Letter From Paris

Mugging the Family

Resistance to indoctrination in French education.

By From the April 2014 issue

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France’s pseudo-bolshevikian government has discovered a new problem in urgent need of a socialist solution: what to do about women. In the land where influential dames, if not dames,have for centuries dominated their menfolk beyond the wildest dreams of American feminists, where medieval knights were on their knees before their lady-loves while kings doted on their maîtress en titre, where today’s president, François Hollande, compromises his country’s reputation and his own authority by succumbing to an irresistible yen for a new mistress, this may seem paradoxical to say the least. Surely in France, of all places, woman’s role has been defined to the satisfaction of all, and especially the femmes themselves. 

Mais non! The awful reality, according to France’s aggressive minister of women’s rights, the redoubtable, Moroccan-born Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, is that les françaises are the victims of vicious gender stereotyping by a male-dominated patriarchal society. To prove her point she can cite a new study by her colleagues at the notoriously leftist education ministry—French educationists yield to no one, not even their most liberal American counterparts, in political correctness—that concludes boys get preferential treatment at school. Not only that, but archaic teaching manuals and classroom instruction surreptitiously reinforce gender stereotypes, inculcating the pernicious notion that men go out and conquer the world while women stay home and raise children. Wasn’t it that great French feminist Simone de Beauvoir who argued in her bestselling book, The Second Sex, that “One is not born a woman, but becomes one”? For that matter, didn’t the Davos Economic Forum rank France 45th in gender equality, behind Britain, Venezuela and, mon Dieu, the Kyrgyz Republic?

No matter that a wag like the quintuply-wed playwright Sacha Guitry once cracked, “I would gladly admit that women are our superiors, if only they would stop pretending to be our equals.” This is no time for such flippancy. So Vallaud-Belkacem, a.k.a. Khmer Rose to her critics, abetted by the education minister Vincent Peillon (“We must free children from all forms of determinism”), pushed through a new law entitled “For real equality between women and men.” Among other uplifting measures, it provides for compulsory equal pay for men and women; employers will be inspected, and could be forced by law to raise a women’s salary or lower a man’s to ensure fairness.

Among its many radical measures the new law dictates news policy to France’s radio and TV stations. They must, it says, “contribute to the struggle against sexist prejudice” with appropriate programming. To further that goal, journalism schools must create brainwashing new courses on gender equality. To counter the reactionary bourgeois notion that feminine attractiveness is important, girls under 16 will be banned from taking part in beauty pageants. Unless they specifically request the right to use their husband’s name, married women will be addressed by their maiden name in official correspondence. All in all, brags the minister, the law “will become the third generation of equality legislation after women were given the right to vote in 1944 and abortion was legalized in 1975.” (Pity that a law that purports to protect women says nothing about their exploitation in online pornography.)

But the underlying, unstated purpose of this exemplary bit of social engineering is nothing less than the annihilation of the traditional family. Obviously that would not be complete without the forcible indoctrination of children to separate them from their parents and their outdated ideas. After all, it was this government’s great socialist mentor, V.I. Lenin himself, who claimed, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” With this in mind, the government, ever eager to please its faithful homosexual lobby, published new guidelines for teachers grandly entitled “The ABC’s of equality.” 

The program is designed explicitly to “deconstruct gender stereotypes” and “transmit, beginning at the earliest age, a culture of equality and respect between girls and boys.” Among other tools for creating the New French Woman, it includes books and workshops—led by energetic recruiters from the gay, lesbian, bi- and transsexual movement—for elementary school pupils ages six to eleven. The ultimate goal of this propaganda posing as education: to ensure, whatever their parents may say, that French children believe there is no predetermined social role for males and females. They can be anything they like—up to and including, of course, deciding for themselves whether they are male or female on any given day. Or, as Vallaud-Belkacem eloquently puts it, “the sexual identity of individuals is determined as much by their socio-cultural context as by biology.”

Besides corresponding to the socialist ideal of state control of private life, such ideas are being imported wholesale from America. Gender studies, badly translated in France as théorie du genre (genre means type or sort of something and has nothing to do with sexual characteristics), have been belatedly adopted by French feminists. Now they are being seized upon by President François Hollande’s administration for its own political purposes. The result is that many French educationists see nefarious sexism everywhere. That can include even French grammar. Just think: The rules of grammar in Latin languages refer constantly to masculine and feminine nouns, which is already bad enough, but in French when the two appear in the same sentence, adjectives must adopt the masculine form. A glaring example of overbearing male domination!

Changing the French language to reflect the reality of the New French Woman may take a while. But in the interim, the education ministry is doing its best to eradicate incorrect ideas at the earliest possible age and replace them with politically acceptable ones. One valuable instrument is the list of recommended books distributed by the National Center for Pedagogical Documentation. It recommends, for example, a little storybook for elementary school pupils entitled Daddy Wears a Dress. It tells of a papa who is a boxer by trade, but who has to stop boxing for health reasons and—what else?—becomes a ballet dancer. Occasionally he dances women’s roles and wears a tutu, despite occasional jeers by the ignorant and unreconstructed. How better to illustrate that sexual stereotypes are silly?

Then there is the story Jean Has Two Mamas. One of them, the character Jean explains to six-year-olds, carried him in her tummy, while the other does the household chores. Just the thing to teach the little ones that homosexual marriage is quite as normal as the old-fashioned kind with a father and mother. Another text, designed to overcome the strong anti-homosexual views of France’s Muslim community, is Mehdi Wears Lipstick, about an effeminate boy who does just that. The author’s other work is an autobiography titled Transvestite, which qualifies him handsomely to instruct French children of a tender age. 

The campaign to skew social roles and sow confusion among the young over sexual identity uses not only books, but whatever else can be thrown into the mix. Take classical painting. French elementary school teachers can spend hours expatiating on how men and women have been portrayed in different ways over the centuries. Particularly noteworthy is an eighteenth-century portrait of Louis XIV. It shows the king revealing a nicely turned leg and wearing—get this, kiddies—red high heels! Still, it might not be as effective a lesson in sexual ambiguity as a 2011 French film called Tomboy. In it a ten-year-old girl moves with her parents to a new town and, with her short hair, passes herself off as a garçon. One of her little playmates falls in love with her, they get to explicit petting, and, well, you get the point. In case you didn’t, the film’s writer/director explains, “It plays with the confusion [over sexual roles]. I wanted it that way.” French educators do too. The film is shown in elementary schools in the guise of a cinema appreciation course.

This latest assault on French family values comes in the wake of the Hollande administration’s success in ramming through a same-sex “marriage for all” law last year, despite opposition by an angry minority of French conservatives. Then, as now, the government claimed such social legislation is a non-negotiable question of equal rights, “a social evolution that benefits society as a whole.” But with many French rejecting such soft totalitarianism, the government is running up against an unprecedented ad hoc coalition of Catholics, the political right wing, and even devout Muslims. In street demonstrations last winter, they charged politicians with trying to destroy the traditional family model. A leading conservative lawmaker articulated their position: “We affirm loudly and strongly that it’s better for a child to have a father and a mother, and all family models are not equal.…It’s a question of the interests of a child—and the future of society.”

That kind of muscular resistance may yet save the French family from some of the government’s more radical programs. One such is a proposed new law designed to force French families to, in government parlance, “change with the times.” It is deliberately ambiguous, but leaves open the possibility of legal, state-funded artificial insemination for lesbians and surrogate motherhood for homosexual couples. Following mass demonstrations in Paris and other major cities, Hollande, vacillating as usual, did an abrupt about-face and announced the bill would be withdrawn for further work. His sexually liberal constituents and more fanatical cabinet members were disappointed but not deterred. “I’m not worried,” said the militant minister of justice. “That bill will be back.” 

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About the Author

Joseph A. Harriss is The American Spectator's Paris correspondent. His latest book, An American Spectator in Paris, was released this fall.