Strauss-Kahn ends an era


At the heart of the matter is the question of what it means to be a man in the two cultures. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a strong and effective leader of the IMF, a post that has always been occupied by a European male of a similar stripe. This means: successful and sexually commanding. Sexual aggression in France is a kind of accessory to success. Like a pair of supple Armani shoes, it completes the outfit. “I’m even proud of [his sexual escapades],” his wife is quoted to have said once. “It’s important to seduce for a politician.” The droit du seigneur (or right of the lord of an estate to have his way with any peasant on it) is a French phrase, not by accident. The difference is also enshrined in the literary canon. In the English tradition — and the Brits, as their refusal of the Euro tells us, are not really European but proto-American — the concentration is on courtship and marriage. In the French tradition, it is on adultery. As was explained to me when I lived in France some years back, a man with a mistress is normal—which is why no one in France batted an eyelash when, on the death of President and alleged Resistance hero Francois Mitterrand, a second wife and child showed up at the funeral. During the Clinton-Lewinski scandal, the French were bemused by American outrage. What was all the fuss about? Clinton’s indulging himself with an available young woman? C’est normal. That Lewinski happened to be the age of his daughter, something we Americans noted with disgust, didn’t seem to bother the French. The ethos of Father’s Day, one might conclude, was not as embedded in the cultural consciousness.

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