August 14, 2022

Frenchwomen Weigh Impact and Fallout of Strauss-Kahn Case

“He’s lied a lot in his life,” said Ms. Mansouret, whose daughter, Tristane Banon, has signaled that she would file a criminal complaint in France against Mr. Strauss-Kahn. “I know exactly what he is.”

“We question automatically this young woman’s testimony,” she said. “But we don’t question a man who lied extravagantly.”

Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his male allies, she said, “don’t want a world where you can’t force a woman” to perform sex acts.

For Ms. Mansouret, who for years had urged her daughter not to speak out because it might damage her career, and other women here, Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York in May seemed to be a turning point, a chance to break the code of silence about sexual harassment and aggression by powerful figures. But the question in France after his release without bail on Friday was whether that moment was turning yet again.

Many women took it as a pointed slap when senior figures in the Socialist Party — the mainstream progressive organization in French politics — immediately began speaking of how Mr. Strauss-Kahn might yet run for the presidency even though the felony charges against him had not been dropped.

Lionel Jospin, a Socialist and former prime minister, said Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been “thrown to the wolves” by the Americans. The Socialist legislator Jean-Marie Le Guen, who considers Mr. Strauss-Kahn to be the victim of a plot, said, “I hope he will soon be free and able to look the French people in the eyes once again.”

François Pupponi, a Socialist mayor, said Mr. Strauss-Kahn should now run for president: “Before May 15 everybody considered him the best candidate. He was accused of terrible things. If it turns out he is cleared, why wouldn’t he have the right to be a presidential candidate?”

But Sylvie Kauffmann, the first female editor of Le Monde and a former Washington correspondent for that newspaper, said that there had been a “D.S.K. moment” that would last well beyond the machismo of the political elite.

“I think he’s damaged so badly now, he won’t be able to recover in the minds of voters, especially women voters,” she said. “I wouldn’t vote for him now, but I would have before.”

There is a tendency among men “to pretend that nothing has happened,” she said. “In the establishment mind, this issue is not very important. The political class considers this issue of women and political attitudes toward women not so relevant. But I would bet that the average voter may feel differently.”

Ms. Kauffmann was skeptical about any instant revolution in sexual attitudes in France.

“But this has opened the way to a lot of discussion and debate,” she said.

“There’s an awareness and a willingness to speak out that wasn’t there before. Even if D.S.K. manages to come back and run, it will be part of the discussion,” she said. “He’s still a guy who had a sexual encounter with a maid at noon in a luxury suite before having lunch with his daughter and flying back to his wife.”

Even if the sex was consensual, as Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers say, “we’re back to the Bill Clinton problem,” Ms. Kauffmann said. “D.S.K. might be the brightest guy on the political scene, but it showed a part of his character that is a problem in a campaign and in a presidency.”

Like Ms. Kauffmann, Hélène Périvier, co-director of the gender program at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris, agreed that a deeper soul-searching had started about gender relations.

“It raised questions that went well beyond his particular case and that of his guilt,” she said. “People have started raising questions about the relations between men and women in France, and those questions won’t go away.”

But Ms. Périvier, like others, warned that the inconsistencies that have apparently emerged in the account of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser risked discrediting future reports of sexual violence.

Maïa de la Baume and Romain Parlier contributed reporting.

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