Lucy Wadham: Why the French still don't get it

Share
Related Topics

The French are angry with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, not so much for what he might or might not have done in that New York hotel room that bright, spring morning, but for quite simply ruining everybody's fun. After l'affaire DSK, things in France will never be the same again. Just like the Dreyfuss Affair, which at the end of the 19th century held up a mirror to French anti-semitism, this story of a powerful Frenchman brought low by his libido sounds the death knell for French patriarchy.

Since DSK's arrest, a trail of stories confirming his profile as a sexual predator have been made public, most of them stories that were, according to that unique French journalistic tradition, known but not reported. One of them, recounted five years ago on a chat show by Tristane Banon, the alleged victim herself, has morphed into another attempted rape charge, ready to fell DSK as soon as he gets home. A month after DSK's arrest, the first high-profile sexual harassment charge was brought against Georges Tron, Sarkozy's secretary of state for public affairs, a case that has since led to Tron's resignation and left other libidinous French politicians trembling in their boots.

Online comments about Le Monde's leading editorial yesterday reveal the shift in sentiment since his arrest. His case may have been dismissed, observe the readers, but he is still a "bourgeois molester of maids", "a grotesque priapic creep". DSK left France as a grand seducteur and has returned, it seems, as a dirty old man. The newspaper's editorial itself is striking for its ambivalence. "In spite of the dismissal, a merciless affair" ran the headline. In the absence of any perceivable opinion on the matter, Le Monde congratulates itself on its own foresight. "On May 16th [the day after DSK's arrest] we wrote that DSK was 'a man already judged both politically and by the press. And harshly, mercilessly punished'."

Unsure of what exactly they should be feeling about the case itself, the chattering classes focus on the one thing they do know: they do not wish to become like America. Le Monde concludes by expressing "the hope that the Americans will review their barbarous habit of the 'perp walk', this walk of dishonour for the suspect." This kind of moralising has been a constant feature of the coverage since the DSK story broke because, although it is rarely named, the importation of the gender conflicts of the US is France's biggest fear.

Nowhere is the cultural divide between France and the Anglo-Saxon world more evident than in matters of gender. The prevailing view expressed by both the men and women at the dinners I've attended in the past three months is that this case must not, on any account, be allowed to destroy France's tradition of enlightened libertinage. As the writer (or if you're French, philosopher) Pascal Bruckner, put it in a newspaper article, what the DSK affair reveals above all is that America "clearly has a problem with sex... To call it puritanical isn't enough because it is a perverse Puritanism... a lewd Puritanism that serves one purpose... to condemn eroticism the better to talk about it, to salivate for weeks and months over tasty details, to evoke fellatio, sperm, genital organs with a delectation disguised as indignation".

Bruckner even sees in this affair not only the public shaming of a man, but of an entire culture. France is being punished he says, for her position on "Iraq, for Roman Polanski, for the law on the burqa". The unexpressed goal, he goes on, is to subdue this recalcitrant nation with its dubious morals and its contrary worldview. Few here in France would go as far as Bruckner but there is a sense that while rape is rape and must be punished accordingly, it would be a great sadness if the DSK affair were to lead to the low-level gender war that dominates relations between men and women in our culture.

Lucy Wadham is the author of 'The Secret Life of France'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital