The Wrong Kind of Theory

02/05/2014 09:35 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2014
  • Jacques Attali Former top aide to French President Francois Mitterrand; Founding president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; President of PlaNet Finance

We have recently seen the most reactionary forces of the country unite to voice their concern that the French public school would have dared challenge the male/female stereotypes, with this being the source of the destruction of the family, and even, they say, provoking the destruction of the nation.

We have seen people believe the content of text messages (SMS) sent by fascist backrooms saying that the French Ministry of Education would advocate a supposedly « gender theory », and would teach masturbation in nursery classes. We have seen the supposedly serious media listen to the rumors saying that public sector schools would promote homosexuality and would expose children to homosexual people in order to cast doubt on their sexuality.

We have seen the left panic in the face of these attacks, say they are prepared to give up what they have always advocated for gender equality, recognize that the calumnies were truths and end up swearing blind that they were hostile to gender theory.

But gender theory (although this might not please some, even Ministers, who have used this term), does not exist; there are indeed gender studies, that explore the ways in which masculine and feminine have been thought about and constructed, in very different ways, in various civilizations of the world. However, no serious person, of the people on the ground on this issue, is pretending to infer a gender theory, that would claim the importance of its negation.

The alliance between the religious fundamentalists and the anti-Semitic extreme right-wing against state-owned schools, secular and republican, should not intimidate democrats. Teaching gender equality, does not encroach upon the prerogative of families, for it means tackling the root cause of women's submission to the ancestral power of men. Helping children understand what sexuality is and to admit that homosexuality is not a disgrace neither for adults, nor for themselves, (if one day they discover that it is their fate), this is not to miss out on the role of school, on the contrary, it means to fulfill it in the most Republican way possible. This confrontation is alarming because it brings to light the fact that democracies, eroded by unemployment and recession, no longer believe strongly enough in their own values, and that they no longer have the courage to carry on the old debate between equality and uniformity.

Those against equality go the extra mile to make it appear that it inevitably leads to uniformity. Old trick: those who want to retain their old privileges would always have one believe that their reconsideration will result in the ruin of one and all. And here those who aim to oppose the calling into question of the dominant position of men would have one believe that the very foundations of our societies would be destroyed.

It is therefore essential, if democracy is to be saved, not to let people believe in this wrong kind of theory, and not to bow to this intimidation.

Indeed, the equality between all human beings, not matter what their gender, is an unavoidable objective: everyone should have an equal right to success and freedom. On the other hand, uniformity is obviously a nightmare, as demonstrated by the failure of all totalitarian societies. And we should not trust, or be mislead into thinking that the pursuit of equality, through the reconsideration of privileges would inevitably lead to uniformity.

For example, women's demand for equality, who rightly want to get rid of their gender-specific servitudes, does not necessarily lead to a disappearance in gender differentiation; a little girl has the right to understand how her central role is too often reified as one of servitude, by the sole force of games and toys that are given to her; she has the right to learn to escape this situation. Likewise, a little boy has the right to love, and to engage in play, in games culturally and originally for little girls, without necessarily being called names by those around him. It is essential to ensure that it is possible to be equal and different.

Even more: the more equal people are, the more likely they are to choose their own paths, and therefore to become different. And the easier it will be to oppose the standardization of sexuality, that could arise from technological evolution.

Equality is the best source of diversity; this is the great advantage of democracy. However, in order to avail ourselves of that opportunity we must have the courage to defend it.

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