How The Strauss-Kahn Scandal Could Help Women

It's hard to find anything good about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn assault scandal, given that it's led to rampant rape apology and intense scrutiny into the life of the accuser. But there may be one silver lining: French women are finally speaking up about harassment.

At least, that's the take offered by Elaine Sciolino in Time. She quotes political scientist Nicole Bacharan on the pre-DSK status quo with respect to male sexual misconduct: "In France, if you complain about this kind of behavior, you are branded a troublemaker and a puritan who is not at all seductive or attractive." Laurence Masurel illustrates this attitude on the Times Room for Debate blog: "In France, we are perhaps less puritanical than Americans about sexual matters. We don't mind the 'cavaleurs' or pickup artists because we are used to them. It is a kind of joke for us." She adds,

Of course, it is a problem if they are too insistent. There are limits and rape is a serious crime. But in France we don't want war between the sexes. French society is becoming more and more repressive; why should we add barriers between men and women like those that exist in U.S.? Everybody knows that in America a young boy is not allowed to touch a girl, and he risks condemnation if he does.

But Sciolino says this idea — that complaining about sexual harassment will only lead to repression and sexlessness — has become less accepted in the wake of DSK's alleged assault. She writes,

[A]ctivists are calling for the taboo on the discussion of rape to be lifted, and feminists are demanding training in how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace. "This affair might not change laws, but it may change attitudes," says Bacharan. "To hear all these men saying, 'Ah, he is so seductive and just loves women ...' Give me a break. This is not 'Ah, we French love food and women.' We are not pieces of chocolate."

Mireille Guiliano, author of the much-maligned French Women Don't Get Fat, is one of the ones speaking out. In the Times, she writes,

It is getting better, but you would not wish to work for a company in France - still an old-boys club - compared with America, where there is a much more legitimate march toward equality of the sexes. French women, all women, can say we don't tolerate such behavior (and all of my French women friends don't), but we do, and as a result we are victims. Even justice does not work in our favor.

Sciolino calls this France's "Anita Hill moment" — and it's true that justice didn't really work out in Anita Hill's favor. Clarence Thomas was still confirmed. But her testimony did, as Sciolino says, usher in a new awareness that women shouldn't have to put up with sexual harassment. If indeed DSK assaulted his accuser, there's still a chance for her to receive justice. But for all women in France who've been denied that opportunity in the past, perhaps this will be a time to break the silence.

The Turning Point [Time]
Perhaps We're Less Puritanical [NYT Room For Debate Blog]
Still An Old Boys' Club [NYT Room For Debate Blog]