Economists can’t be rapists? Hotel maids are lunatics?

In rushing to the defense of accused rapist and head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn, well-known conservative commentator Ben Stein has stooped to blatant classist stereotypes. His headline on the American Spectator website, “Presumed Innocent, Anyone?,” implies that he’s just asking for a fair trial before judgment – a reasonable point. But look at why he thinks Strauss-Kahn is probably innocent:

“In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes?”

What alternative universe does Stein live in? Hasn’t he noticed that men in powerful positions often abuse that power with inappropriate and sometimes coerced sex? Sexual assault is incredibly common, and the perpetrators have few commonalities, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Now some other accusations are coming out against Strauss-Kahn, suggesting that he might have been abusing his powerful position for years.

Next, in the oldest trick in the book, Stein starts undermining the credibility of the accuser, again using class stereotypes:

“I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker’s is serious business.”

Stein doesn’t know the accuser, and has no reason except for classism to connect her with someone who once stole from him. We are not responsible for the misdeeds of others who share our occupational title. Of course, even someone with mental illness (a “lunatic”) or someone convicted of theft still has the right to press charges after being raped.

And isn’t it telling that the maids he admires so much are the “uncomplaining” ones? Fortunately, hotel worker unions are making it possible for more valid complaints to be raised without retribution.

The hotel maid who has now testified before a New York grand jury about being raped is an immigrant from Guinea who lives with her daughter in an apartment complex for people with HIV. Rather than suggesting a “lunatic,” these sparse publicly known facts suggest someone vulnerable enough to want to avoid unnecessary trouble. Yes, fake accusations happen, but a more plausible guess is that a very, very brave woman has spoken up about a crime that many keep secret.

And then Stein presumes, absurdly, that class jealousy motivated the indictment and the public outcry against Strauss-Kahn:

“…this is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.”

Many of us, hearing allegations of a horrifying crime, cringe because we identify with the victims. Ben Stein has such strong loyalties to rich white men that he identifies with the accused. It’s common to see the elite closing ranks around one of their own, but it’s rare to see one of them admit it so openly.

(Thanks to Kim LaCapria of The Inquisitr for alerting me to Ben Stein’s classist rant.)

Betsy Leondar-Wright is Class Action’s Project Director. The most exciting part of the job is editing the Classism Exposed blog.

3 Responses

  1. Lena Rothman
    Lena Rothman

    “How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker’s is serious business.”

    One of the burdens of classism for the lower-classes is that we are never considered good enough. I know for myself, that was a constant theme running through my head. This is the kind of damage that is done and suffered by the poverty class. “Poor” is such a ladened term, just check in Webster’s dictionary! Eck!

    And of course, Strauss-Kahn and for those of his class, jail is “horrific” but I doubt that he thinks it’s horrific for the lower classes then it’s “just deserts.” And it’s really based on how much money and things you have. How does that make one a decent, loving, responsible human being?

    When I was 13 yrs old I was invited to my sister’s friends sister’s house for a sleepover, a pajama party, I didn’t know her but they invited me to a sleepover. When it came time for bed they were asking if anyone wanted to take a bath…I don’t remember, but I remember not wanting to take a bath because I would leave a dirty ring around the tub. This is damage.

    I’m not having an intellectual discussion but telling you the damage the emotional, psychic damage it does to people. This is not to play victim which now we are so easily called as a way to shut us up and out.

    “Putting a man in Riker’s is serious business.” What about putting a 14 yr old youth in Riker’s? I worked at a residential treatment center once (for 9 months) and teenagers 14 years old had come from Rikers. You know Strauss Kahn had a luxury suite probably with armed guards all smoking cigars together.

    Anyway, thanks for the blog Betsy.

    We all have baggage and hurt and shame. No one is a bigger victim but some of us are victimized for our differences.


  2. Thanks for writing this article Betsy, it’s reassuring to see an article that reveals the way in which the status of certain men engenders delusions of grandeur and superiority, closely followed by dehumanizing those they would wish to exploit. A common trick used to keep people down and in their place.

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