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« Odds and Ends (Sujatha) | Main | Pakistan: the narrative comes home to roost (Omar Ali) »

May 20, 2011

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My fascination with the news cycle these days is relentless, but I grant myself some leeway--this fascination is not entirely perverse, not gratuitous, though there's perhaps too much schadenfreude for comfort. The reason is, sadly, I know these guys too well. Not *these* guys, exactly, but close enough. I've fought off their pawing ever so politely, I've declined their generously offered career opportunities, and their offspring-under-wraps are my real-life siblings. My mother might as well have been French, but in the long run that armor was no armor at all. I'm feeling very American myself these days. I do think, though, that it's more a shift in values between generations than across the Atlantic.

Thanks, Z. You are right. It is a generational thing. Many men remain stuck in a mindset of treating male agression as a natural privilege. But women have grown up.

Here is an account of the kind of men who prowl the corridoors of power, the IMF and the World Bank in particular. This is not about sex. It is about exploitation, a narcissistic sense of entitlement and very frequently, criminal behavior.

I don't see, Ruchira, how my email response to your remarks about these guys was at all "ho-hum." You wrote,

I know there are two ways to look at such stories - "none of my beeswax" (unless it is my husband, father or son) or "we are not proscuitto" as the Italian women recently said during a public rally against Berlusconi's profligate behavior. There has to be a middle ground between American Bible thumping and the elegant French shrug from where we look at sexual aggression and promiscuity.

And I replied,

The middle ground you seek was articulated long ago by Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. These little scandals may very well be none of your business--just as the failure of your neighbor's automobile's brake system is, strictly speaking, none of your business, yet you might be curious about what led to the problem--but the real reason simply to look away is the ordinariness of the misdeeds. This is what men do. We sample prosciutto, and then we fight to the death to defend the inalienable, universal right for anybody to cure the stuff and produce as much as we can consume.

I believe Z, who knows these guys. The behavior is ordinary, but I'm not ho-hum about its banality.

Dean: Okay, so you were not "ho-hum." (after all these years, I still have difficulty in understanding where you are coming from on many issues:-)

My point is that when men in whom we bestow power to run the world misbehave, it is not like my neighbor's car brakes failing. It is often our business and I do not wish to look away just because every other lowly jerk may be doing the same. I don't want abuse of power, personal attributes like selfishness and sense of entitlement, verging sometimes on criminality to become that "ordinary." I may be old fashioned but human beings to me are total packages, very hard to compartmentalize into "public and private."

I think we agree. I'm not approving the rationale for looking away, I'm just trying to explain how one might ignore the bad behavior, not because it's not one's business, but because it's widespread and evidently not likely to be corrected anytime soon. Actually, the brake metaphor isn't all that bad: we place a lot of trust in them when we need to avoid a potentially lethal situation.

Here is a commentary which echoes my own thoughts closely.

But let's be clear that in both cases there is serious breach of trust - both private and public. Dean, please note that Juliet Williams brings up Hugh Hefner, just as I did in my e-mail exchange with you. It does matter "who" the perpetrator is and when we can or should look away.


Ruchira,

The commentary by Juliet A. Williams was excellent. Thanks.

Jon Stewart, on Thursday's "The Daily Show," pilloried two apologist-defenders of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. One was the French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy. The other was Ben Stein ("Win Ben Stein's Money.") http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/thu-may-19-2011-lisa-p--jackson

BHL's words of support for DSK amount to the equivalent of, "The bitch lie." The man is a fucking idiot.

Ben Stein, on the other hand, set a new standard for appalling outrage. Stein's defense of DSK is an idea that goes beyond misogyny. It is the Taliban equivalent of believing that forced rape of a woman is a physical impossibility. I do not joke when I say that Ben Stein is a danger to society when he spouts his pret-a-porter defense of criminal rapists. As far as Ben Stein is concerned, if you get inside, it is because she let you.

Today I met my friend CC for a long dog walk -- as our animals frolicked, what could we talk about but DSK? Over the last few days, CC and I both have had unbidden memories of being targeted, as college girls, by professors on the rampage, and, as women under 30, by men in positions of influence and power. In those distant decades, men such as that knew they could do everything but rape us, and knew also that we would have risked far too much outing them. Girls who did out their randy professors usually got asked to leave school owing to being beset by nerves, fantasies, God knows what kind of trouble-making problems. Both CC and I went to women's colleges, but there was no safety in sisterhood then.

Just now, I thought I would Google some of these men. As for CC, there was one every year or so, one who bothered me and intimidated me into keeping his misbehavior under a lid. Many girls of our era have similar tales to tell, so no -- it's not about me. It took 2 minutes for the Internet to yield these men up. Three who tried hard to seduce me, and suggested I had a future in their discipline if..., are now professors emeriti at coed colleges or universities they must have gone to after my time. They are honored, pensioned, grizzled or bald. (I image-Googled too.) When I knew them, they were around 30, married, with children, and taking full advantage of their positions. A colleague of one, a professor in a different department, actually called me to his office to intimidate me lest I consider talking to the dean of the college. I hadn't considered it -- it was hopeless.

I want to emphasize, this was routine for me and other college girls who did not come from powerful or wealthy families. It wasn't about being singled out for prettiness or sexiness, but about being singled out for inability to fight back -- now THAT'S sexy to some men. Flash forward almost 40 years, and we now see a young woman of color in a position of no privilege asserting her right not to be molested -- and worse -- by a man who could have been the next President of France. Things have changed a bit, have they not? For women in college, for women in the workplace, for gays, for minorities. Sure, men behave badly -- but they're getting away with it less.


Justin E. H. Smith has some interesting comments and a link regarding Bernard-Henri Leve on Facebook. Here is the link:

http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.newappsblog.com%2F2011%2F05%2Fbernard-henri-levy-embarasses-himself-philosophy-yet-again.html&h=75d02

Williams closes with:

When a powerful politician has an extramarital affair, it’s a scandal. When a powerful politician sexually assaults another person, it’s a crime.

Really, I expected more from a UCLA Women's Studies scholar. The analysis is, on the one hand, perfectly obvious; on the other hand, Williams' argument is misleading. Why do these stories go together? I'm not sure I've seen them more closely associated than in this piece about why they don't. Well, for one, because when a powerful politician commits a crime, it's a scandal.

I find error in just about every paragraph Williams published, but I'll ignore much of it because this is only an opinion piece in a major newspaper. She does acknowledge the ordinary quality of what she calls a sex scandal, but she means ordinary from a newspaper's marketing perspective. At one point Williams finesses the argument, veering from a story about men's bad behavior to one about news stories about men's bad behavior. Again, the obviousness renders the writing almost pointless. Men's bad behavior is ordinary, and so only a celebrity male's bad behavior is worthy of news reporting.

I disagree that Hefner gets a pass because he is who he is. DSK and the Terminator are who they are, too, and each is Hefner. To paraphrase MacKinnon and Dworkin, Hefner wrote the manual on bad behavior. Hefner, DSK, Arnold, and just about every ordinary guy you meet (Z's and Elatia's former acquaintances, for instance) have read the manual. That experience levels celebrity, just a bit. That ought to be newsworthy. It would explain why these stories "go together." But when a bunch of harping feminists report it, they become the story.

Ben Stein, oy.

The reason the two stories go together (in my mind, where they most certainly do) is that they are coming out of the culture of impunity and entitlement and are different only in degree. The line between rape as a crime and unwanted sexual advances as bad behavior is not drawn by some eternal and unchanging power. It has shifted considerably during my lifetime and falls in different places in different parts of the world. I have seen the same men play both roles at different times in their own lives.

Nobody is talking about how consensual the relationship with Arnold's employee could really have been under the circumstances. Is that because she is Hispanic, not Muslim, and the Myspace photo fits some stereotype? Nobody acknowledges that the long-term trauma to his family might be as damaging as the immediate trauma of the rape. Is that because they are too privileged to be counted as victims?


Z: The distinction that Williams is making is a legal one and I agree with her in that respect. But as I point out, there is deep breach of trust in both cases - rape or affair.

As for non violent sexual entanglements, it is difficult to determine whether there was coercion or consent was given. After all, women too can be faithless and promiscuous and unfortunately, there are women for whom the power, wealth and celebrity of men are major turn ons. But the point you make about the long term trauma on the families is absolutely correct. Whether a husband, father or brother is a rapist or a mere philanderer doesn't make much difference in the hurt and humiliation inflicted on his close ones. In that respect DSK and Arnold's behavior are no different. Both took advantage of their positions of power.


What Elatia said!

What Z said!

What Ruchira said!

I've tried not to think about this much as DSK and his execrable apologists send my blood boiling with lightning speed. I work at a hotel, albeit a quite provincial weeds-in-the-hair one stood next to the Sofitel. But one pertinent similarity seems to be in our housekeeping staff, which is entirely made up of women, including many recent arrivals from Latin America, Nepal & Africa. These women are all, by contemporary United States' standards, shy around men they don't really know, even if they work with them five days a week. It does not take a Clifford Geertz to realize that they come from societies with rather different ideas about modesty and propriety. This seeming old-fashionedness that they exhibit brings out a rather old-fashioned protectiveness in their coworkers and perhaps in the males especially. DSK would have been throttled here in the sticks before the police arrived. The notion that she was a willing participant is simply unbeleivable (risk her job for . . .) and if he wanted a prostitute, Manhattan is hardly a difficult place to procure one. That Stein & that dipshit disgrace BHL can't take a basic imaginative step toward the accuser's cultural and class position and hence the immense unlikelihood of her consensual participation is beyond belief. They know that what happened; it is exactly what it looks like happened.

Ugh - meant to type "they know that what happened, is exactly what it looks like happened" writing at the hotel, too many damn interruptions!

Jesse, thanks for sharing your perspective as an insider in the hotel business. The Washington Post had a report about the dangers that female hotel employees face routinely from boorish, randy and criminally inclined hotel guests.

The elitist and appalling defense of DSK by the likes of BHL, Stein and some others has made them a laughing stock, I hope. What they deserve is a sharp slap in the face from their wives / girl friends. But seeing the fiercely loyal support that DSK receives from his wife, I wouldn' hold my breath on that happening, necessarily.


Jesse,

Having traveled in Europe and Asia, I am in complete agreement with your observations.

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