In France of all places, the slurs against Rachida Dati shows men at their most hypocritical

The former Justice Minister has been victim to a prolonged and sinister campaign of implied abuse because of her love life. Why did ever expect better of French men?

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With a penchant for Dior clothes, vertiginous heels and expensive jewels it’s easy to see why the colourful love life of Rachida Dati, 47, the former French Justice Minister, has attracted the world’s media. It is also easy to see why the man she claims to be the father of her young daughter lost the first part of his paternity court battle.

A judge ruled last week that Dominique Desseigne, a billionaire businessman and one of France’s richest men, must take a paternity test if he wants to prove that he is not the father of three-year-old Zohra.

What started as a battle over money (mother and daughter will be rolling in receipts for school fees and chauffeurs for life if they win) has become a battle of reputation. Desseigne’s argument revolves around his allegations that she had eight lovers at the time she fell pregnant.

Sensational

Desseign’s slurs were gleefully received by Le Monde newspaper – one of France’s top dailies. It seized on this sensational revelation and ran five pages on Dati’s so-called ‘dissolute lifestyle’. The calibre of Dati’s beaux added to the allure. Her alleged agglomeration of past bedfellows are said to include a television broadcaster, a minister, one of Nicholas Sarkozy’s brothers and a Qatari attorney-general. It’s an editor’s dream.

But a sexual character slur is a cheap trick defence to use in this paternity case. Firstly, so what if Dati had eight lovers? Dati was single and Desseigne is a widower. One presumes that she wasn't sharing state secrets with any of the lovers, as was the case with David Petraeus, the previous sex scandal du jour. Since when did casual liaisons stir up disapproval across the Channel?

Secondly, for Desseigne’s lawyers to suggest that any one of eight men could have fathered Dati’s child implies that she had a laissez faire attitude to safe sex. Any woman who is half in tune with her bodily rhythms and has access to a calendar has a good idea of when she can, and did, fall pregnant. Suggesting that there could be more than one possible father implies there could have been more than one ‘accident’. Could it be that the Desseigne camp are, ever so subtly, planting a seed of suspicion that Dati may have deliberately crafted an ‘accident’?

At no time during their brief relationship did Desseigne express hurt or surprise that they were not sexually exclusive. Only now does his disapproval manifest itself. What’s more, his dig at her polyamorous tendencies comes via the old-fashioned gender double standard of sexual morals. This is an easy swipe and a tired argument: Men’s sexual incontinence is inconsequential but such behaviour from a woman is unprincipled, licentious, debauched, manipulative, cold, dirty. The list of judgements is long and varied.

Dati’s love life is nothing compared to the alleged orgies of Dominique Strauss Kahn and the web of lovers of Francois Hollande. Weeks ago it emerged that Hollande ‘shared’ his mistress with a rival politician. But in the story of Rachida Dati, the protégé is a beautiful and spirited scarlet woman from an ethnic minority. I can’t help suspecting that our obsession with the details of her ‘dissolute’ lifestyle is likely to be seated in envy from woman, and a misogynistic discomfort from men over a woman emboldened by her sex life.

Hypocrisy

Like Dati, I too used to have a preference for several low-maintenance lovers rather than the liability of one full-time partner. And what fun I had with it too, for a while. Not everyone is looking for cosy commitment and someone to dress a Christmas tree with. As for her penchant for power, I can relate to that too. I wrote about my attraction for older, worldlier men in Sugar Daddy Diaries. And before you reach for the comment button – yes, confidence, emotional maturity, life experience, informed conversation and a well cut suit are very attractive.

I imagine as one of Sarkozy’s most powerful women, Dati had bigger fish to fry that finding a cosy husband and family life. That shouldn’t disallow her from indulging in a few lovers. It never has for single men, or married ones for that matter.

We assume that committed, long-term relationships are the Holy Grail of life. This isn’t always true. Relationships are no longer a social or financial necessity, as they have been historically. Liberalised social attitudes, financial equality and contraception have made singledom and casual relationships a legitimate lifestyle choice. Whoever emerges as Zohra’s father should accept that he had every much a part in her creation as her ‘dissolute’ mother. Sexual character slurring is as dated as it is hypocritical. I would have thought a Frenchman, of all people, would have come up with a better argument.

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