Evert’s comment: France has difficulty in introducing the “new man”

Demonstration against violence against women in France. Photo AFP, Loic Venance

“We must call Daddy; he will chase the thief away!” This statement appears in a French video. The French high advisory body for equality (Haute Conseil à l'Égalité, HCE) finds such a statement worrying because it confirms stereotyping.

In its yearly report, the French HCE complains about the state of sexism in the country. According to this equality body, the state of affairs is very concerning, and there is much work. And this work is to be done by the state, to be precise. The state is there to reform you and me.

Back to: We have to call Daddy! As a father of daughters, I find such an exclamation from a child fantastic. There is little harm in it. On the contrary, the child expresses confidence in you as a father. And at the same time, the child appeals to you for protection: Of you go, sir, somebody needs you!

But the French HCE finds it worrying. Such statements occur too often in videos about family life. Videos in which men and boys have a typical masculine role in nice suits. And in which women are usually mothers, busy at home. At a young age already, girls are directed toward motherhood. That is stigmatising, according to the advisory body.

At a later age, these stereotypes are a significant cause of violence against women. Because men expect from these women that they become mothers, do the cooking and are available for sex at all times.

The headlines about this annual report, therefore, sounded alarming. “The French are falling back into traditional gender roles.” And: “Sexism is still common.” If you don’t believe this is true, please click on the report and read it yourself. Translation software can help to disclose the French.

Breadwinners

The message from the equality body in Paris might be common internationally. You hear this in other countries too from governmental sources. And the media –who have the task of challenging the powers– support this and do not speak against it. However, the French HCE says it all very sharply.

It is striking, however, that the French population apparently does not go along with this new thinking. On the contrary, stereotypical views are increasing again among young people (25-34 years): women want to have children, and men want to be sporty breadwinners. Anyone who thought the hashtag #tradwife only applied to traditional American women turns out to be wrong.

The report shows that the council is surprised about this and does not really understand it. Again and again, you read in the report that men and women are “still” thinking this and that. In other words, we would have expected this new generation to be more enlightened. For this advisory council, it is clear that the tradition is a threat to progress.

The French council calls for “deconstruction”. As far as I know, this is a typical word of French philosophers, which means breaking down delusions. Of course, delusions exist. But as long as you approach age-old ideas about the sexes as delusions, be prepared for disappointment. Deconstruction is not something you can manage and achieve at all. Even not in the Soviet Union, let alone in a free society.

It is interesting to see the place where the HCE locates the sexist fabric. The report opens with this very sentence: “Sexism starts at home, continues at school and explodes online.” The problem lies precisely in the “three most powerful breeding grounds of society.”

In a way, I find the report still quite sexist. It is written from a negative view of men towards women. Of course, many men have harmed women, undoubtedly much more than the other way around. But the basic idea of this report is that men are dangerous, and you cannot trust them. The foundation is that men and women are competitors.

The Christian tradition is much more helpful here because it works from the starting point that male and female are complementary. The report rejects complementarity as just another form of gender roles and stereotyping. However, I still find it a helpful concept: Together, we are called on this earth to do our work; together, we raise a family; together, we are created in God’s image. And, of course, men and women have natural differences. Because of those differences, I understand a boy calling for Daddy if a thief is in the house. The father is there for protection – nothing wrong with that.

Interfere

The French council was founded in 2013 to combat sexual violence against women. That is a noble goal. Civilised states have been committed to this for centuries. The question, however, is whether “deconstruction” is necessary for this. After all, the council calls on the government to educate people. The state cannot interfere in family life and upbringing but has a big say in the school. The HCE report, therefore, has concrete recommendations in that area. It has ambitions in the digital field, too.

The refreshing is that the report is quite critical towards pornography. Not because sexuality is in its nature intimate, whilst pornography makes it banal, but because it leads to wrong expectations and violence against women. The council could have written more against pornography than the one page, but fine. However, it is a missed opportunity that the report keeps silent about prostitution. We know this is an area that makes money out of violence against women.

In the centuries before the French Revolution, the state mainly existed to maintain the roads and protect general safety. For norms and values, you had the church and the associated school. Those values were passed on in families; that was no state business at all. Of course, the reality was less beautiful, but this was more or less the model.

In the meantime, we have been freed from the church’s many (tiny) rules. But now, the state suddenly comes up with a plan to train us. Even more, the state wants to liberate us from our self-chosen immaturity of stereotypical gender roles. Is it the state’s task to do this? And is it in the state’s power to do this?

I have nothing a state combatting bad behaviour. The government has a task to discourage smoking (although even that battle proves difficult to win). But in this report, the equality body calls for a deconstruction to introduce no less than an entirely “new person”. In the past, we have seen that the creation of the “New Soviet Man” was a failure. And therefore, I believe that the introduction of this New French Man will also end in a fiasco.

Chain

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