$9.6 Million for Casanova's Memoirs? Why Are the French Still Impressed With Sexual Cads?
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When DSK was first arrested, his defenders—including a majority of the French media—were appalled by the sight of his perp walk. But even more so, they scoffed at the idea that he could have actually assaulted anyone, and brought up his international reputation as a man who loved women, and who had cheated on his longtime wife, Anne Sinclair, with impunity. (The latest development in the Casanova tale: she was recently chosen as woman of the year by French smart-woman magazine Terrafemina.) In September, after the sexual assault charges against him were swept clean after a long and protracted media attack on the character of DSK’s alleged victim, the former IMF head apologized—for what he called his own “moral fault.”
The prologue to Casanova’s memoirs:
“I begin by declaring to my reader that, by everything good or bad that I have done throughout my life, I am sure that I have earned merit or incurred guilt, and that hence I must consider myself a free agent. … Despite an excellent moral foundation, the inevitable fruit of the divine principles which were rooted in my heart, I was all my life the victim of my senses; I have delighted in going astray and I have constantly lived in error, with no other consolation than that of knowing I have erred. … My follies are the follies of youth. You will see that I laugh at them, and if you are kind you will laugh at them with me.”
The flipside to victim blaming is the elevation of uncontrollable male desire over all else—it rewards the idea that men are not only unable to control themselves, but that sexual power belongs entirely to the man (the seducer) unless it doesn’t (the man wrought helpless by feminine wiles). Casanova may have been an eloquent writer, a fascinating traveler, a skilled lover. But sleeping with so many women does not make him a hero. When the crowds flock to the exhibit at the French National Museum next month, let’s hope they remember it.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.