Two and a half years ago, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) was on top of the world. A brilliant economist, he headed the IMF and was tipped to take on Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s 2012 presidential elections. But then an African chambermaid at a New York hotel accused him of sexual assault, and DSK’s comfy castle began crumbling. His heiress-journalist wife Anne Sinclair stood by him and paid for his sins—in cash and kind.
But when a big tree falls, the earth shakes—and hidden, inconvenient secrets get dislodged. And so the stories began to emerge from dark corners about DSK’s sexual peccadilloes: a French actress said he’d come on to her like a “randy monkey”, a journalist reported that DSK said he would give her an interview if she “spent the weekend with him”, a video showed him entering the hotel the night before the alleged attack with a blond banker, said to be a friend with benefits. If that wasn’t enough, the IMF chief was also implicated as a kingpin in a prostitution ring. The presidential dream faded faster than a shooting star. Sinclair—who’d held his hand through accusations of corruption in two political scandals and the chambermaid case—also let go.
As Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal has just shown us, DSK isn’t the only example of a powerful man to be caught with his fingers in the wrong pie. The cheating hall of shame is packed with five-star members. Last year, David Petraeus, director of the CIA, was caught having an affair with his biographer. Actor and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cheated on his Kennedy wife with their longtime housekeeper. Closer home, supercop KPS Gill was accused—and convicted—of sexually harassing an IAS officer at a party, while drunk. Technocrat Phaneesh Murthy, a “star, an outperformer, and sure shot CEO material” at work, has become known as something of a serial harasser, with three women, at different times, accusing him of misdemeanour.
Why the epidemic of idiocy? Why do successful men risk good lives, families and future to join grope capital? And how come successful women don’t get bitten by the same bug?
Science says it’s because a man gets a testosterone boost every time he succeeds in something. In other words, he gets a shot of the same chemical that ups his libido. With women, say the scientists, it’s more about achievement than entitlement. The intoxicated feeling that says, ‘I’m powerful! I’m successful’ tends to send males off to scout for something to celebrate their success. Sex is a heady avenue for that celebration. And after they’ve done it once, or twice, they’re hooked onto the taste of its aphrodisiacal powers. It doesn’t matter with whom, or where. They don’t need a cosmetic brand to tell them they’re worth it.
They probably also know that scandal rarely buries men like them. They get singed but never burn. And even if they do, they just rise from the ashes. Reinvention is the name of the game. Serbia has just signed on DSK as a government advisor; the former IMF chief has also been made president of an investment firm with operations in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Belgium, Israel and Romania. Petraeus has been embraced by academia, and teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, among other universities, and operates as chairman of an investment firm. Shakespeare wasn’t joking when he said ‘what’s past is prologue’.