Like many, when I heard that IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn had been arrested in New York for a variety of sexually related crimes my first thought was: who?
Since then I've found that Strauss-Kahn ("DSK" to his Euro pals and "sweet thing" to his Rikers Island cohabitants is, in fact, the single indispensable man to the economic system of the entire planet.
I was amused that his seduction technique - spring from the bathroom buck naked, chase your prey down the hallway, subdue her, drag her back to your room and sodomize her - was such a faithful metaphor for the way the IMF treats Third World countries but I suppose you can't work in any organization and not be affected by it in some way.
I have, however, been more surprised by another aspect of the story: the claim that France is home of a "macho" culture.
Often when you read a series of stories on the same subject your subconscious begins to tally the usage of phrases that you aren't used to seeing. And once you become aware of the phrase you begin seeing it everywhere. Such was the application of the "gutsy call" description to Obama for finally getting around to doing his job. What got my attention was this article:
A sexual predator in high office? A fear of reporting rape? Any journalist in Britain would have seen a story just asking to be investigated, a long time before Strauss-Kahn became a front-runner for the French presidency.
The French media's respect for privacy now looks more like an exaggerated deference towards the rich, powerful and macho.
Intrigued by the concept that French and macho could be used in a sentence in a non-ironic way, or that a short, pudgy, aging socialist Frog bureaucrat could be considered "macho", I inquired with Mr. Google. 292,000 uses of "Strauss-Kahn" + "macho". A sampling:
If anything, rather than being seen as unacceptable behaviour, his reputation as a ladies' man was viewed as an asset in France's macho political culture. BBC.
"France's macho political culture"? This is the country that inflicted that simpering nincompoop Dominque de Villepin upon the rest of the world.
Some observers say it is possible the DSK affair will actually serve as a watershed for this permissive and macho culture. Christian Science Monitor.
This is a ridiculous proposition. The equation of a "macho culture" with "sexual predator" makes as much sense as equating a "feminist culture" with "slut." In a macho culture one does tend to find women objectified but also protected. It is also associated with the manly virtues of physical and moral courage, risk-taking, personal responsibility, and self-control. In short, there is a huge difference between viewing yourself as irresistible to women and pursuing them and treating them as prey or the chambermaid as no more significant than the mint she leaves on the pillow.
When one looks at politicians of any nationality the idea of "macho" does not come to mind. We probably do it better than most - with some notable exceptions... the Russians maybe a bit moreso. If you look at the slapfights in the Korean, Taiwanese, and Venezuelan parliaments you'll see what I mean. If the politician is a eurocrat in the bargain, the odds of him being "macho" approach zero.
What you see exhibited in DSK has nothing to do with "macho" or even manliness. It has nothing to do with living in that hotbed of macho culture, France, or working in the pressure cooker of machismo that is the IMF. They are the actions of a run-of-the-mill sociopath who grew up in a culture where having enough money, going to the right schools, making the right contacts, and having a position of power enabled, if not encouraged, him to believe he could simply take what he wanted with impunity.