When the news broke just two days ago that (now former) IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn had been arrested while boarding an Air France aircraft at JFK airport after sexually attacking a maid at his midtown Manhattan hotel, I was as shocked as anyone. But at the same time, not at all shocked. It plays into old stereotypes, notions of sexuality in French politics and that like, but while this was no mistress affair, there was something faintly familiar about the situation.
What came as genuinely shocking today is the fact DMK is stepping down from the post. While it seems all but imperative, given he’s being held without bail and on trial and all, it also seems to be the first step in moving towards the disassociation of abusive sexual behavior and politics and power. Look no further than the Berlusconi scandal of sleeping with an underage girl of North African descent in one of his villas and his vehement denial or half-denials of the sordid tale. American politics has significant and seemingly intractable troubles with the sex lives of our politicians, but they are somewhat different (namely, many are secretly gay, refuse to admit or acknowledge such and instead go about their business while supporting anti-gay legislation). But back to the European bit. A lot has been written in the press the last few days about how those Continentals treat sexuality differently, how they are more willing to embrace or simply ignore the sex lives of their politicians. I am inclined to feel like they’re on to something–one’s private life is one’s private life, and I think that should be respected. Still, the DSK saga has nothing to do with private lives or the acceptance of a sexually adventurous life on the part of political figure. The New York Times, as it so often does, had a nice little “Room for Debate” on the matter. But invariably in these debates, DSK’s attack of this woman in linked back to differing mores on behavior and understandings of entitlement and what it means to be a powerful man. Is there a way of getting around this? How will this ordeal be framed? What I think will be fascinating is the cross-national coverage, the marriage of French and American understandings of power and sexuality. Hopefully, all involved can universally agree, that if guilty, what Strauss-Kahn did was horrible. And he deserves to be in jail. Period. But a high-flying head of the IMF and a man with a “past,” well, that spells lots of debate surrounding all the other particulars, again, back to the power and sex.
But what’s also interesting, as I’ve digressed here so much, is that he is stepping down. As of this afternoon, so as not to further taint or complicate the institution he works for, and so as to devote himself to wife and family, he is removing himself from his post. Why? He says that so he may completely commit himself to proving his innocence. I am able to appreciate both angles on this. First, I think “stay put, if you’re innocent, it will be sorted out, yes? So, stay put, let lawyers handle it.” And then the other part of me thinks “good, at least he recognizes the severity of the crime he’s been charged with and he knows, even if innocent, the right thing to do is not damage the IMF, its workings or reputation in the process of handling this.” I could go either way.
It’s just strange.