Op-Ed: Powerful Men, Sex And Consent
NEAL CONAN, host:
And now, the Opinion Page. On March 14th, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was detained by New York City police and later charged with the sexual assault of a 32-year-old hotel housekeeper.
On March 17th, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted he had fathered a child more than a decade ago with a member of his household staff.
Beyond the coincidence of timing, whether these two cases have anything more in common is a matter of vigorous debate online and on the op-ed pages.
What should we learn from these two cases? Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And we'll begin with an editorial that was an op-ed that was published in the Washington Post, written by Juliet Williams, professor of women's studies at UCLA. CNN, she wrote, showcased Time magazine's upcoming cover: "What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs." Columnists blamed manly urges and men behaving badly. MSNBC added both men to its already robust rogues gallery, which includes John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, John Ensign and Chris Lee.
Uh-oh, though, Juliet Williams continued, one of those things is not like the other.
Personal transgressions should not be casually conflated with attempted rape, as if one form of male entitlement is equal to the other. That's why we should beware of commentators like Matt Miller, who, writing in the Washington Post, would have us believe Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn are united by a singular - a similar and largely unsuccessful struggle to keep their inner caveman at bay. That's the evolutionary psychology equivalent of the Twinkie defense, and it's lame, she continues.
There are lots of op-eds. We're going to continue reading from them as we get your thoughts.
This is an email from Paul in Grand Rapids, Michigan - a brief one: Fidelity counts, he writes.
And let's get our first caller in, 800-989-8255. By the way, email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lee is on the line from Sacramento.
Lee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEE (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Yes. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEE: Hello. Yes. You know, just because we elect an official to be governor - in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger - given the state of the situation at the state of California - is in, is awful. And you know, I just think it's a shame that we elected him to be the governor. And -which he's not governor now, but when he was governor, instead of addressing the problems we need, so many things we need done in this state, he's jumping around with the maid when he's already - I thought - a happily married man. And there's no excusing - and that only goes to prove to me that we can't trust everybody we put in a position of power.
CONAN: Elected twice governor of California, indeed. And Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, infidelity in his case as well.
Lee, thanks very much for the phone call.
LEE: You're welcome.
CONAN: Among those drawing comparisons between the two, Nancy Gibbs - who reported in Time magazine. A lengthy article, we'll just excerpt a little bit of it.
She wrote that Bill Clinton left office with 60 percent approval ratings. In 2008, neither John McCain nor Rudy Giuliani considered a gothic personal past beyond disqualification. Senator David Vitter was re-elected in a landslide last year, despite having shown up in the phone records of the D.C. Madam. And now Newt Gingrich is back, with third wife Callista by his side - a better man, he argues, for the soul-searching journey prompted by his past mistakes.
If Tiger Woods is having trouble rehabilitating himself in the eyes of the public, it's not because of his appetite for escorts. It's because of the pathetic state of his golf name - what - golf game. What matters is not prudishness - we've left that far behind - but prudence, a sense that public figures should be discouraged from destroying themselves and their families, even if we gawk at the results when they do. And principle: that power is a privilege not to be abused.
Let's go next - this is Bobbie(ph), Bobbie with us from San Francisco.
BOBBIE (Caller): Hi. I just have a real problem with the fact that when men do something like this, it's called womanizing. And with women, they may even be stoned because of infidelity or transgressions. And the fact that Time Magazine said why men are pigs, is also not acceptable.
I mean, this is a sentient human being doing these things, and they need to be kept to the moral values and not just passed off as good old boys -and getting away with things. I really, really, really feel so sorry for the families that are involved, especially Maria and the kids, now having to listen to all of the snide and laughable comments. Those guys should really get their acts together and become thinking, caring human beings.
CONAN: So the double standard is what bothers you most.
BOBBIE: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Come on. You know, and in France -oh, yeah. They have these extramarital affairs, and it's no big thing. Poor Krauss. You know, he was handcuffed and everything else, and oh, so bad.
CONAN: That's Strauss, Levi. So...
BOBBIE: Yes. Yes.
CONAN: Yeah. Okay.
CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: She mentioned the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and this is a defense that was written by Bernard-Henri Levy, who is one of the best-known philosophers in France and a friend to the former head - now - of the International Monetary Fund.
The Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly, a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no. Its absurd.
This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.
I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed accusatory, meaning that anyone can come along and accuse any fellow of any crime, and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact. I resent the New York tabloid press, a disgrace to the profession that without the least precaution and before having effected the least verification, has depicted Dominique Strauss-Kahn as a sicko, a pervert borderlining on a serial killer, a psychiatrists dream. And I am angry with all those in France who jumped at the occasion to settle old scores and further their own little affairs.
Again, that from the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who describes himself - then and now - as a friend to the accused, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Let's go next to - this is Michael(ph) and Michael with us from Columbus.
MICHAEL (Caller): Yes. I just wanted to say, I've seen pictures of Arnold and the woman on TV. And it seemed that, you know, he had a loving relationship with her. And I think that unfortunately, the tabloid press, you know, they keep talking about Arnold the pig. I mean, you know, he's done a lot of good in his life. And I think it's a real tragedy that this was going on, and he was cheating on his wife underneath their roof. But you know, in the old days, people got married to more than one person. And I'm not a polygamist, but I just am saying that I really think that, you know, from everything we hear, this kid is a good kid. It's a tragedy. It's a great tragedy. I think it's very sad.
CONAN: I understand what you're saying, but there is - there are some who say that with an employer and a member of the household staff, consent is a difficult line to find.
MICHAEL: Well, if we use that argument, we should have gotten rid of Clinton. You know, Clinton should have gone because he perjured himself under oath, and that was the whole scandal with President Clinton. And yet, people still supported the president and felt that they should blur his personal life from his presidential duties.
CONAN: I'm not sure I understand what you're saying there, too. The former governor of California is not facing any criminal charges, and I'm not sure anybody's suggesting that he should. They're asking, though, questions about where do you find the line of consent?
MICHAEL: Well, it's obviously - the woman stayed in employment with him for over 20 years. They obviously were very close. The pictures I've seen on TV show him smiling at a birthday party with their - with the child's face blurred out. It looks like, in private, he was having a secondary relationship and trying to have a second family. And this is not uncommon. This happens quite a lot. It's just hardly reported.
CONAN: All right.
MICHAEL: People have multiple relationships. It's a tragedy. I feel sorry for Maria Shriver. I really do. And I feel sorry for that kid. And I feel sorry for the woman. It's very, very sad.
But I think Arnold has done a lot of charity work in his life. He is not, you know - they're basically calling him a pig because he had a hyperactive sex drive.
CONAN: All right.
MICHAEL: I'm sorry. That doesn't make, you know - it doesn't - because he's made - because he's had a shortcoming, it doesn't make him - it doesn't take away all of the good that he's done in his life. That's all I wanted to say.
CONAN: Thanks very much. Gregory Rodriguez wrote on this point in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.
These stories hold our attention not because - just because they involve powerful men brought down to size - always an American favorite - but because they remind us of the often hidden history of interracial sex and its roots in global migration, labor markets and social hierarchies. Bosses always have power over employees. And the more unequal the relationship, the more likely it is to result in illicit sex.
He goes on to describe examples of - through history. In Rome, India, Mexico and the Deep South, it's hard to say how many liaisons were rape, and how many were consensual. It'd be equally hard to say love was never present. But Schwarzenegger's liaison with housekeeper and Strauss-Kahn's alleged criminal behavior with a hotel maid - if true - suggest that not everything has changed.
The stories are different in dozens of ways, not the least of which are criminal charges in one and not the other. But the similarity is just as unavoidable, the echo of inequality. What has been admitted to in Brentwood, and alleged in New York City, is nothing if not the dark side of the global melting pot.
We're looking to the op-ed pages for comments on the similarities and differences between two celebrated cases involving men and sex and power and consent. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.
And let's go next to Gene(ph), and Gene with us from East Lansing.
GENE (Caller): Hey, how are you guys doing? My comment is that - is regardless of wealth or not, men are taught this throughout, you know, throughout their learning - education from school or be religious - we're all taught to think that we're superior. And this is going to continue to happen until we're all taught our true education, and we stop thinking that men are superior to women.
CONAN: We're taught that in school, you say, and...
GENE: Not just school but, you know, religious, you know, every, you know, Bible or Quran always talks about how the man should be looked up to and, you know, and bestowed this some kind of great honor.
GENE: It just doesn't make sense.
CONAN: All right. I get your point, but those are also - I think it's usually pointed out that those books were written some many years ago, and in very different societies.
GENE: Oh, right. I agree. But unfortunately, we hold on to those things. And as far as our education system, you know, we promote that. You know, all we hear about is how great men are, and how much they've done. But we don't ever hear about, you know, the women behind them. We don't place them equally.
CONAN: All right.
GENE: Until that changes, you know - this is always going to happen until we get a true history.
CONAN: Well, maybe now with more women than men in college and graduate school and getting higher degrees, maybe that'll change. Thank you very much.
GENE: You know - oh, you're welcome. Take care.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Mohammed(ph), Mohammed with us from Houston.
MOHAMMED (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.
MOHAMMED: I just wanted to throw out the question that maybe Arnold's maid was doing this for job security. I mean, if she was uncomfortable with it, it doesn't take 15 years to find a new job.
CONAN: No. So you think that she - there may have been coercion implied if not explicit?
MOHAMMED: Yeah. I mean, maybe she did it and she's like, hey, you know, give me a raise now and employ me for 15 years, or else I'll go to the media.
CONAN: Ah, so you're saying there may be another side to this story, a side we're not aware of.
MOHAMMED: Yeah. And I mean, you know, Arnold can't say anything in his defense because men are pigs, and everybody is going to think he's making it up.
CONAN: So we should - there is that instinct to investigate the woman involved or the other person, and there's, you know, camera crews camped out outside the home of this woman in California, and outside the apartment of this woman in New York City.
These are the alleged victims. Do you think it's fair to put them under that kind of scrutiny? You and I certainly know nothing of any attempted extortion.
MOHAMMED: Well, I mean, when somebody accuses someone, in our justice system, you know, the accuser is the person that's the victim because he has, you know, the right to - excuse me, the accused party is the one that's the victim in like, every other case that's not related to sex because he has the right to face his accuser and defend himself, and he has to be proven guilty. And you know, I think sexual assault is a horrible, horrible crime, but we have to remember that even those people have rights in our justice system.
CONAN: All right. Thank you very much for the call, Mohammed.
MOHAMMED: Thank you.
CONAN: This is an interesting take from the Manila Standard and columnist Bong Austero - I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly - go through a lot of the arguments that we've already heard about, but he wrote interestingly: I dread the thought of what would have happened if the case had happened here - and he's talking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Would our police authorities have had the kind of political will to yank the managing director of the IMF off a plane so that he could be made answerable to a sex crime? I highly doubt it. There probably would have been a lot of frenzied effort to smooth things out.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Chet(ph), and Chet with us from Fort Myers.
CHET (Caller): Yes, I spent 20 years in the military, and we had a way with dealing with these issues. Any sexual activity with a subordinate was a career wrecker, even if it was assumed or could be proven that it was consensual - no questions asked.
CONAN: So if it involves somebody who was a subordinate, there's an implied - not merely implied - there's an implicit suggestion that some - that consent is - there is no consent. There can be no consent.
CHET: Actually, and it interfered with good order and discipline of the organization.
CONAN: Interesting. Thank you very much, Chet.
CHET: Thank you.
CONAN: Here's a comment from Jacob Tomsky that was published in the New York Times. He's worked many years in hotels. He wrote: Beyond their physical safety and the possibility of nude Frenchmen unexpectedly popping out of the bathrooms, the time hotel workers spend in these rooms inevitably leads to problems.
Housekeepers are routinely accused by guests of stealing money from nightstands, making international calls from the room phones, rifling through luggage and pocketing jewelry. I've heard every one of these charges leveled at colleagues. Rarely, I found, do they turn out to be true. On top of that, they have to be sexually accosted by guests -sadly, yes, and more often than you might think.
And one last comment. This is from Benedict Carey, also in the New York Times: Does power turn regular guys into sexual predators? he asks. And the answer - in most cases - is no, say social scientists and therapists who have long experience working with men. Power is a facilitator. He quotes Ronald Levant, a psychologist at the University of Akron, co-editor of "Men and Sex: New Psychological Perspectives." It provides opportunities to men with certain appetites, but seldom changes personality in any fundamental way.
In any case, we'd like to thank all of you who wrote to us and to - who called. We didn't have time to get to everybody. We apologize for that. We'll put links to each of the op-eds we read from. Those will be on our website. Go to npr.org; click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Tomorrow, the debate over voter ID. Should everyone have to show a photo identification form at the voting booth, to prevent election fraud? Join us for that tomorrow.
This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
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