'Beauty Shop': Trouble Brews For Powerful Men

Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid. Former Calif. governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted fathering a child with a former staffer. Host Michel Martin gets the dish on these stories with the Beauty Shop ladies: U.S News and World Report columnist Mary Kate Cary, author Pamela Druckerman, CNBC's "Power Lunch" co-host Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and Racialicious.com editor Latoya Peterson.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

And now we go to the beauty shop. That's where we get a woman's perspective on things happening in the news. And this week, two scandals are leading the headlines, and I think this is probably a good place to remind listeners that these next couple of stories are about that might be not be appropriate for everybody to hear.

So, with that being said, we're going to talk about the leader of the International Monetary Fund, Dominic Strauss-Kahn, who has stepped down from his post because he is now facing sexual assault charges in connection with an alleged attack on a hotel mate in New York. This story has sent shockwaves through diplomatic circles, and particularly through France, where Strauss-Kahn was widely expected to be a strong contender for the presidency next year.

Meanwhile, on Monday, former California governor, the movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, revealed that he fathered a child outside of his marriage more than a decade ago with a former housekeeper who was actually pregnant at the same time as his wife, the journalist Maria Shriver. That revelation came about a week after Schwarzenegger and Shriver announced that they were separating after 25 years of marriage.

Joining us to talk about these stories and more is our panel of beauty shop guests. Pamela Druckerman has written about how cheating is viewed around the world. She is the author of "Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee." And she's with us by phone from Paris, where she now lives.

Also with us, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, co-host of CNBC's "Power Lunch." She joins us from the CNBC studios in Inglewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Latoya Peterson is the editor of Racialicious.com. She's here with us in our Washington, D.C.

Along with Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former presidential speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Ladies, thank you all so much for joining us.

PAMELA DRUCKERMAN: Thanks for having us.

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, host: Glad to be here.

LATOYA PETERSON: Hi, Michel.

MARY KATE CARY: Hello.

MARTIN: Now, Pamela, I'm going to start with you because we want to start with the news around Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF. I think it's worth taking just a minute to explain who he is. He's a very influential economist. He played a key role in dealing with the fallout from the international financial crisis. He's a former economics and finance minister for France. He's a member of the French Socialist Party. And as we said, that he was considered to be - widely assumed, really, to be contemplating a run to challenge French president Nicolas Sarkozy. And he was assumed to be, in fact, the frontrunner if he did make this challenge.

So now these charges happened. I'll just play a short comment from his lawyer Benjamin Brafman, very well known criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C. Here it is.

BENJAMIN BRAFMAN: I think it's important that you all understand that this battle has just begun. We believe and we'll prove in our judgment that Mr. Strauss-Kahn is innocent of these charges.

MARTIN: And of course it's important to say, you know, in the United States you are innocent until proven guilty. Having said that, though, Pamela, it's been very interesting to us, following how this story has played out in the French media versus how it's playing out in the United States. Because the French media, we see, you're objecting to the fact that Mr. Strauss-Kahn has been displayed, you know, in handcuffs, so-called perp walk, but have had no problem identifying the accuser - the complaining witness, the alleged victim - which in the United States is considered wildly inappropriate to name the victim - an alleged victim - of a sexual assault.

So I think the question many of us have - and I'll just go right there - is the attitude there that powerful men are beyond reproach, no matter what they do, when it involves women? Pamela?

DRUCKERMAN: Yeah, I don't think the idea is that powerful men are beyond reproach. I'm looking at the main...

MARTIN: Is that her? Have we lost her? OK, so Mary Kate, why don't we start with you?

CARY: Well, it sure looks that way to me. I mean, the - you and I, Michel, are both married to criminal defense lawyers who believe innocent until proven guilty. And I think there is a great protection for the accuser here and I think it's mystifying why the French would have named her in the press, as well as subjected to the perp walk. It shows a huge cultural divide. And we saw that a lot during the Clinton impeachment.

There seemed to be a lot of foreign, you know, objection to American puritans and how we all don't get it the way they do and things like that. So, I'm not really that surprised by it, but it is mystifying.

MARTIN: Latoya, what do you think?

PETERSON: It's interesting to see how women's rights are protected and women's rights are seen in different countries and different companies. And so with the IMF chair, what you have is this huge, huge important man, true. But at the same time, the French cultural aspect is definitely a lot more in favor of keeping private life private and letting these affairs be resolved differently. Where America, definitely, we have a lot more of a media skeptical around it.

Like, it's not just that this happened and it's not just that we want to justice, but it's also that we want to promote people and look at this, skeptical, sell papers off of it, opine off of it. And so in some ways that can be seen, particularly by outsiders, as this kind of cannibalistic instinct that Americans tend to have.

So I can see how people are, like, well, you know, it's not fair for you to automatically just jump and leap on this person. But at the same time, the rights of the women, particularly those who are bringing these accusations, are often lost in this battle.

MARTIN: Pamela, are you there with us now?

DRUCKERMAN: Yes, I'm here.

MARTIN: OK, there you are. Good to talk to you.

DRUCKERMAN: Sorry about that.

MARTIN: And I just want to mention, Pamela wrote a piece for "The New York Times' Opinion Blog" today, where she talked about the fact that - well, go ahead, Pamela, tell us what you think. Just, you can tell us what you think.

DRUCKERMAN: OK. Well, I'm looking at the cover of the main French news weekly, which just came out and it has a picture of Dominic Strauss-Kahn. And the headline is all black background and it says the descent into hell. So it's not that the French think that what he did was OK in any way, if he did it. But I think they're really struck by the way he's been - the man's whole reputation, his life, his dignity can be brought down in an afternoon.

I think for the French it feels a bit like a lynching of him - a public lynching. And Americans are, in a sense, used to changing their opinion of public figures when they find out some detail of their public life. I'm talking about Tiger Woods and, you know, many of the celebrities and politicians who have been brought down by sex scandals. We suddenly feel that we don't know them.

And I think the French just aren't used to doing this, in part, because they treat private life, as another one of the guests mentioned, quite differently. We expect - we don't expect criminal behavior, but we expect people to have private lives that we don't know about and men aren't perfect.

MARTIN: You also wrote...

CARUSO-CABRERA: Michel...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Michelle. Just one second, let me just finish what Pamela had to say. Pamela, in your piece today you said politicians are another story. You say that we Americans want ours to be recognizable versions of ourselves, someone we could imagine having dinner with. But the French prefer to elect people who would never invite them to dinner. Even the expression for politicians - en politique - suggests that they're in a separate species and that they're supposed to be more clever, more learned and more cultured than ordinary humans.

But I still have to go back to the question, does that mean that they're allowed to engage in criminal behavior? I mean, there's womanizing and then there's assault. And I don't understand why there's not a - there seems to be the two are melding here when we're not talking about somebody who he wooed and went out on dates with, apparently. That's the allegation.

DRUCKERMAN: Absolutely. And the French absolutely believe there's a distinction between infidelity and criminal assaults. But they - what they don't like is the presumption of guilt that the perp walk and other ways that Strauss-Kahn has been treated presumes. They feel very strongly that you can't just destroy a life the way Strauss-Kahn's life has clearly been destroyed.

MARTIN: OK, but why name the - if you were concerned about people's dignity and privacy, then why is it OK to name the complaining witness?

DRUCKERMAN: I mean, my impression is that American press was glad that the French press named the victim so that they could point to the French press. And, I mean, that certainly happened with Schwarzenegger. I'm not defending the French practice, but I think there's a certain hesitancy at the beginning, but as soon as anyone named - anyone somewhere on the Internet names the victim - the American press is very glad to sort of point that out.

MARTIN: I'd have to beg to differ. That has not occurred in any of the newspapers I've observed. And the AP style here has been observed by all the major media that I've observed. I mean, I think the Internet tabloids are a different story, in any case.

OK, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, what did you want to say?

CARUSO-CABRERA: Well, the degree of deference shown to him - let me give you a different angle on it, which just surprises me - is when Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary of the United States, kindly suggested that maybe they ought to find somebody else to run the IMF in the meantime, people in France were aghast at the suggestion that he should step down. He hasn't resigned yet, blah, blah.

I understand he hasn't been proven guilty of anything. Innocent till proven guilty, et cetera, et cetera, but the self-evident truth is, you can't run the IMF during a financial crisis from Rikers Island. And so you've got to find somebody else. And the fact that they thought it was just this crazy idea to try to find a replacement to me suggests an incredible level of deference that I just don't understand.

MARTIN: I want to just mention a little bit more about the complaining witness. She's a 32-year-old hotel maid. As we said, she is a Muslim. She wears a headscarf, according to her colleagues. She's originally from West Africa. She immigrated to the U.S. some years ago. She's raising a teenage daughter. This is her lawyer Jeffrey Shapiro talking to Fox News.

JEFFREY SHAPIRO: She's the victim of the most violent crime short of murder or something which causes permanent physical injury, but this is a permanent injury. I mean, someone who is a victim of rape is affected by this for the rest of their life.

MARTIN: The other thing, Pamela, that struck us, is that some of the reporting around this indicates that there have been other accusations against Dominic Strauss-Kahn, not that he's a woman - apparently his womanizing is well known - but the fact that he has imposed himself on women in an assault fashion, that there was a young journalist who was not named by the American media, but who apparently is well known - whose name is now known in France, who said that she had to literally fight him off.

And she said she didn't complain to the authorities because she figured she would then become the target. She would be dragged through the mud. And so the question then becomes, is it that, again, powerful men are deemed to be able to do whatever?

DRUCKERMAN: I mean, I'm not going to defend - I'm certainly not defending Strauss-Kahn's behavior at all. And I think, you know, certainly in the U.S. you have cases like the Anita Hill case and Monica Lewinsky, where these women were permanently tied to the men that they were linked to. So I think the French system is not necessarily more anti-women than the American system, in this respect.

MARTIN: Just clarify one thing for me because this is one of the reasons we called you is that you did a deep study of this whole question of infidelity around this (unintelligible) . Americans, I think, sometimes have the impression that the French are just more tolerant of womanizing than Americans are. Your reporting says that that's not true.

DRUCKERMAN: The French are more tolerant of their politicians womanizing, but they have a very different standard in their personal lives - ordinary people in their personal lives. And it's quite like the American standard. If you ask a French woman, how do you feel about your husband having an affair? She'll say, I absolutely don't want it. It could end our marriage. It causes the same degree of crisis that it does in America.

And if you look at the sex statistics in France and America, the actual level of reported infidelity is almost identical. So it's more that there's a different conversation about infidelity than there's actual different behavior.

MARTIN: But you're saying that there is a double standard when it comes to politicians, that there's just more - that's an interesting difference. It explains a lot. If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE. We're having our visit to the Beauty Shop. We're getting a perspective on the news of the week.

Pamela Druckerman is with us. She's author of the book "Lust in Translation." Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is also with us. Co-host of CNBC's "Power Lunch." And with us, Latoya Peterson, editor of Racialicious.com And Mary Kate Cary. She's a blogger and a columnist with U.S. News and World Report.

And, of course, here is the news that has a lot of people buzzing in the United States. Arnold Schwarzenegger admitting that he fathered a son with a former housekeeper. The child is now 14, the same age as Schwarzenegger's youngest son with wife Maria Shriver. Mary Kate, you know I'm going to go to you on this because we talked about this just last week.

CARY: We were just talking about this.

MARTIN: And we were saying, gee, sad, you know, sad, gee, after 25 years, what could possibly be...

CARY: Yes. But then, is that I recall last week, you were the skunk at the party who pointed out quite presciently that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a history of groping and harassing and, you know, preying upon...

MARTIN: Imposing himself on women of lesser status.

CARY: Who are at a lower rank in his - in the workplace. And it's the first thing I thought of when this came out that you had called it and, you know, people are calling it an affair with the household employee. But you and I know, that's not an affair. Maybe there's something to it, but it sure seems to me like part of his ongoing pattern of picking on women who are in his employment.

MARTIN: Michelle, what do you think about this as a person who, you know, obviously, the whole question of - what do you make of this? Is this a, you know, sexual harassment can also mean, you know, inappropriate relationships outside of kind of the status hierarchy with people who are under your authority. I mean, I'm just wondering, what do you make of this?

CARUSO-CABRERA: I think it's a very, very old story. I think it's part of human nature. Don Giovanni was written nearly 300 years ago and it's about a womanizer who keeps a list of thousands of women who he has bedded in different countries. And my favorite episode of "South Park" ever is when they discover this disease. And the scientists are trying to cure it. When a man becomes rich and powerful, he becomes a sex addict. How does that happen?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARUSO-CABRERA: And they spend the whole half hour trying to figure it out. I mean, it's just the way it is.

MARTIN: Pamela, is anybody outside the U.S. interested in this?

DRUCKERMAN: I think they're vaguely amused by it. But I think the big difference between France and America in this respect is in America, it turns out you're a powerful man and you've had affairs, you've groped women, you plead childhood sexual abuse, sexual addiction, drug addiction, anything at all. It's almost a physiological problem that you have. Whereas in France people will say you're just a powerful man and that's what powerful men do.

CARUSO-CABRERA: You know, the other difference too in this country is we have a political party that campaigns on moral values and part of the whole running for office thing is about, are you a family man, and it's mostly men, let's admit it. So I think that may be the difference as well. I mean, do they campaign in France on moral values and family values?

DRUCKERMAN: They try not to. I mean, the current president did a little bit and he was called the American candidate for doing that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DRUCKERMAN: American candidates are forced to do that even if they don't want to, even Democrats are forced to a certain extent to sort of hold up their family and their picket fence.

MARTIN: Well, maybe they do want to.

DRUCKERMAN: And I think as an electorate we have to ask whether that's a good idea.

MARTIN: Latoya, what did you want to say?

PETERSON: I think that our conversation right now has been really fascinating, but it's also focused on the men and that always kind of amazes me. You look at, you know, the discussing of Strauss-Kahn, and it's all about, what's this going to do for the American budget, you know, financial crisis and how is this going to impact France?

And it's, like, well, what happens to these women in these cases and I think that one of the things, if you're looking at all the things that have been happening, particularly, I mean, you can look at the hip hop world. You have Joe Budden and there's been three women who have said that he's been physically abusive. The last one saying that he actually beat her so hard that he induced a miscarriage.

And these women are not getting any kind of attention or support because they are not on that same level. They feel like they don't have the cultural power, they don't have the financial power to challenge their accuser. And when you look at these cases, right, you have these hotel maids, you have people who are in these people's employ, it's because women are in this - women are put by society in these very vulnerable positions.

MARTIN: You cannot argue that people did not take the charges against Dominic Strauss-Kahn seriously.

PETERSON: Definitely.

MARTIN: I mean he is sitting in Rikers now because this woman put her hand up.

PETERSON: The have taken it seriously.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PETERSON: Maybe that wouldn't have been the case 20 years ago, though. I mean (unintelligible).

CARUSO-CABRERA: Shifting to talk about the women for a minute, you know, the hot name out there for his replacement is Christine Legarde, who's the current French finance minister. And the former IMF chief economist came out this morning and said what's happened to Strauss-Kahn underscores how great it would be to have a woman in the role. And I think that could solve the problem very nicely.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know if that's the one you want.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Unfortunately we didn't get to talk about another piece that was interesting to us. It was a piece in Psychology Today, a blog post about why black women are rated less physically attractive than other women. We'll have to get back to that important topic, because Latoya has something to say about the junk science behind that.

PETERSON: Oh yeah. Debunking the junk science. Oh yeah.

MARTIN: All right. Mary Kate Cary was with us. She's a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report, a former presidential speechwriter. Latoya Peterson was also with us. She's the editor of Racialicious.com. Pamela Druckerman was with us from Paris. She's the author of "Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee." And Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, co-host of CNBC's "Power Lunch," was with us from the CNBC studios in Inglewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Ladies, thank you all so much for joining us.

DRUCKERMAN: Thank you.

CARUSO-CABRERA: Thanks so much.

PETERSON: Thank you.

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