A May 17 “New York Times” blog post entitled Operation Seduction by Elaine Sciolino described the complicated, mysterious and omnipresent practice of seduction in French society. Just three days previous, French IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested for alleged sexual assault in New York. Sciolino doesn’t mention the Strauss-Kahn incident in her article, and commenters protest that the way of life Sciolino describes encourages and promotes just this sort of sexual harassment, violence against women, and tolerance of both. Perhaps the author’s omission is understandable. She’s likely been working on her forthcoming book “La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life,” for a year or more and probably didn’t count on or feel responsible for addressing the allegedly violent behavior of a French power tripper.
Plus, rather than smooth-talking hommes, the author cites older women, in particular the model Inès de la Fressange and actress and singer Arielle Dombasle, both in their 50s, as the top experts on French seduction.
… the most perceptive experts on seduction in France have been its female courtesans. More important than their youth, beauty and sexual performance have been their experience and maturity.
I can’t help but find it inspiring and empowering to imagine older women as masters of seduction, skilled beyond the young and stupid celebrity culture valued so highly in the United States. I’ll take Ines de La Fressange over the Kardashians any day.
But the Strauss-Kahn mess does complicate this seduction business. On the one hand, it seems fun, liberating, and so very French, to allow seduction to permeate everyday life. It’s human nature, after all, and doesn’t it somehow beat repression?
Then again, this Time magazine article points out that men like Strauss-Kahn often get a pass because seduction is a widely accepted part of French society. Former French President Francois Mitterrand, for example, fathered a child by a woman not his wife, but French journalists never reported on it. In response to one reporter who did bring it up Mitterrand said, “Et, alors?”
So maybe I’m taking the easy way out but I don’t know the answer. Is a certain amount of flirtation inevitable in every day life, and should we welcome it as part of the “joie de vivre?” Is it only the sick or violent outliers who will cross lines into inappropriate behavior? Or is every day seduction a breeding ground for sexual harassment and a set up for forgiving violence against women? Thoughts?