Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Hollywood Moguls Join Drive to Return to Pre-Feminist Era
It was technically only a coincidence that France’s leading Socialist Party presidential candidate engaged in his latest sexual assault on the same weekend that major television networks promoted such new shows as the “Playboy Club,” “Pan Am” (based on stewardesses of the 1960’s) and a remake of “Charlie’s Angels.” The only surprising element was that International Monetary Fund head and French Socialist leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested by New York City police for a sexual attack against a hotel maid that news reports reveal is part of a longtime pattern.
Why did Strauss-Kahn think he could get away with it? Because he had many times before. We can now expect an all-out assault on the integrity of the 32-year old African immigrant who was the target of Strauss-Kahn’s attacks. Meanwhile, Hollywood is sending its own retro messages about women accepting sexual harassment as a job condition, as the female actors required to prance around in “corsets, fishnets and stilettos” as a condition of employment either accept such roles or face unemployment.
The story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest while trying to flee the United States to avoid sexual assault charges could make a great movie, particularly if it showed his long history of prior sexual assaults. What better evidence of the worldwide drive to return women to the pre-feminist era than for the media to finally be forced to acknowledge that the head of the International Monetary Fund and the leading French Socialist presidential candidate has regularly assaulted women – and that this has not stalled his career.
And perhaps even advanced it.
A Profile in Courage
According to media reports, the maid entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite at the Hotel Sofitel believing it was unoccupied. He then came out of the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway to the foyer, and pulled her into a bedroom and began his sexual assault. After she pulled away and tried to escape, he grabbed her and assaulted her in the bathroom.
It took incredible courage for a young immigrant maid to report a sexual assault by a powerful man staying in a $3,000 per night hotel suite. Media reports are already scrutinizing her employment record – which her employer says is “satisfactory” – and you can just imagine the money Strauss-Kahn is spending on investigators seeking any information they can get their hands on to destroy her credibility and save his career.
Other victims of Strauss-Kahn’s sexual attacks chose silence, knowing the risks to career and personal reputation that can come from charging a powerful man with such a crime.
According to a New York Times report, Mr. Strauss-Kahn behaved aggressively toward a young female journalist and novelist, Tristane Banon, in 2002. Banon stated during a 2007 television interview on Paris Première, a cable channel, “that a French politician – whom she later said was Mr. Strauss-Kahn – had tried to rape her in an empty apartment in Paris after she had contacted him for a book she was writing.”
According to Banon, “he wanted to grab my hand while answering my questions, and then my arm. We ended up fighting, since I said clearly, ‘No, no.’ We fought on the floor, I kicked him, he undid my bra, he tried to remove my jeans.” Banon “contacted a well-known lawyer who already had ‘a pile of files on Mr. Strauss-Kahn,’” but never filed a complaint. “I didn’t dare; I didn’t wish to be the girl who had a problem with a politician for the rest of my life,” she said.
Since the maid came forward and Strauss-Kahn was arrested, reports are widespread that Banon’s experience was not unique, and that the IMF and French Socialist Party knowingly allowed a man widely charged with being a sexual predator to assume a leadership position.
Why is it now socially acceptable for Comcast-owned NBC to offer a series on the Playboy Club of the early 1960’s, whose pilot shows bunnies swimming naked in a pool with “men watching them as if at Sea World, only much, much better.” Or to bring back the sexist Pan Am stewardesses of the 1960’s, whose job requirements were the subject of many successful class action sex discrimination suits in the 1960’s against the airline industry?
Perhaps such shows are fitting for a time when the United States Supreme Court is primed to rule in the Wal-Mart class action sex discrimination case that, as Judge Alito put in an oral argument, discriminatory practices that are “typical of the entire American work force” cannot violate Title VII. The 60’s and 70’s class actions that stopped Pan Am and other airlines from imposing weight, apparel and age restrictions on female stewards – rules still in effect during the new television series – are apparently too retro for the current era.
Hollywood producers are overwhelmingly Democrats who give money to candidates who typically support women’s rights. But this does not alter their desire to make money by promoting sexist and misogynist gender portrayals, and for shaping culture in a direction directly contrary to their stated political ideals.
Just how bad the situation has gotten for women in Hollywood was the subject of an astonishingly frank April 11, 2011 New Yorker article by Tad Friend titled, “Funny Like a Guy: Anna Faris and Hollywood’s woman problem.” Among its observations, which go unchallenged by men and women in the industry, “Relatability for female characters is seen as being based upon vulnerability, which creates likeability. So funny women must not only be gorgeous; they must fall down and then sob, knowing it’s all their fault. Ideas for female-driven comedies are met with intense skepticism.”
Friend’s article provides several examples of how we’ve gone a long way – backward – since the screwball comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s where women like Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur and Carole Lombard had major roles (Friend’s full story is available through subscription only).
The Republican Assault on Women
What makes Hollywood’s backlash against feminism particularly troubling is that it coincides with a Republican Party that prioritizes the de-funding of Planned Parenthood and other women’s programs. There once was a time when cultural leaders stood against anti-feminist political trends; today, Hollywood sees dollars from not rocking the boat by challenging the conservative tide.
Clearly, Hollywood also produces positive examples of women, but they remain the exception. Intelligent, career-minded women unobsessed with their inadequacies are few and far between on television and movie screens, emblematic of a broader culture where even left-wing Socialist men like Strauss-Kahn can rise to power despite a history of sexual assaults.
Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century, as well as The Activist’s Handbook.