Terms like “gender theory” or “sex education” are regularly brandished in public debate, like the polemicist Eric Zemmour who denounces the “indoctrination” of children. But what do these words mean? La Dépêche summarizes these terms to better understand them.
The debate around what the French school really teaches on questions of gender and sex has rebounded frequently for several years. Latest example with a controversy launched by Eric Zemmour, denouncing an alleged propaganda intended to “indoctrinate children”, in particular on gender issues, at school, as told The Parisian. To see more clearly, The Dispatch offers a decryption of the most common terms related to this debate, as well as the positions of National Education on the subject.
Sex education: an objective of the ministry
Sex education has been a legal obligation since 2001: article L312-16 explains that “information and education on sexuality are provided in schools, colleges and high schools at the rate of at least three annual sessions”, aimed at “learning the respect due to the human body and raising awareness sexist or sexual violence as well as female genital mutilation”.
According to Ministry of Educationthese education sessions are distributed in a variable way during primary school, depending on the means available and are managed by the teachers themselves. In college and high school, three annual sessions are planned, and organized by a panel of volunteers who may be teachers, nurses or even principal education advisers.
The objectives of these lessons are education around issues related to sexuality, risk prevention and the promotion of equality between men and women, as explained in a sheet dedicated to these lessons on Eduscol, the ministry’s information site. Issues such as early pregnancy, contraception, sexually transmitted infections (including AIDS) and also the risks associated with the Internet are thus addressed. All while offering objective, scientific and adapted information, favoring exchanges between students, putting
“Gender theory”: a controversial term
Some controversies suggest that a “gender theory” would be taught in class. To understand this term, we must first mention “gender studies”: these, in a constructivist approach, study the question of the origins of gender, thought of not as a consequence of biological evolution, but as a social construction. These studies make the distinction between sex (the characteristics of men and women from a biological point of view) and gender (social construction imposed according to sex) according to works inspired by the thought of Margaret Mead, the first to make this distinction. It is the famous “We are not born a woman, we become it”, by Simone de Beauvoir, who posits that on the basis of the biological differences between a female and male body, we have over time developed an opposition of roles in society (girls having to play with dolls and boys with cars).
The term “gender theory” was introduced by opponents of these gender studies. They proclaim the idea that this movement is, on the one hand, a theory – deprived according to them of scientific consensus – and on the other, that it has a political objective.
This “gender theory” is not recognized by National Education. No official text or circular refers to it. This was reaffirmed by Pap Ndiaye, the current Minister of National Education, this Monday, September 12 on franceinfo in response to Eric Zemmour’s questioning: “Sex education has nothing to do with gender theory […] it’s about obeying the law [qui rend l’éducation à la sexualité obligatoire]”said the minister.
“Gender stereotypes”: a designated adversary
If “gender theory” is not taught at school, children are on the other hand made aware of the fight against “gender stereotypes”.
This term designates, according to the High Commissioner for Human Rights“a generalized opinion or prejudice about the attributes or characteristics that women and men have or should have and the roles that they play or should play.“ For example, thinking that boys can’t wear pink or that women are in charge of the kitchen in a household are gender stereotypes.
Fighting against these stereotypes is an objective of the Ministry of National Education, one of the missions of sex education being to promote equality between men and women. It is also a question of getting students to discuss and learn about the fight against sexist and sexual violence, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, which are contrary to human rights.