J’ac­cuse: French pols face fe­male fury over har­rass­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY MAYA VI­DON-WHITE

PARIS | The ar­rest of Do­minique Strauss-Kahn on charges of at­tempted rape and sex­ual as­sault has prompted a mas­sive de­bate over sex­ism and ha­rass­ment by male politi­cians in France.

“There is very strong pres­sure to deny the prob­lem en­tirely and turn against the women who dare com­plain,” said French Sports Min­is­ter Chan­tal Jouanno.

She said that when she re­cently tried to speak out on sex­ism and ha­rass­ment is­sues at the Na­tional Assem­bly, other lawmakers hurled in­sults at her.

“Mem­bers of par­lia­ment claim that I am giv­ing them a bad im­age,” she said. “I would be bet­ter off keep­ing quiet, but that would be ir­re­spon­si­ble to­ward other women.”

The scan­dal in­volv­ing Mr. Strauss-Kahn, for­mer di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and once a lead­ing So­cial­ist politi­cian, has led to a se­ries of rev­e­la­tions and ru­mors of sex­ual mis­con­duct by male politi­cians.

Ge­orges Tron, mayor of the Paris sub­urb of Draveil, re­signed abruptly on May 29 af­ter at least two women ac­cused him of sex­ual as­sault. Two weeks ago, French po­lice took him into cus­tody for ques­tion­ing.

Jac­ques Ma­heas, mayor of an­other Paris sub­urb, Neuilly-surMarne, is the tar­get of a cam­paign by women’s ad­vo­cacy groups that want him ex­pelled from the So­cial­ist Party. In March 2010, a court up­held his con­vic­tion of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a city em­ployee. Mr. Ma­heas, also a mem­ber of the French Se­nate, was fined more than $14,000, but he re­tained his elected posts.

“We want politi­cians to be role mod­els,” said fem­i­nist leader Gabrielle Apfel­baum. “What has changed is that to­day we are in a po­si­tion to de­mand real an­swers on vi­o­lence against women and full trans­parency from politi­cians on this mat­ter.”

Eric Raoult, a con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of par­lia­ment, ad­vises male politi­cians un­der in­tense pres­sure to find ways to work out their ten­sion.

“Male mem­bers of par­lia­ment are now go­ing through a process of self-crit­i­cism,” said Mr. Raoult, a for­mer stu­dent of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s at the In­sti­tute of Po­lit­i­cal Science in Paris.

“If you don’t go jog­ging ev­ery morn­ing, the adren­a­line of power can be over­whelm­ing [. . . ] and so col­leagues [of mine] have made mis­takes,” he said.

Ms. Jouanno said sex­ism is no worse at the Na­tional Assem­bly than any­where else in France, but “there should be less sex­ism [in par­lia­ment] than in the rest of so­ci­ety.”

A for­mer karate cham­pion, Ms. Jouanno said her fel­low leg­is­la­tors used to whis­tle at her as she stood up to ad­dress the assem­bly.

“I was wear­ing a skirt,” she said. “It wasn’t mean, but this attitude doesn’t be­long in par­lia­ment.”

Many male politi­cians still see noth­ing wrong with treat­ing their fe­male col­leagues as de­sir­able women.

Claude Gatig­nol, a con­ser­va­tive law­maker, said it is nat­u­ral for women to want to be el­e­gant.

“A woman will never leave her house with­out tak­ing care of her ap­pear­ance, her makeup,” he said. “It is part of the fem­i­nine sphere, and it is nor­mal that men should re­act to it.”

Mean­while, some re­porters vil­i­fied years ago for writ­ing about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s rep­u­ta­tion for wom­an­iz­ing are feel­ing vin­di­cated since Mr. StraussKahn was ar­rested in New York last month on charges of rap­ing a ho­tel maid.

Jean Qu­a­tremer, a jour­nal­ist at Lib­er­a­tion, said his news­pa­per now is tak­ing the is­sue se­ri­ously and in­ves­ti­gat­ing older com­plaints against Mr. StraussKahn that he dis­cussed on his blog in 2007.

He said he has seen Mr. Strauss-Kahn on two oc­ca­sions mak­ing ad­vances on friends of his.

“His man­ner with women can be ter­ri­bly hu­mil­i­at­ing to them,” he said. “I had a friend, a jour­nal­ist, whom he called and sent text mes­sages to day and night. It lasted for one year. I con­sider this sex­ual ha­rass­ment.”

Christophe Deloire and Christo­pher Dubois faced threats of a law­suit from Mr. Strauss-Kahn in 2006 over their book, “Sexus Politi­cus,” which in­cluded a chap­ter about him.

“We wrote a book about the im­pact of power, about the aphro­disiac ef­fects of power,” Mr. Deloire said. “We were in­ves­ti­gat­ing this sub­ject at a time when no one would talk about it.”

Anne Man­souret, a So­cial­ist mem­ber of par­lia­ment, said she has been bom­barded by of­fen­sive emails from party col- leagues for speak­ing out over the Strauss-Kahn scan­dal.

“I have been ac­cused of shoot­ing down a dead horse,” she said. “But the women, all the women, and when I say all of them, I re­ally mean all of them, knew that this man al­ways thought about sex.”

Her daugh­ter, writer Tris­tane Banon, who ac­cused Mr. Strauss-Kahn of sex­ual as­sault in 2007, said she is con­sid­er­ing fil­ing charges against him af­ter his trial in New York is over.

Aure­lie Filip­petti, an­other So­cial­ist mem­ber of par­lia­ment, ac­cused Mr. Strauss-Kahn of grop­ing her in 2007.

“Ide­ally, vic­tims [of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault] should press charges, but it is not an easy thing to do,” she said. “A par­lia­men­tary as­sis­tant will not press charges against a mem­ber of par­lia­ment be­cause, if she does, she will never be able to work at the Na­tional Assem­bly again. And it is the woman who is made to feel guilty be­cause she is the one who is bring­ing it out in the open.”

She said she doubts that re­cent events will change things.

“Many states­men have a feel­ing of im­punity be­cause they are pow­er­ful,” Ms. Filip­petti said. “I also be­lieve that they think of them­selves as very at­trac­tive and imag­ine that women nat­u­rally fall into their arms.”

Mean­while, the Strauss-Kahn af­fair has given im­pe­tus to women in all lev­els of so­ci­ety to come for­ward. A hot­line for fe­male sex­ual-as­sault vic­tims has been swamped in re­cent weeks.

Ms. Jouanno said women who are vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment will not be taken se­ri­ously un­less they con­tinue to speak out.

“The code of si­lence must be bro­ken,” she said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Just an­other French politi­cian? For­mer In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund leader Do­minique Strauss-Kahn lis­tens to pro­ceed­ings in his sex­ual as­sault case in New York state Supreme Court May 19.

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