Most people barely know what exactly the International Monetary Fund does. At least here in Europe, it is seen as an institution that does “stuff”, related to banks? Economy? Corporations? The perception most people have of the IMF is, at best vague if not completely ignorant of its workings. It just doesn’t register much in the lives of ordinary folks.
Me? I cannot remember not knowing about the IMF. Because, you see, for those of us who hail from the South, the IMF is part of our pop culture narratives. It evokes nightmare scenarios involving people who lost the fruits of their lifetime labor, all their savings gone overnight due to new “adjustment packages” demanded by the IMF as a condition to renegotiate international debt. We all know someone who lost it all, including their homes, in one of these rounds of economic re-organizations. We all know (or have been victims ourselves) of the policies imposed by the IMF to approve a new line of credit for our countries, to accept delayed payments, to renegotiate interest rates. The visit of an IMF delegate can be the subject of headlines for weeks, months even. A negative rating or comment by such delegate can bring down governments. So actually, I do not remember ever not knowing the intricacies of how the IMF operates in our region.
(Flashbacks: My father, in his deathbed, worried because of possible fluctuations in dollar exchange rates as a result of IMF demands that would further deplete whatever little we had left at that point; Christmas of 2001, my mother unable to buy food because there was a revolution due to the population refusing to accept further IMF “adjustments”; me, at the other side of the world, unable to do anything that would help her buy said food due to the Argentinian banking system that collapsed and the impossibility of issuing international money transfers; my grandmother and her meager retirement pension, her life -and death, in almost poverty because the IMF demanded that pensions had to be reduced to cut deficit; the story of my life entangled with IMF interventions and poverty or wealth as a result).
Media is adept at grandiose metaphors. I am not saying anything novel here. They are also adept at metaphors that often can (and do) promote rhetoric violence. They like to bring out imagery that causes an impact. And sometimes, such metaphors enter pop culture and never leave. They become part of the mainstream discourse, unchallenged. So, I’ve been following the Strauss-Khan saga with a mixture of dread and, honestly, triggered emotions. Because, you see, ever since I can remember, I’ve seen the IMF associated with metaphors of sexual assault.
“The Raped Nation/ La Patria violada”. Again and again, South American media would use these metaphors to refer to the policies imposed by the IMF. Media, and more specifically, tabloid media, whose target demographics have always been the working class and the poor (who also happened to be the most affected by these policies) has been drawing on rape comparisons ever since I can remember. Our resources depleted, our children and youth deprived from basic healthcare and education as a result of policies that benefited the international financial industry (implemented with the complicit, necessary help of corrupt local government officials): every time, we would see headlines that portray our countries as women who have been assaulted, raped, stripped of their dignity.
And really, we should have a feminist Goodwin law to name this phenomenon because economic measures imposed by an institution that responds to international, neo-colonial financial interests do not equate rape or sexual assault. At least, until reality trumps bad tabloid metaphors and we come full circle. Because, as French sociologist Michel Fize by way of Le Monde (for those unfamiliar with French media, one of the most important newspapers in the country) reminds us (emphasis mine):
Whether or not Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty, it is unacceptable to treat a man in this way – first of all because he is a human being, and second because he was the general director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Listen to me well: like everyone, I believe in and am therefore committed to the principle of equality of all citizens in the eyes of the law. Nevertheless, I think that there are certain individuals (Mr. Strauss-Kahn is one of them) who, by reason of his or her distinguished responsibilities, or for the services they rendered to their nation or the world, have the right to a certain respect that would neither mean impunity from their acts nor a mitigation of their penalties.
The services rendered to their nation. And I really want to scream hyperbolic, over emotional one liners at this point. Because I can only think of the services of the poor in the South, whose lives are constantly cut short, whose dreams and expectations are anonymous and not worthy of the kind of money that can afford a Sofitel suite. A suite that hosted the most powerful man in the IMF and in which the body of a non metaphorical woman was possibly assaulted in non metaphorical ways. A woman who, by all accounts, also hails from the South. And who most likely would not be an economic migrant if it wasn’t for the policies imposed by the IMF. A woman who would not be part of “The Raped Nations” as the tabloid media of my childhood dubbed our countries.
The metaphor was terrible and in bad taste, but I certainly never expected that there would be a day when the IMF and rape allegations would actually be something that well respected sociologists and philosophers feel worthy of defending in public.