Alex Blaze

Protest again Sexism in France around Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Media

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 23, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, feminism, France, paris, protest, sexism

Yesterday there was a protest in Paris against sexism in the media around the allegation that French ex-IMF head raped a woman in New York. 6000 people signed a petition against sexism in the media:

sexism.jpgSince the start of the DSK scandal, "we have been stunned by the daily surge of misogynist themes articulated by public personalities," says the petition. "We have been handed a bouquet of sexist remarks," from "It's not like a man was killed" (Socialist Jack Lang) to "playing with the domestic" and "an imprudent thing to do" (journalist Jean-François Kahn), all the way to calling it "sanctimony" (Bernard-Henri Lévy) and "is it a crime to love women?" These statements downplay the seriousness of rape, the protestors warn. They "illustrate the impunity in our country when it comes to the public expression of blatant sexism. People would not accept other forms of discrimination the same way."

Many other voices have been heard this past week. For example, Me Fatouma Metmati, a lawyer in Paris, was quoted in France Soir: "In France, men in politics and with power are treated favorably by our justice system, effectively given immunity, especially for crimes like these. Women raped by powerful men or police officers aren't taken seriously and have no chance of achieving justice. What's happening in the US with DSK could not have happened in France," she said. "American justice isn't perfect, but it's exemplary here and it's the same for all citizens. It's a good lesson for France."

While Americans have been hearing about French people who downplay the importance of rape, the people I've been hanging around sound much more like the above blockquote.

It's frustrating to hear people talk about how fair justice is in America (yeah, except for those banksters and war criminals that have faced no prosecution...), but at least American media hasn't released the victim's name and investigated her life as if she's a criminal for daring to say something bad about a powerful man. Here's what a feminist org had to say about that:

There has been little mention of the alleged victim. Of course, we only have bits and pieces of information about the crime. To condemn without knowledge is wrong; it goes against the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence. But to cast suspicion on the statements of a complainant is just as serious and dangerous. Serious because it adds to this woman's suffering. Dangerous because it sends a clear signal to other victims, present and future, that it's risky to come forward.

The flood of sexist jokes we've seen (sometimes in the form of prizes), show how violence against women is still minimized in our collective imagination. We're witnessing a deep confusion between sexual liberty and sexual violence. The allegations, if they're true, aren't a "sex scandal" nor the result of an overactive libido. They are crimes.

Finally, certain public reactions in the media reveal a complete misunderstanding of rape as a social phenomenon. Judging the physique of the young woman or talking about the "profile of the rapist" reifies a number of ideas that haven't left our society. Let's recall that rape happens in all social classes. It's not limited to a certain type of man and it doesn't happen only to very attractive women. Women who are victims of rape and attempted rape have only one thing in common: they're women and, because of that, they're considered objects.

Osez le féminisme reminds people that each year in France 75,000 women are the victims of rape. Only 10% file complaints. Many are forced into silence because of both taboo and guilt. Many of them believe in the same widely-diffused ideas, including the most common: that they must have wanted it.

What people are shocked about here is that someone like DSK, a presidential favorite, an incredibly rich man, and the head of an international organization devoted to the exploitation of the third world, could be put in prison just like anyone else. Shocked in both ways: some people naturally and subconsciously lash out against the idea since hierarchies make lots of people, even peasants, feel safe, while others just don't know how to react when what they've been saying should happen actually does happen.

DSK's biographer famously said that he doesn't fit the profile of a rapist, without further explaining himself since clearly a biographer and booster of a famous person has the necessary background in criminology and psychology to be making that judgement. Bernard-Henri Lévy said that the entire thing is a plot, proved by the room number at the hotel being the same as the date of the Socialist Party primaries. And internet commenters have produced one theory after another for why the victim lied, including blaming Wall Street and the CIA.

These are reflexes of people living in a deeply sexist and classist culture. They're not deep thoughts, they're not the result of any research, and they're not rebellious or independent. The rich and powerful don't want to be subject to the same realities the rest of us are (realities they very much want to impose on us), and in order to make us accept those realities they've glorified themselves and normalized their privilege to the point where someone who's rich can rape a woman and people who weren't there and don't even know either the alleged victim or the alleged rapist will fervently deny that anything happened, or, that if it did, no punishment is necessary.

It's not like we don't have the same thing in the US, so there's no need to get on a high horse about this one. But we should be able to recognize these statements for what they are.

img src, translation by Alex Blaze

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I always appreciate the perspective we get from your life in France, Alex. Thanks for keeping us informed of some of these interesting stories that we may not have heard about otherwise.

Paige Listerud | May 23, 2011 9:33 PM

I'd like to know more about French cultural attitudes toward the rape of women AND men. If machismo in the culture says the girl was asking for it anyway, men who are raped must feel doubly emasculated.

I'd also like to know if French police employ rape kits and if rape advocates are present during the testing process. Are women encouraged to go immediately to the police to preserve evidence of their attacker or are they dismissed once they get to the police?

I don't think of America as radically advanced in curtailing rape or prosecuting rapists--but is France behind the US in the above areas?