Blog, 664 words

‘Womanizer’ Isn’t a Synonym for ‘Sexual Predator’

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's not in trouble because of his libido.

Emily Schwartz Greco

Most of the reporting on jailed, soon-to-be-former, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is shifting. Instead of just relating accounts of the sexual-assault charges he faces, journalists are raising questions about his past. It’s rife with incidents that may have constituted sex crimes, even if charges weren’t filed. And there’s a great deal of discussion about the lack of reporting on his earlier, newsworthy misdeeds.

In case you’re someone who thinks that IMF stands for “Incredibly Monotonous Figures,” and have managed so far to ignore the news: New York prosecutors say Strauss-Kahn attempted to rape a hotel housekeeper in his $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel suite. He denies the charges. Instead of flying to Europe to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reportedly to discuss Greece’s debt, he landed at the Riker’s Island prison.

As my colleague Tiffany Williams has written, the alleged victim isn’t getting enough attention, which is indicative of a broader problem in our society. According to this Associated Press article, she’s a 32-year-old woman from the West African nation of Guinea, currently in “seclusion.” The AP story also uses a term that should be dropped, especially in this case.

“The (French) left-leaning newspaper Liberation affirmed Wednesday that its journalists ‘will continue…to respect the private lives of men and women’ it covers, with the exception of suspected sexual crimes. But it conceded that its journalists are asking whether they should have more strongly pursued rumors about Strauss-Kahn’s womanizing.”

Womanizing? As Susan Mulligan explains, it’s time to ditch that word altogether. “It turns an entire sex into a collective object to be used or victimized by men,” she explained in a short, excellent US News blog post. She also makes a strong case for journalists to stop using the antiquated term “mistress,” which offensively suggests that women are property. (Got that, reporters covering and bloggers musing about the political misfortunes of John Ensign, Newt Gingrich, and Arnold Schwarzenegger?)

Strauss-Kahn, who married the first of his three wives at age 14 and reportedly tried to force writer Tristane Banon to have sex with him in 2002 following an interview, isn’t in trouble for having a strong libido. He’s behind bars on charges that include attempted rape, following years of getting away with sexual behavior that may have been criminal. There are more precise terms to use than “womanizer,” such as “suspected sexual predator,” even if he was widely seen a strong contender for France’s presidency.

Sadly, the IMF squandered an opportunity three years ago to ditch Strauss-Kahn before this incredibly ill-timed embarrassment, which coincides with such weighty things as Egypt’s pursuit of a $4 billion loan, and Europe’s debt crisis. In 2008, the Fund’s executive board merely reprimanded him for carrying on an inappropriate relationship with Piroska Nagy, a Hungarian economist who at the time was his subordinate. The liaison was deemed to be consensual, but at the time, Nagy wrote a letter to a firm hired by the IMF that Strauss-Kahn was a “man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”

No kidding.

The IMF’s executive board has the authority to hire and fire the IMF’s top official and could have sent the Frenchman packing right then and there, echoing Paul Wolfowitz’s fate.

The Iraq War architect’s tenure at the helm of the World Bank was cut short after his girlfriend Shaha Riza, another official at the international financial institution, was found to have obtained a series of outsized raises and to have gotten highly paid for work as a contractor with an outside firm, without permission from her employer. After that series of suspect pay hikes, “her non-taxable salary of $193,590 exceeded the amount earned by (then) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by approximately $40,000 annually,” according the Government Accountability Project, which played a crucial role in exposing the Riza-Wolfowitz scandal.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, an Institute for Policy Studies editorial service that provides bold opinions for newspapers and new media.