France’s women put sexism on trial in wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn case

Allegations of rape against ex-IMF chief fuel debate on macho culture among male establishment figures in country

Among a group of women shouting “We’re all chambermaids!”, one softly-spoken 43-year-old was glad to see feminists taking to Paris streets in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair. The well-dressed woman, who now counsels sexual violence victims, said she had been attacked by a French businessman with political connections but had never pressed charges.

“I was raped by a powerful man. I went to the police, they said the pressure would fall on me and I risked being destroyed. I didn’t take it any further. Victims feel they have almost no voice in France. We hope that might change now.”

France now talks about “before and after DSK”. Two weeks since the head of the International Monetary Fund and great Socialist hope for president was arrested and charged with attempting to rape a New York hotel maid, a sexual revolution is underway.

Strauss-Kahn denies the charges against him, but whatever the outcome of his case, it has sparked an outpouring against French sexism and harassment disguised as “gallantry”, as well as a new openness about tackling rape.

France always prided itself on a tradition of unbridled sexuality and a society based on seduction, where Jacques Chirac kissed female leaders’ hands and declared that Michèle Alliot-Marie, who served as justice, defence and foreign minister, had “the best legs” on the right.

Many argued that the dreaded “American puritanism” – the US’s strict laws on workplace touching and harassment – would make France a dull place. But now the floodgates have opened on women denouncing French machismo.

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