AFRICANGLOBE – This past week has been quite interesting news-wise; even more so if you view the events in an historical context.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), allegedly sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a maid in a high-priced hotel located in Manhattan’s midtown. We also learned that former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had fathered a child by an employee who worked under the same roof where his wife and children resided.
Throughout history, men of power, men who consider themselves masters of their domain have viewed humans under their perusal as part of that domain. It is, however, no surprise that these two men were both born and raised in European countries– Strauss-Kahn in France and Schwarzenegger in Austria. European countries no longer exercise sovereign authority but still exercise cultural and political control over former colonies. (Technically, Austria was never a colonizing power although they profited from colonial trade.)
That authority, whether tacit or explicit, apparently still extends to humans. Today, depending on the man’s personal sense of entitlement, that authority may still trump a woman’s right over her body and intellectual agency. If we continue to look at the history, it is also no surprise that the women involved were brown and black –of Hispanic and African descent– employed in subservient roles while the wives of the men are of Anglo-Saxon descent. Some things don’t change.
For these two men, America was an unfortunate site for these allegations and actions. The French media points to America’s puritanical history when dealing with matters of this nature. But it is the political movements of the 20th century and not cultural frigidity that is the divining rod in these two instances. No matter what we might think of the state of America’s social -isms, its tumultuous internal fight for equality has made its citizens particularly sensitive to events like Strauss-Kahn and the Schwarzenegger matters.
The civil rights movement forever changed the legal and social nature of relationships—relationships between races, between men and women and between cultures in America. In the centuries before the 20th, similar chauvinistic behavior was accepted in America. One famous farmer founded more than just a country; Thomas Jefferson sired several children with his housekeeper and slave, Sally Hemmings.
The legal abolition of slavery was not enough; the legal victories of the civil rights movement clearly delineated the behaviors expected of Americans of all sexes, races and cultures. The subsequent feminist movement squarely placed women in the workplace in professional capacities; positions above those of clerical and housekeeping. Like the civil rights movement, agitators legally challenged the status quo as it pertained to a woman’s personal and professional rights.
The events to follow will bear watching by all. The actions of the women involved –including the wives– will be based on current social mores. Those mores are based on the legal victories of the historical movements of the past century. Maybe things do change—we shall see.