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France's 'boys will be boys' mentality challenges gender equality

The French may duly proclaim and agree with gender equality and modern feminist notions. But in practice, those ideas run up against a powerful, culturally sanctioned 'old-boy mentality.'

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Former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves his apartment in Paris last month. After being accused of sexually assaulting a New York City hotel maid in 2011, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was the beneficiary of a fiercely protective response from members of France's elites.

Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters/File

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The flip side of feminism in France is a very flip attitude that being macho is an excuse that rightly covers many sins.

The French may duly proclaim and agree with gender equality and modern feminist notions. But in practice, those ideas run up against a powerful, culturally sanctioned "old-boy mentality" in Paris – an attitude, often held among power elites of both sexes, that "boys will be boys."

When French politician and former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in 2011 on charges of raping a New York hotel maid, he immediately benefited from a powerful media defense in France, with leading intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Levy speaking out on his behalf.

And the defense of Mr. Strauss-Kahn echoed that which filmmaker Roman Polanski received in 2009. When Mr. Polanski, a French citizen, was detained in Switzerland for possible extradition to California on sexual misconduct charges dating from the 1970s, French elites – including the foreign minister and the minister of culture – took up for him.

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