France firmly in the American camp
Hollande was on an official state visit to the United States 10-12 February. Sarkozy was much ridiculed and pitied. When he went to Washington it was only for a ‘working visit’. But Hollande has been an even better servant on the world stage. “Thank you, François, for your role on the world stage”, said Obama in his welcome. France was ready in September 2013 to launch air strikes in Syria as Obama was trying to rally support, making the country one of a few foreign allies to back the U.S. plan after Britain’s parliament voted against it. Hollande assured Obama the two countries were together on Iran and on Syria.
While in America, Hollande made his speeches in French, after an introduction in English; he explained he was obliged to do it: “I am obliged to do it, for my country”, he said. The Toubon law makes use of French compulsory in a range of circumstances, and Hollande seems to be apologising for the existence of this law.
France unofficial envoy in Ukraine
France’s unofficial envoy in all trouble spots, Bernard Henri-Levy, has visited Kiev; he saw no trace of anti-semitism there. France is helping to create disaster and is playing the same inglorious role as before in similar circumstances.
On social issues France is also regrettably catching up with the US. This time it’s ‘gender theory’, the English word being often used in France in this context, introduced in nursery and primary school as an ‘experiment’. But things are not going as smoothly as they might, because the changes are clearly politically led by the socialist government and are intended to go beyond the question of stereotypes in textbooks.
In 2011, under Sarkozy and his Education minister Luc Chatel, science textbooks for 17 year olds introduced ‘gender studies’, the idea that biological differences are not enough to make a man or a woman, but social norms contribute greatly to their development as men or women; in what way and to what extent these norms contribute being the subject of the studies in question.
From autumn 2013, under Hollande and his Education minister Vincent Peillon, gender studies are put into practice in nursery and primary schools in a year long experiment in selected regions. It is a way of teaching the whole curriculum through the theme of ‘what does this say about differences between men and women?’ For example, in art appreciation, pupils study the picture of Louis XIV wearing fur and red high heels: look, men wear high heels! Reading stories of princes and princesses, pupils are asked if the princess could not choose the prince instead of being chosen, etc. They are given books to read like “The princess who didn’t like princes.”
The minister was filmed for the news in a classroom of 6 year olds; the minister for women’s rights also present told the children that they could play any game they liked: girls can play at war, she said, and they could do any job in the future. One sweet little girl said that she sometimes played with cars with her brother. Poor little girl! In her eagerness to please, she had it completely wrong. The rationale of gender studies in schools is that women are still as numerous as men in top positions. Being sweetly obedient is presumably not how you get to top positions.
Finding the way to the board-room is the justification for this new pedagogy: after all the efforts of equal rights legislation women are still not at the top in politics, finance and industry. This is due to how they are brought up at home, goes the theory. School is going to remedy this. As Peillon said, children must be freed from the determinism of family and background.
A male teacher in the same film said that he noticed that boys take up more space in the playground than girls: we will have to do something about that, he said. Will he cordon off the playground so the boys can’t play football, and the girls can chat in a big empty space? Poor teachers!
Parents against school
Some parents very much object to this experiment in social engineering, and they have organised a boycott of school starting this January. This boycott was, according to Le Monde, ‘worryingly successful”.
The movement is called Journée de Retrait de l’Ecole (JRE, day of withdrawal from school). Local groups decide on one day a month when parents will take their children away, without telling the school in advance. Parents use the internet and Facebook to organise.
Insults fly back and forth. Those opposed to social engineering in schools are right wing, Catholic, backward, anti-republican, anti-semitic etc. Those in favour are disturbing the children’s development and encouraging them to become homosexual; this amount to abuse etc.
The government was caught unprepared by the strong reaction of many parents; they immediately accused the parents of hysterical over-reaction: ‘all we want is that text-books stop showing little girls in pink counting sweets and little boys in blue counting marbles’ said a spokesperson. But if that was all there was to it, would it require an ‘experiment’ in a limited number of schools?
The dispute takes place outside the political system: parties are not involved. The UMP (the opposition to the socialist party) condemned the ‘Withdraw from school day’ movement, even if some of its members do not condemn the ideas behind the boycott. The left seem absolutely unable to comment sensibly on this. If anyone left leaning wanted to oppose this government initiative, they would have nowhere to go, except these ad hoc movements which are solidly labelled ‘reactionary’ by the bien-pensant media.
A new law on the family was due to be voted in April; the government has now changed its mind, and it won’t be discussed this year at all. It was going to be about rights for step-parents, compulsory mediation in case of divorce, etc, but the Greens had made clear their intention to present amendments on medically assisted procreation for lesbian couples and on surrogate motherhood, and Hollande could not risk the further unrest in the country that would inevitably follow discussion of these topics.
Le Tea Party?
The anti same-sex marriage movement, la Manif Pour Tous, (Demo For All) organised two well attended marches in Paris and Lyon Sunday 2 February, against the government’s ‘familyphobia’; about 300 000 marched in Paris. The new family law was withdrawn two days later, a victory for the movement.
The Guardian (3 Feb 14) had an article: “’Le Tea party’ forms in France as far-right protests grow” “Conservatives rally against supposed threats to the family amid echoes of the 1930s”.
The article quotes the Interior Minister Manuel Valls: ‘these demonstrators are anti-elite, anti-state, anti-parliament […] but also and above all anti-Semites, racists and homophobes. Put simply they are anti-republicans.”
If you read to the end of the article however, you find information that contradicts the lurid title. A young demonstrator is quoted as follows:
‘This government has nothing but contempt for us. We are not traditional, old, French Catholics; we are young, and we want to be heard.’ The large photo of part of the demonstration shows a good humoured French Revolution scene: young women in Phrygian caps (as worn by Marianne, ie the Republic) and sashes with the names of the provinces, and cute children in urchin costumes, a la Les Misérables.
The Guardian does not say so, but this photo shows members of a group called “Les Gavroches”, who take as an inspiration the great painting by Delacroix “Freedom leading the People” which glorifies the French Revolution, together with a group called les Mariannes, Marianne being the personification of the Republic. But the demonstrators can claim their allegiance to the Republic all they like, they will be portrayed as ‘the extreme right, with echoes of the 1930s’ by Valls and the Guardian; the government has no arguments, only divisive labels. And the Guardian follows suit, for the sake of a titillating headline.