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Strauss-Kahn: where have all the progressives gone?

Supposedly progressive commentators the world over have found it difficult to muster an ethical response to the DSK affair. Feminism clearly has a long way to go, says Aurelien Mondon.
Aurelien Mondon
15 July 2011

Bob Ellis, a well-respected Australian commentator, recently gave his opinion about the DSK case and rape in general. For the former Labour speech writer, feminism has simply gone too far and is now a danger to left-wing politics. Can you believe that women are ready to bring down someone as liberal and left-wing as Dominique Strauss-Kahn for simply being ‘'forced' into oral sex’? Ellis’s answer is a resounding and eloquent ‘Wow’!

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 Demotix/Fotocerchi. All rights reserved

If I chose to comment on this article in particular, it is not because it is the worst I have come across in the past few days. I could easily have based it on any comment Bernard Henri Levy uttered about poor DSK. Yet this one stood out not only because of its content and vile understanding of the affair, but because of it claiming to be  

progressive and left-wing (something no one could possibly believe coming from BHL whose comments about friends of minorities are more akin to traditional extreme right populism).

First comes first. It is outright shocking that anyone can still advocate that women should think about the consequences of their actions after having been raped. Would anyone with a modicum of human decency ask a woman, whose body has been violated, whose trauma is likely to remain for the rest of her life and who will often feel a deep, albeit utterly unjustified, shame: is justice worth it? Should men be judged according to their social or political beliefs rather than to the despicable act they committed? Is it therefore right for a working class immigrant to be pilloried in a rape case, particularly convenient if he is Muslim, while a white left-leaning plutocrat should be praised for being a ‘seducteur’?

In societies where rapes mostly go unreported (it is estimated that in the UK 90% are so), Ellis’s self-righteousness clearly shows that feminism still has a long way to go. One needs not be a feminist to know that the turn taken by the DSK affair will lead to women being less likely to report rapes. This is to be expected even more if they find themselves at the ‘bottom of the ladder’ and their attacker is a ‘respectable figure’. The media’s reaction as well as that of many politicians is extremely saddening albeit not surprising. What do we know about the maid that truly redeems Strauss-Kahn’s actions or character? A. She might have lied on her visa application and did not discuss the entirety of her traumatic experience. It is true that in our comfortable lives, it has become hard to imagine that things might be too painful to be said when escaping trauma. B. She might accept money from rich men in exchange for sexual favours. Does that warrant her deserving to be raped? In that case, is it fine or forgivable to rape a woman for being promiscuous or a prostitute? C. She took advantage of the welfare system. Again, does that make her rape by an extremely powerful man acceptable? Is this why we pay tax?

All these allegations raised by Strauss-Kahn’s defence and hailed as evidence for redeeming the next French president should be at least balanced with those that could be made against him. Many women have come out in the recent past recounting their experience with this man, who has behaved time and again in a manner that would have sent most of us to jail. Why is all of this forgotten now just because the maid was a prostitute or a dole-bludger?

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Demotix/Ellie Van Houtte. All rights reserved.

That leads me back to Ellis’s article, to my main point and to the reactionary quality of today’s politics. How can someone claiming to be progressive, liberal and left-wing take such a reactionary stand, and why will they most likely remain uncondemned by at least the most progressive media? It is terrifying how the past few decades have witnessed a narrowing of our politics and our alternatives. If Bob Ellis is left-wing, do we really need the most conservative right anymore? This might lead some of us to conclude that we must therefore go beyond the out-fashioned left/right dichotomy. I would argue that on the contrary, we need to go back to basics. Those who think of themselves as progressive and yet feel that Ellis’s comments and the like are despicable should reaffirm their values and beliefs. It is time the real left shakes away the demons of its past and realises that the awful mistakes made in its name do not prevent it from playing a crucial part in our future.

In a world becoming ever more unequal and exclusionary, in which ‘minorities’ such as women are told they should not complain for such minor incidents as being forced to have oral sex, sides must be made clear. It must be made clear that the Strauss-Kahns of the world are not left-wing and are not progressive. It must be clear that this situation would be different if the protagonists were not defined by their class status (black immigrant maid versus extremely rich and powerful white man). It must be made clear that the head of the IMF cannot possibly be on the side of the majority, and even less so on the side of down-trodden minorities (take a look at Greece or even Haiti’s plight for the perfect example). It must be made clear that someone arguing women should think twice before reporting rape cannot possibly stand for what the left does: the unalienable and universal right to a decent life. In one word, equality.

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