Let’s face it: an overwhelming number of the modern world’s greatest achievements have come from the United States. Behind all of those accomplishments are human beings, all of whom, presumably, have mothers and fathers. So I ask: If this is true, why are American parents — more specifically, American mothers — so insecure about the way they raise their children? Why are they so certain that somewhere else in the world, parents in other countries and cultures must be doing it better?
First it was Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” comparing American mothers unfavorably to their Chinese counterparts, and finding Americans terribly lacking when it comes to producing classical music virtuosos and getting kids accepted to Harvard. Chua made moms very existence did not revolve around schlepping children to study with the world’s top violinists, and drilling them in algebra and chemistry feel horribly lacking.
Now, after the mommy brigade has barely recovered from Chua-mania comes “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting” by Pamela Druckerman. The title alone turned my stomach with its implication that if French parenting is wise, the Americans version must clearly be unwise. The British publisher of the same book judiciously injected a little skeptical humor into the title, naming the book “French Children Don’t Throw Food” (because, really, would the British ever admit that the French possessed superior wisdom?)
The sexual assault case against the former I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn seems to have all but unraveled. The credibility of the hotel chambermaid who accused DSK of forcing her to perform oral sex and attempting to rape her has been called into question by the defense team, which says that the accuser has been inconsistent in her account of the alleged assault, spoke some damning words to her boyfriend after the incident, and lied on her asylum application. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is said to be considering dropping the case.
While we still don’t know what went on that afternoon — John Eligonin in The New York Times goes through three possible scenarios based on the evidence — we do know that DSK has a history of being a lothario and there is still something fishy about what happened in his luxury hotel suite, even if it wasn’t outright assault.
But the fact that there is a big chance DSK will walk away from these charges does not mean that this case has been a total loss for the way sexual violence is spoken about and acted upon overall.
The French public is wrestling with the arrest a man who sat proudly on the top of the ladder of prestige and privilege, who is supposed to represent their country to the world and bring it pride.
Instead, they are wallowing in the sordid details of his alleged sexual attack on a maid in a $3,000-a-night New York hotel room, and the possibility that he had previously taken advantage of his status and privileges to exploit women. The New York Times reports on the “soul-searching” taking place among the French:
The arrest in New York of one of France’s leading global figures and a possible next president, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges of attempted rape produced an earthquake of shock, outrage, disbelief and embarrassment throughout France.
That description sounds very familiar to Israelis, who have been carrying around that particular cocktail for several years now, when the rape charges against former President Moshe Katsav were first announced in 2007.
The burqa ban went into effect in France this week, and feminists are torn about what this means for women, religion and freedom.
On one hand is the oppressiveness of enforced, excessive female body cover in the name of religion. Islamic custom, not unlike Jewish custom, has historically placed supreme emphasis on covering the female body as a sign of piety. Whether or not layers upon layers of fabric bring about closeness to God is less of an issue than the extreme gender disparities involved. The picture of Muslim couples walking down the street in the Middle East heat, for example, in which the men are wearing whatever they please — jeans, shorts, tank-tops, flip-flops, whatever — while the women with them are in long black robes (often walking paces behind), is a living, visceral illustration of absolute gender discrimination. Add to this the fact that men are making all the rules, and female powerlessness becomes readily apparent. And add to all this the underlying rationales, which are filled with rhetoric of wife-ownership, distrust of women and outright misogyny, and it becomes abundantly clear why the burqa and all other Muslim customs of women’s body cover are bad for women.
A recent front-page article in The New York Times looks at how civil unions are gaining on marriage as the preferred method of commitment for heterosexual couples in France. (For homosexual couples, it is their only choice) The pacte civil de solidarité, known as PACS, have become increasingly common over the last 10 years with heterosexual couples, who made up 95% of the 173,045 registered civil unions in 2009.
Some of the couples explain their choice as a generational thing, explaining that marriage, and divorce, was for their parents. They think of marriage as being “very institutional, very square and religious” and that civil unions feel freer. This is despite the fact, as the story reports, that French marriage ceremonies are held in town halls with no religious aspect to them.
Though this dislike for marriage doesn’t seem to be stopping them from taking part in a number of traditions long associated with marriage.
It long ago became common here to speak of “getting PACSed” (se pacser, in French). More recently, wedding fairs have been renamed to include the PACS, department stores now offer PACS gift registries and travel agencies offer PACS honeymoon packages.
The veil worn by some Muslim women has emerged as a potent hybrid symbol in Europe. And the question of whether or not it should be worn has sparked debates about everything from feminism to religion, democracy, freedom, immigration and assimilation. Belgium recently passed a law banning full-face veils, France has a similar law in the works, and Italy and the Netherlands are considering one, too. (For a good explanation on the different types of veils worn by Muslim women the BBC has a great slideshow here.)
On one side, the ban is seen as way to encourage democracy and equality among Europe’s Muslim immigrants, and to protect women’s rights. In the Wall Street Journal op-ed, Peter Berkowitz wrote:
Freedom is in special jeopardy when a substantial segment of the population embraces a way of life that fails to cultivate the virtues of freedom while teaching disdain for freedom’s practices and principles. In France as throughout Western Europe, the full veil, along with cousin-marriage, polygamy and sexual violence contribute to a culture that secludes women and creates sizable barriers to assimilation.
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