The prosecution of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, replete with a whopping litany of criminal charges, spotlights in the worst way (violence and worldwide voyeurism) what France has never been able to face squarely: the nation's connivance in what are conventionally blue-pencilled as the frasques, or ‘escapades', of its political personnel, writes Antoine Perraud.
To be sure, back in 1959, André Le Troquer, one-armed World War I hero and Socialist president of the lower house who had just ceded his top seat in the Assembly to a Gaullist (Jacques Chaban-Delmas), did indeed get censured and then punished (albeit mildly: he got off with a one-year suspended sentence). He was taken to task for his involvement in the Ballets Roses. This quaint coinage, courtesy of the France-Soir newspaper, referred to erotic dance shows featuring some under-age girls (recruited under false pretences of furthering their artistic careers) – some of whom were actually egged on by their ambitious mothers to ‘dance for the gentlemen'. It all went down in the forest of Fausses-Reposes (in the Yvelines département, west of Paris), in a lodge for the use of the acting president of the National Assembly.
Then in 1965 Antoine Pinay, the only conservative contender Charles de Gaulle lost any sleep over, was presumably dissuaded from challenging the incumbent in the presidential elections – by means of some blistering files on his various sexcapades.
On the other hand, reports of President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's crack-of-dawn return (rumoured to be from an extramarital affair) to the conjugal bed at the Elysée Palace in September '74, exposed by his car bumping into a street-cleaning truck, slipped smoothly by. And President Mitterrand's shadow family, nestled securely somewhere in the recesses of the Republic, almost seemed an enviable arrangement.
Well, all this might be hailed as a fortunate global exception, a thousand miles removed from the priggish mores of Anglo-American puritanism.
Then again, it might be perceived as a reflection of lecherous spinelessness. Pleading a racial or climate-induced temperament – Mediterranean licentiousness or something along those lines –, opinion-makers are straining to justify ‘the French taboo'. They say that here in France, even more than in Italy, a ‘tumultuous love life' (as it was long euphemistically dubbed) is a hallmark of our national political identity. Voters allegedly identify with it in complete carnal collusion, or make up for their own dearth of first-hand frolics through such proxy exploits - here in this country where the fucker is king.
Monarchy is always close at hand in France. In the collective unconscious, the droit de seigneur is just another prerogative accruing to men of power. These ogres of the Ancien Régime exact their tribute in the democratic arena. Their libido dominandi, as theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo first described the desire to control and rule, goes together with the vertical authority they embody.
Whether sexually assaulted or consenting in an enduring state of self-alienation, the woman, thus reified (like the colonized subjects of yore), becomes a stock option, an allotment of sexual perks, of quivering flesh, in the eyes of the predatory politician as in those of the conniving public.
But is it tantamount to fanatical prudery to switch from ribaldry to reflection, to sever politics from prurience, to abjure this established debasement of the ‘fair sex' in the corridors of power? No, it is simply a refusal to accept the domination of women by men, a condition that, using all possible means, proceeds on its archaic course within the public mind.
English version: Eric Rosencrantz
(Editing by Graham Tearse)