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June 01, 2011

Sex Scandals Lead to Examination of French Culture

by Lisa Bryant

The sexual assault charges facing ex-International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn have raised a curtain on once-taboo subjects in his native France: the personal lives of public figures and a perceived culture of male chauvinism.

The charges also have unleashed a string of similar accusations. First from a journalist, who claimed Strauss-Kahn attacked her during an interview nearly a decade ago. Then on Sunday, a junior minister, Georges Tron, resigned from the center-right cabinet of President Nicolas Sarkozy after two women filed sexual-harassment suits against him.

Speaking on French radio, one of the women said she hoped a judicial inquiry against Tron would be thorough, and that she was not backing down.

Now the Tron scandal has been overtaken by another - pedophilia allegations leveled against a former French minister by another ex-minister, Luc Ferry.

During a television appearance this week, Ferry accused the unnamed ex-minister of having sexual relations with boys in Morocco. He said the matter was widely known in the highest political circles. On Wednesday, the French prosecutor's office opened a preliminary investigation into the allegations. Human rights activists say they will file complaints.

France's political class has expressed a range of emotions to these various scandals. In the past, it was widely accepted that news "stopped at the bedroom door."

Today, some lament that French politics is sinking to the level of anglo-saxon countries, where reporting on the personal lives of public figures can be considered fair game. Others argue the allegations are helping the far right, a year ahead of French presidential elections.

Still others, like French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, have expressed concern. On the pedophilia allegations, Juppe told French radio the accusations were serious and merited a judicial inquiry. He said public officials should be above reproach.

The mushrooming scandals have also unleashed a hot debate on women's rights. The head of a rights group called "Neither Whores Nor Submissives" argues they amount to a veritable "sexgate" in French politics.

Media reports are awash with grievances over a perceived macho and paternalistic culture inside and outside the workplace, aired not only by female politicians but also by ordinary women in France.