An American Woman Expat's View on Strauss-Kahn

Firstly, I have worked, studied, carried out research etc. in the US and lived in France on and off since I was in university at the age of nineteen. I have raised a French-American daughter for the last twelve years between France, Italy, and briefly in Norway and the US. Where do I feel she has the best chance of being treated equally, paid well, respected 100% as a woman? In Norway, then perhaps the US (not Texas in the oil biz nor in Hollywood though), then France and last of all, in fact I would be very saddened, that she attempt to make a career as a woman in Italy.

I left Italy because of comments while attempting to be paid for work such as, "Don't you have a boyfriend?" or the one the owner of the apartment I rented used, "You are an American woman alone in Italy. You are an American woman living alone in Rome. You are an American woman living alone in Trastevere... of course I am going to try to rip you off!" I saw the Russian, Latin American and other young women served up to the Berlusconi crowd via the mother of a friend of my daughter's from school, and I was shocked, disgusted, and left.

There is a reason some Italian women have deep lines under their eyes, they are tired of it! Berlusconi and Putin's play with women like a disposable toys syndicate is really getting old. Move on, get rid of these macho guys and evolve. We women have had enough!

But in France, there is something more subtle going on, and something which is more disturbing and will be harder to change. At least in Italy (and in Texas where a woman member of my family once said, "I am a woman and I live in Texas, what do you want me to do about it?" you know who the enemy is, but here in France, the enemy might be the woman sitting next to you, or even worse, yourself.

Why is this? When I was a nineteen-year-old student at the Sorbonne 25 years ago, a young woman dating a much older man said to me when I asked her if she loved the guy, "He gets what he wants and I get what I want"... the love part sort of was or was not there. I also recall a conversation with a young Icelandic woman in Paris back then, who complained about how she was being treated in France... I literally told her she came from one of the most equal countries in the world for women and that she should really consider going back home.

Perhaps I came back to France because it is beautiful, I like the food and my friends, have a half-French daughter... but the fact is that being a single woman in Paris can be quite lonely, as most married Parisian woman see you as a potential threat. And this is the sad thing: I have noticed that there is very little solidarity between women in Paris. This changes a bit in the smaller towns and countryside, but in general, women are taught to compete, not help one another. There are great exceptions of course, but the idea of being a loyal friend, helping another woman succeed tends to come far behind using what you've got to climb over one another. The feminist movement here has been sidelined, and even with this DSK event, although it is bringing up the subject once again, the reality is that many of the women in power are going to fight tooth and nail to hold on to their position which may rely on some man's deciding to let them remain there.

What we need in France, and at the IMF I would argue (the poorest of the poor in this world are women and children so why not let some women make the decisions affecting them?) are women leading the way, as we see in Scandinavia for example. Although politically I may not agree with Christine Lagarde, I would like to see a woman running both the IMF and the World Bank sooner than later. It would also be great to see women running the US, Italy, Russia, France and China. You want to see real change? That is how you would make some.

Part of the problem with power and men who abuse it, whether it be in Hollywood, Texas, Italy or Paris, is that women do not fight back, or are afraid to fight back. We MUST stand up for our rights and not play the game of accepting unacceptable behavior in the workplace or elsewhere push us back. I recall as a young woman of 23 in Texas, giving my boss, a good ole Texas boy, an employee contract to sign and confronting him after a bizarre lunch in a very dark corner of a restaurant where he had obviously brought other women before. He laughed at me and said, "Vivian, you better get used to it. In this office we are like a family". When I wrote on a piece of paper what he had said and done that I found inappropriate, I watched as he crumpled up the paper and threw it away. Needless to say I quit a few months later.

I believe 100% that DSK is innocent until proven guilty and I was not in that hotel room so I honestly cannot say what happened nor can ANY of us. But if this woman was assaulted, what made this man think he could get away with such a thing? Sadly, the answer is because he has gotten away with a lot, as most men of power here have, and as men of power have almost everywhere.

But the real question is, if he did have a pattern of disturbing behavior and many people knew about it for years, why did it take so long for a woman to react and why just now when so much is at stake for Europe and the US and much of the world via actions by the IMF? Why just before he was to announce his campaign for President of France? The timing on this whole thing stinks. My dad ran political campaigns in Texas and got out because it was just too dirty. He agreed with me last night on the phone that this story had much more to it.

This reminds me of Eliot Spitzer's attack on the bankers and being called out even though they must have had that information for months if not years. It sends a very clear message to anyone who might try to change things and though I am no huge fan of DSK nor of things the IMF has done, from what I understand DSK was trying to change things for the better at the IMF vis a vis collective bargaining and equalizing things between the wealthiest and poorest countries of the world. He was not for simple austerity which hurts the least well off, and I think the one reason he actually made it as long as he did without anyone calling him out is because people actually really like the man and find him to be doing a good job, just as Bill Clinton is still well liked though I would stand on the other side of the room after greeting him because as a woman I simply felt uncomfortable. Yet he was almost always surrounded by hordes of women at the events!

I felt exactly the same way about Spitzer whom I was at an event with once and about some Texas men, even friend's fathers when they go through that turning 45-50 buy a Porsche thing. And in Hollywood, well, let's just say that the narcissism served up with what basically amounts to selling yourself is the norm. Many women, and men, are used up and spit out by that system and it is heartbreaking to watch. Read the recent piece by Roseanne Barr about what it means to be a woman and to succeed there.

France has a VERY long way to go in terms of equality. But as a woman what matters most to me is that the work I do is based on how dedicated I am and how well I do that work, not on whether or not I wear a short skirt or allow my gaze to fix on a man a little too long. I don't want my daughter to have to put up with all that, it is tiring and a waste of time.

If I want to seduce and be seduced I will decide where and when. And it won't be with a narcissist capable of violence. And it sure as heck won't be with a married Frenchman (except for my soon to be French husband!). A real man can control himself and a real woman knows her own power does not come from being seductive. But until adults start acting like adults and the Machiavellian nonsense behind the scenes stops, we are going to keep heading in the wrong direction. We are killing trust in the world and have the power to change it... one woman at a time.