C’est la Guerre…La Guerre Culturale

We hear it from time to time.  Scientists claim that only America suffers from widespread creationism.  Hip liberals fume that only America puts prudes and fogies in political office.  America’s culture wars seem to be uniquely American.  Or are they?

We read in The Economist about a recent education culture-war in France that seems as American as apple pie.  It seems France—the land of laid-back attitudes about sex and uptight attitudes about food—has more in common with the US of A than some people might like to admit.

The recent flap follows the American pattern.  A new curriculum has riled cultural conservatives.  The new school materials, ABCD of Equality, hoped to instill ideas of gender equality in young people at a young age.  Books in the series, including “Jean Has Two Mummies” and “Daddy Wears a Dress,” hoped to teach students that gender and sexuality do not need hard-and-fast boundaries.  As often happens in this country’s culture-war politics, the book that sparked the most outrage was not even officially part of the curriculum, but rather part of a list of suggested additional picture-books on an affiliated website.  That book, “Everybody Naked!” showed page after page of, well, just what the title suggests.

Everybody Naked!

Everybody Naked!

In France, according to the Economist essay, a coalition of cultural conservatives objected.  Objections to the book series unite Catholic and Muslim traditionalists.  One conservative activist warned that such books represent a government attempt to “re-educate our children,” to make them doubt their religion and experiment with their gender and sexuality.  In clear echoes of West Virginia, conservatives called for a school boycott until the books were removed.  And, just as Patricia Polacco’s books have put mild-mannered librarians on the front lines of America’s culture wars, French conservatives have applied pressure on libraries to remove the offensive titles.

Of course, no two culture wars are exactly the same.  I doubt, for example, that any American sex educator would even suggest “Everybody Naked” for America’s elementary schools.  But in its broad contours, the kerfuffle in France demonstrates the international nature of culture-war politics.


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  1. From time immemorial, some folk have been looking back to “the good old days.” And others have been looking forward to a future that they can invent.

    What has changed, is that we have more time on our hands. You could not afford to spend much time on the culture wars when the cows needed to be milked, the garden needed to be cultivated, and those damned mosquitos were biting.

  2. Honestly I can’t think of a better way to start an actual conversation about healthy sexuality then to show kids pictures of everybody naked. What a great way to normalize and demystify the human body; no reason to treat it as something super secret and/or dirty.

    Seriously, though – whatever you want to teach your kids about sex, teach it to them BEFORE the schools do. And then it won’t be such a big deal what they learn in school because, hey, you’ve beaten them to the punch.

  1. If You Don’t Teach about It, Will It Go Away? | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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