Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Culture, Values, and 'She Asked For It'

I generally write as 'the Lemming' in this blog. I've explained why before. (April 18, 2011) This post is more serious than most, though, so I'm dropping the 'editorial we' stuff.

A rich, influential, man was accused of trying to rape a hotel maid. He apparently left a cell phone and DNA at the scene. The gentleman was detained on an airliner, which prevented his return to a country which might have shown him more consideration.

I think some reactions to this accusation may be due to cultural values in the gentleman's home country. I also think that rape isn't nice.

The 'Good Old Days' - Weren't

I was born during the Truman administration, and I remember what some folks here in America seem to regard as the 'good old days.' I don't mind a spot of nostalgia now and then. But I remember the trailing edge of Happy Days - and idyllic it wasn't.

The "double standard" for men and women was a very real part of America. We had a set of values that:
  • Accepted phrases like
    • 'she's as smart as a man'
    • 'He's a man, so that's different;'
  • Expected husbands to spend their nights drinking with 'the boys'
    • But were shocked when a woman did the same thing
  • Congratulated young men who 'scored'
    • While devaluing the young women who gave points
It wasn't all about sex. I remember the 'good old days' when being drunk was often a socially-acceptable excuse for almost any behavior: from groping your secretary to killing someone in a hit-and-run. In my opinion Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and other organizations, did us all a favor by pressuring America's judiciary into treating drunk driving as a crime.

The '60s happened for a reason, I think - and that's almost another topic.

I spent my teen years in the decade of grooviness, and still think 'those crazy kids' made some valid points. Like there being more to life than making more money, and having the most expensive house, car, and wife on the block.

Rule of Law, Equal Rights, and Other Inconveniences

America is not perfect. Definitely. There have been times when I took a long, hard, look at leaving. I live where I do today by choice. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (July 3, 2008))

Again, America is not perfect. On the other hand, this country has a legal system which is supposed to take the rights of the accused into account. Even if the accused is someone on the low end of the economic scale. There have been times when the principles of equal treatment were not honored. Moving on.

This country also allows folks who aren't wealthy, and who do not have prominent social status, to bring charges against others. Even if the person charged is someone 'important,' and the accuser is a 'mere' laborer.

Even if facing the accusation is inconvenient for the person charged.

That, and our 'innocent until proven guilty' principle, are high on the list of reasons I stayed in America.

'She Asked For It'

I haven't followed this particularly aspect of American culture closely, but I think the 'she was asking for it' excuse for rape has worn a tad thin. Still, I could be wrong.

Before someone who was the victim of a badger game has a fit: yes, I know. Some women are not entirely scrupulous. So, for that matter, are some men.

I'll even concede that some women exhibit lack of good judgment which, directly or indirectly, has led to sexual assault.

But - and I realize how judgmental this may sound - in my opinion:
  • Rape is not nice
    • And people shouldn't do it
  • 'She asked for it' isn't an excuse
  • Women are people
    • Even poor ones

The Gentleman and the Hotel Maid

It's possible that Dominique Strauss-Kahn left his cell phone and DNA at the Sofitel hotel for quite innocent reasons. And had no idea why he was caught before getting out of the country.

It's even possible that the hotel maid who says he tried to rape her is making the whole thing up. I doubt it, but it's (remotely) possible. In my opinion.

Or maybe the sex was "consensual," and she later changed her mind. Again, it's possible.

Or - and I think this is possible, too - maybe a very rich, very influential, very important man who has a very important job, saw a hotel maid and decided to have a little 'fun.'

Not realizing that America is 'puritanical' when it comes to rape.

Different cultures, after all, have different values. As alleged honor killings, and the rape and subsequent abandoning of an eight-year-old child in America have demonstrated.1 (Please note! My ancestors are all immigrants - most recently to North America. I do not feel that all immigrants smell bad, dress funny, and break laws. Some do, but the same can be said of 'regular' Americans.)

Foreigners, Rape, and the Frontal Cortex

I'm slightly sympathetic with folks in France who seem furious that one of their own was accused of rape - and treated like any other person accused of a serious crime.

Americans are "foreigners" everywhere except in part of the North American continent. I suspect that many folks are not at all comfortable when a 'real person' who shares their language and culture is detained by foreigners.

Besides, in some circles 'everybody knows' what those Americans are like. And that's almost another topic, again.

I've been told that there's a sort of inverse relationship between emotional intensity and activity in the frontal cortex, where we do much of our thinking. Rational thinking, that is: not the sort of emotion-soaked free association that makes for ripping good stories and effective marketing. My opinion.

Briefly, I'm told that as emotions rise, the frontal cortex shuts down.2

I suspect that some of the wilder statements coming out of France are associated with that phenomena. Plus, I understand there's an election coming up over there. One here in America, too. Yet one more topic.

And now, some of what I've been reading:

Brazil is 'Puritanical,' Too??

"Brazil wants IMF chief from emerging nation: source"
Edition: U.S., Reuters (May 17, 2011)

"Brazil believes the next head of the IMF should come from a large emerging market country, but does not plan to pressure actively on the issue because Europe is likely to keep its 'stranglehold' on the job, a senior government official told Reuters on Tuesday.

" 'We think it would be appropriate to have someone from emerging countries,' the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

" 'We believe India and Brazil would be good options. But we also believe that Europe is likely to keep its deep stranglehold on the position, and so we're not planning to push very hard on this issue for now,' the official added.

"The future of the International Monetary Fund's leadership has been in doubt since Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on Saturday in New York and charged with attempted rape...."

I wouldn't mind seeing another French citizen in the top IMF post, provided the person was qualified - and knew that assaulting hotel maids is considered gauche in some countries. Or, rather, allegedly assaulting (alleged) hotel maids. I'll get back to "alleged" and American news.

I wouldn't mind seeing an American citizen in the top IMF post, with the same reservations.

I also wouldn't mind seeing someone from Brazil, India, or Singapore running the IMF - provided the person was competent and honest.

Not that I expect to see a non-European or Euro-American in the post soon. I have the impression that the 'proper sort' in America, at least, haven't quite come to terms with the idea that "natives" aren't "natives" any more.

And never were.3

Shock, Elections, and "Alleged"

"French reaction to IMF chief's arrest ranges from shock to sympathy"
CNN (May 17, 2011)

"The arrest of International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges he allegedly sexually assaulted a New York hotel housekeeper sent shock waves through France, where he was widely seen as a front-runner in the country's 2012 presidential race.

"As Strauss-Kahn sits in New York's Rikers Island detention complex, however, reactions in France ran the gamut -- with some questioning whether he was the victim of a political set-up and others concerned over what they see as a rush to judgment by Americans and the U.S. media in particular.

"Many French were disturbed by published images of Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs. A French law passed in 2000 prohibits the publication of images of suspects in handcuffs or in court in order to protect defendants' presumption of innocence.

"In America, where there are no such laws, Strauss-Kahn's arraignment was televised and clips played on various networks. 'Perp walks,' in which defendants -- accompanied by police -- walk in front of photographers handcuffed, are standard fare...."

Again, I don't think America is perfect. I'm quite certain that America changes. We're not the same country that we were in 1776, 1865, or 1967. The "perp walk" may disappear.

What folks in France may not realize is that news media in this country is - controlled is such a strong word.

Let's say that there are legal inducements that encourage broadcasters and journalists in America to make sure that viewers know that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that the alleged actions mentioned in a legal accusation are just that - alleged - until proven in a court of law.

Happily, the shakedown period during which those rules were introduced is over, and we don't hear alleged every second alleged sentence or so in alleged coverage of alleged trials - you get the idea. There was a mercifully-brief period where superfluous "allegeds" were worthy of parody. In my opinion.

I have some sympathy for folks in France who were "disturbed" by photos of their IMF head being treated as if he was an American citizen. On the other hand, I don't think folks in this country would be enthused over changing our rules when wealthy, influential, 'important' people are caught trying to leave the country. After being accused of a crime.

Of course, the French gentleman allegedly had no idea that he'd tried to have sex with that hotel maid.

And it was her idea, anyway.

I'll get back to that.

He's Got Money, Why Shouldn't He Leave?

"IMF chief, denied bail, prompts shock in France"
Edition: IN, Reuters (May 17, 2011)

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn spent a third night in a New York jail, prompting expressions of shock among some in France that the IMF chief had been denied bail on attempted rape charges that may scupper his French presidential hopes.

"His allies in the Socialist party, some jockeying for position ahead of a primary contest which had been tipped to hand the candidacy to Strauss-Kahn, met for crisis talks on Tuesday but said they would not change the selection timetable.

"French politicians and commentators reacted with surprise and anger at the New York judge's decision to remand Strauss-Kahn, once the biggest threat to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in an election due next April. His parading in handcuffs before the world's media, bedraggled and unshaven, appeared particularly stark.

" 'He is a brave man on whom a contemptuous fate has been inflicted,' former Socialist culture minister Jack Lang told Europe 1 radio, complaining of a 'lynching'...."

As I noted before, there's an election coming up in France. Enough said.

As for bail? That can be denied if a court decides that the accused is a flight risk.

Considering that Strauss-Kahn was caught on an airliner headed out of the country? Assuming that he might want to go where his friends are isn't all that crazy, in my opinion.

I also believe that wealth does not give a person the right to assault another, and then avoid consequences.

Rape Isn't Seduction?

"The 'Seduction' Myth: What the French Still Don't Get About Sex"
Judith Warner, Time (May 17, 2011)

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not been convicted of any crime. Neither would it be appropriate to indict French society - the pervasive sexism parading as a celebration of 'difference,' the self-indulgence of the 'caviar left,' of which he is a prime exemplar - for his (alleged) behavior. To do so, after all, would be to fall into the same facile trap as the various French commentators who, in the days since the International Monetary Fund chief's arrest in New York for sexual assault and attempted rape, have fallen all over the case as an example of American sensationalism and, of course, classic 'Puritanism.'

"But still.

"The arrest of the 'great seducer,' as Strauss-Kahn is commonly known in France, on charges of notably unseductive behavior toward an immigrant single mother working as a hotel housekeeper, while shocking as a violent criminal act, didn't come entirely out of the blue for those who have closely observed his behavior toward women over the years. And that behavior has occurred in, and perhaps been encouraged by, a culture that takes a complacent, even complicit attitude toward inappropriate, sometimes predatory sexual behavior on the part of powerful men, normalizing it, even sometimes romanticizing it, under the catch-all cliché of gallic seduction...."

I've mentioned cultural differences before.

As for the tone of this op-ed? Judith Warner is, after all a woman - and - - - enough said?

A trifle more seriously, I hope that France is a culturally-diverse country. And that the IMF chief and his friends are not typical of all French society.

'It Was Consensual Sex'

"IMF Biggie's Lawyer: Sex With Maid Was Consensual"
MyFox New York (May 17, 2011)

"International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's defense attorney looks set to claim the French politician's alleged assault on a Manhattan hotel maid was actually a consensual sexual encounter.

"During Strauss-Kahn's arraignment hearing Monday lawyer Ben Brafman told a packed criminal courtroom, 'The evidence, we believe, will not be consistent with a forcible encounter.' The New York Post cited a source as saying, 'There may well have been consent.'

"However, in a conflicting report, France's RMC Radio said Strauss-Kahn's legal team had evidence he was at a restaurant with his daughter at the time of the alleged assault. His lawyers maintained Strauss-Kahn left the hotel at midday Saturday, had lunch and then took a taxi to the airport, according to the report...."

'It was consensual sex?' That's a fairly common defense here in America: I notice it most often when a celebrity tries to rape someone - and the victim isn't properly awed. When testimony and physical evidence are against the accused, it's probably the best of a set of unpalatable choices for a defense attorney.

As for being elsewhere at the time of the alleged assault? That might be true. If so, Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers had better have witnesses. Other than his daughter. Security footage with a time stamp, showing Strauss-Kahn arriving at and leaving his alibi would help the defense. A lot.

Bail, Hallway Nudity, and the IMF

"IMF chief faces pressure to resign as scandal ripples across Europe"
CNN (May 17, 2011)

"Austria's finance minister suggested Tuesday that the head of the powerful International Monetary Fund should consider stepping down after his arrest over an alleged sexual assault at a posh New York hotel.

" 'Given the circumstances that his bail was not granted, he should think about whether he is damaging the institution,' Maria Fekter told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, during a meeting of European finance ministers.

"A haggard-looking Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a man who has helped bail out desperate countries in need of cash, was himself denied bail Monday by a Manhattan Criminal Court judge. He will spend the next few days in an 11-by-13-foot cell at New York's Rikers Island jail complex.

"Authorities say the IMF chief has had just one visitor, but declined to elaborate.

"The accommodations are a far cry from a $3,000-a-night luxury suite where he allegedly chased a housekeeping employee down a hallway while nude and sexually assaulted her. The IMF chief paid a hotel room rate of $525, according to IMF spokesman William Murray...."

I don't know all that much about French culture or politics - but my guess is that Dominique Strauss-Kahn still has a shot at the presidency.

Apparently he has a 'good old boy' network back in France to explain how he's a hero who's being mistreated by foreigners.

With the right spin, this trial might actually work in Dominique Strauss-Kahn's favor.

As for his job at the IMF? That may not be secure. Sure, he's French: but some folks in other countries don't seem to be quite as impressed with that as they could be.

"An Unbearable Cruelty" - Good Old Boy Gets No Respect?

"If found guilty, IMF chief could face upto 25 years in prison"
Vaiju Naravane, The Hindu (May 16, 2011)

"France today woke up to shocking pictures of the usually well-groomed and dapper IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn being led away, handcuffed, unshaven, tie-less and grim faced from the Harlem police lock-up where he spent the night for DNA tests that will ultimately prove or disprove his case. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, popularly referred to as DSK in France, has been charged with attempted rape, unlawful imprisonment following accusations by a hotel chambermaid in New York that he sexually assaulted her.

"More than the handcuffs, the scruffy look or that he was on a grubby New York street accompanied by police officers rather than in the gilded salons of high finance surrounded with bankers and courtiers, it was the look of utter devastation on Mr. Strauss-Kahn's face that so shattered his countrymen.

"Socialist leader Manuel Valls said: 'I've never seen anything like this in my thirty years in politics. Never have I felt so shaken. He is a longtime friend and the pictures I saw this morning were of an unbearable cruelty that brought tears to my eyes.'..."

I sympathize with Manuel Valls - a little. Change - being forced to confront new or unfamiliar circumstances - can hurt.

Perhaps it truely was "an unbearable cruelty" to see pictures of a good old boy: jailed just because he got frisky with some no-account hotel maid. Allegedly.

Power, Position, and Zipper Issues

"Sex, lies and the reckless choices of the powerful"
Caren Bohan and Tabassum Zakaria, Edition: IN, Reuters (May 16, 2011)

"Sex and power are no strangers. History is littered with tales of the powerful and privileged felled by sex scandals.

"But make no mistake. If IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is found guilty as charged of attempting to rape a hotel maid in New York City, he would be in a league virtually of his own.

"Few have been accused of a violent crime like Strauss-Kahn. The world financier and French presidential hopeful was charged on Sunday with criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape in New York City after a hotel maid said she was assaulted.

" 'Politics and power and sexual harassment certainly have a long history,' said Michele Swers, associate professor of government at Georgetown University. 'This being an attempted criminal rape is, I think, of an order of a different magnitude.'

"There is no shortage of powerful leaders who fell from grace for affairs, prostitutes and groping. Sexual indiscretions have weakened governments and buried political careers on both sides of the Atlantic, today and in ages past...."

Attempted criminal rape is, I think, a serious charge.

But then, I'm an American. From some points of view, I would say that.

High-profile people with zipper issues are - as the professor said - nothing new. The current governor of California, for example, has been supporting an illegitimate child for about a decade. (CNN)

For what it's worth, I think cheating on one's spouse is not right - but at least the governor acknowledged the child. And that's almost another topic, yet again.

As for the IMF chief? I don't think 'but everybody's doing it' is a good excuse.

Pakistani Village Honour, IMF Executive Status, and Getting a Grip

"Pakistani rape victim fears silence after acquittal"
Rebecca Conway, Edition: IN, Reuters (April 24, 2011)

"A Pakistani woman who was gang-raped and became a human rights campaigner says she worries other women will not speak out after Pakistan's highest court upheld her alleged attackers' acquittals.

"Mukhtaran Mai was allegedly gang-raped in 2002 to settle a matter of village honour. Unlike most rape victims in Pakistan, who rarely speak up, she filed a criminal case against 14 men. Six were convicted and sentenced to death later that year.

"But the Lahore High court later acquitted five and commuted one sentence to life in prison in 2005. On Thursday, Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld the Lahore court's decision.

"She said the verdict could prevent other women from speaking out against Pakistan's culture of punishing women through violence, mutilation and sexual assault.

" 'I feel now women will not speak out,' she told Reuters. 'They will stay in their homes ... Other women will not speak out because people in their area will look on them badly and they will not get justice.'

"But, she said, 'it becomes like a chain -- if one woman gets justice, then the others will'...."

'That's different,' or maybe not so much.

In Pakistan, you have an alleged gang-rape to uphold village honor.

In New York City, you have an alleged attempted rape for unknown motives.

In both cases, you have a woman who apparently lacked the social standing to be treated seriously - although I think there's evidence that the American court system is acting as though the hotel maid deserves attention.

Other than the sort of attention she allegedly got in the alleged hotel.

I think Mukhtaran Mai got it right: "...'it becomes like a chain -- if one woman gets justice, then the others will'...."

Somewhat-related posts:
News and views:

1 The term "honor killing" is not considered polite in some circles, here in America: but I think it is an adequate, and easily-understood, term to describe situations where a man kills a member of his family because he's in a snit.

I've discussed this, and other cases of clashing cultural values, in other blogs

Again, please note. I do not believe that all immigrants are criminals, or that all Americans beat up people they don't approve of:
2 I've discussed emotions, thinking straight, and related topics, before:
3 The phrase, "white man's burden" may be out of fashion: but I suspect that the attitude is still with us:

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