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The Frenchman Has No Clothes

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The war between the sexes is never-ending, but the battleground is dotted with the white flags of uneasy truces.

Men and women have embraced such a truce when discussing what Dominique Strauss-Kahn is said to have committed in a Manhattan hotel suite. Not only are both men and women arguing on the same side, but so are liberals and conservatives, prudes and libertines, Francophiles and Francophobes. He has ruined whatever remained of the reputation of the French lover.


DSK is no Charles Boyer inviting a mademoiselle to "come with me to zee Casbah" (though M. Boyer is more seductive in parody than in reality for actually saying that). Long gone is the charming Maurice Chevalier, the suave Yves Montand, the sexy Jean Paul Belmondo. Gerard Depardieu never did fit the profile. La vie is no longer en rose.

The problem for DSK is that in the popular public domain, as opposed to a court of law, he shames the most flagrant womanizer, makes the flirtatious Gallic Romeo a figure of suspicion and invites sneers of contempt toward one of Gay (in the old sense of the word) Paree's most cherished beau ideal, that Frenchmen are the greatest lovers in the universe.

He even brings a foul-smelling men's cologne to those sophisticated French marriages that tolerate "anything goes" as long as the marriage is preserved. No longer can anyone say that "the French don't care what you do as long as you pronounce it correctly." Au revoir to all that.

Literally and figuratively, the Frenchman has no clothes. If half the gossipy stories are true, this particular Frenchman has set a new example, an anti-romantic stereotype of gaucherie. He was powerful enough to almost run for president despite his trouble reading a woman's signal of an interest in woo, boorish in his invitations and out of control in his exclamations.

The New York Post reports that moments before New York detectives boarded his Air France flight, he acknowledged a stewardess in business class by drawing attention to her bottom. "What a nice ass!" he said. "Quel beau cull!" Yuk.


Even New Yorker magazine, skilled in stylish sexual subtleties and innuendo, observes how far DSK went over the top: "According to the stories, he grabbed women in elevators, he cornered them in gardens, and if they resisted he liked to pursue with phone calls and text messages." No doubt he won a few conquests that way, but as Pascal Bruner, the philosopher, put it at a table in Cafe de Flore, that famous rendezvous for artists and poets known for their libidinous adventures, "He wasn't a womanizer -- he was sick."

Of course the French were offended when he was photographed in handcuffs, but some women observed with a certain glee that the pictures of him unshaven and unwashed made him look like a dirty old man in a raincoat, a warning to arrogant men who think they're God's gift to women and can operate without boundaries. The hard-nosed feminists who've been mocked for years for exaggerating male boorishness in the office and on the street can claim a certain vindication. Great crimes from little cads grow.

DSK hasn't been a good Socialist, either. Hypocrisy is often a sin that passes invisible until the moment it's exposed, sometimes greater than life-size, though this time it was darkly visible for anyone who looked. A prospective Socialist president need not live modestly, but renting a house for $50,000 a month is pushing it when he is awaiting trial for abusing a poor cleaning lady, a single mother from Africa struggling to raise a child. Only a month ago, he was satirized in Paris for "capitalist" displays of extravagance when he was photographed getting out of an expensive Porsche.


A poll taken in France immediately after his arrest showed that 60 percent thought he was "set up," victim of a political conspiracy. Some still believe that, but they're a diminishing band as press leaks describe the woman as a "credible witness." More than a few of his friends should suffer feelings of guilt that they didn't try to help him with his "woman problem."

"Morality and democracy are both levelers," writes Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield in The Weekly Standard magazine, defending old-fashioned truths that raise the low-born and abase the high-roller. "They encourage each other, and they take satisfaction in each other."

Marianne is the national emblem of France, commemorating liberty and reason as civic virtues of the Republic. Those virtues prevail here, too.

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