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.
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.