Since news of the controversial rape case involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn (quickly dubbed “Affaire DSK”) broke in May, the focus of the French media and French political class has been firmly fixed on the impact on the centre-left Socialist Party’s upcoming presidential primaries - to the annoyance of the country’s feminist groups, who protest at the dismissive way sexual violence against women continues to be treated in France.
As reports began circulating that the rape case surrounding the former IMF chief might collapse, wire service Agence France Presse reported the results of an online opinion poll ordered by France’s centre-right daily newspaper, Le Figaro.
According to the poll, among potential Socialist Party candidates, 44% of French people would prefer DSK (as he is commonly known) as the country’s president over the lead female contender, the party’s First Secretary Martine Aubry, although respondents still placed him behind François Hollande.
Among Socialist Party voters, however, the story was different: Aubry and Hollande tied in first place, with Strauss-Kahn some 14 percentage points behind.
Yet, the poll also revealed that most French voters would prefer DSK not to run at all.
DSK had been favourite to win Socialist Party nomination and was considered by many to be the most likely to beat Sarkozy in 2012.
The party was quick to react to his initial arrest: Aubry called for party unity, emphasising respect for the presumption of innocence, cautioning against jumping to any conclusions and refocusing the party firmly on preparation for the 2012 presidential elections.
But the party’s position has attracted the ire of a number of the country’s high profile feminists.
Members of the organisation Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Sluts nor Submissive), last month demonstrated in front of the Assemblée Nationale, claiming that a number of elected representatives have been convicted for sexual violence offences but are “protected” by their parties.
They banged saucepans, evoking the slang expression “passer à la casserole” (to screw someone), to symbolise that women have been doubly “screwed” by the inaction of the political class on this issue.
Philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, who has had for many years an ambiguous, even vexed, relationship with the feminist movement, has expressed a dissenting view. In an interview with France Inter radio on 6 July, she criticised feminists’ willingness to use the DSK affair as a platform for anti-rape campaigns.
Badinter claimed that such campaigns did a disservice to women who had been raped because DSK has effectively been tried and sentenced by popular voice, thus flouting the principle of presumption of innocence.
Most feminists disagree with her, however. The group Ruptures, for example, in a press statement issued on 22 May, pointed out that the French political class and French media had already tried and sentenced the alleged victim, and thus denied her any presumption of innocence, through “solidarity” with DSK and through giving airplay to the idea that it was a setup.
The French branch of the European Women’s Lobby, la CLEF, published a statement on 26 May (on the feminist website Sisyphe), in which it stated that whatever positions were taken on the DSK affair, European and French laws had to change, and existing anti-violence laws, such as those adopted in France last year, had to be properly applied.
The petition launched by the CLEF has attracted bipartisan poliical support, having been signed by a number of female parliamentarians.
An important secondary focus has of course been on the future of the IMF and possible destabilisation of the euro, as many had looked to DSK’s intervention to help fish Europe out of Greece’s crisis.
The former IMF chief was awell known for being in favour of tighter regulation of banks following the global financial crisis of 2008, and for having broken with the neoliberal so-called “Washington consensus”.
For all of these reasons, a significant number of DSK supporters were quick to characterise the rape accusation as an “international conspiracy” against “the most powerful man after Obama” (to use the words of Michelle Sabban, vice-president of the regional council of Ile-de-France (where Paris is located), speaking to Le Figaro on 15 May).
The media have also commented on the colour-coding of the trial as a particularly US phenomenon. On 16 June, the online version of the left-leaning news weekly Marianne published an article on this aspect, pointing out that the significant media attention to the fact that the alleged victim was black and the alleged rapist was white was unsurprising in the US.
Marianne also mentioned Strauss-Kahn’s Jewishness, although, along with major French Jewish organisations such as the CRIF, it was quick to dismiss any suggestion of anti-semitism against Strauss-Kahn in US or French reporting of the afffair.
The latest revelations concerning the shaky credibility of the alleged victim, along with the belated emergence of other women alleging sexual offences against them by DSK (he is indeed considered by many to be a notorious sexual predator), have lent weight to the conspiracy theory or at least put the presumption of DSK’s innocence back on the agenda.
With Christine Lagarde now at the head of the IMF, the French political class is now turning its focus back to the socialist presidential nomination, while French feminists are still banging on saucepans waiting to be heard.