instruments to plague us.” Just or unjust, the plaguing makes the vice less pleasant. Ask Dominique.
PHOTO: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes