Belfast Telegraph

Mary Kenny: Au revoir to mum and dad? Why French equality lobby's effort to eradicate parental titles will fail

Controversial issue: a family on a day out
Controversial issue: a family on a day out
Valerie Petit

By Mary Kenny

Would it be a good idea to re-name 'Mother' and 'Father' as 'Parent 1' and 'Parent 2'? The French have been having this debate for a while now. And it's been voted through parliament, on first reading, that the national education system should delete 'Mother' and 'Father' in all official documentation, substituting gender-neutral words instead.

It's an innovation that was first proposed in Justin Trudeau's Canada and it has arisen in legal language in Britain too. Valerie Petit, the French deputy who brought forward the amendment, claims that the change is so that "no one should feel excluded from this society by backward thinking".

The leader of the Association des Familles Homoparentales in France, Alexandre Urwicz, says that gender-neutral terms will signal more respect for same-sex parents and "allow our families to be included in forms that previously did not allow it".

Some of this gender-neutral language is well-meant, reaching for the kindly notion of inclusivity - and equality - for all. But some of it stems from an ideological war against nature which is part of gender theory. This is the claim that differences between males and females are "socially constructed" and not based on biology.

It's a theory that would make no sense to anyone involved in animal husbandry - or the world of the turf, where the dam and the sire of any racing equine are a matter of the most careful biological attention in the record books. But most people now are not living in the reality of the natural world, and to some, like perhaps Valerie Petit, that reality is "backward", despite its Darwinian lineage.

There is another incongruity, too, in wanting to extinguish the concept of 'mother' so as not to offend same-sex couples. Gay men are often among the most devoted sons to their mothers. Read the diaries of Noel Coward, and observe the intense attachment that he had to his mother. Similarly with the playwright Terence Rattigan, the renowned gay playwright, told all kinds of fibs to spare his mother emotional pain. When couturier Karl Lagerfeld died recently it was said that his mother had been the only true love of his life.

We older women often benefit from respect and affection from gay men because we may remind them of their mothers or because older women can be mother-figures (whether or not they are actual mothers). Walk into a room full of men, as an older woman, and the straight guys don't even look from their screens; it's the gay guy who comes forward to engage with you.

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I believe this is because they are easier with older women, since they've been close to their mothers. So it seems an odd idea that all gay people would want to banish the word 'mother' - even leaving 'father' aside - from the vocabulary.

Let's give the 'Parent 1/Parent 2' advocates the benefit of the doubt and accept that they are just seeking to establish a broader definition of equality, going beyond the issue of same-sex couples. Maybe they want to correct some of the more rigid lines of the patriarchal family, which remained prevalent in Latin societies over many centuries (strongly held by Napoleon, author of France's civil code).

Maybe some feminists feel that motherhood has been over-sentimentalised and over-idealised, especially within Christianity, where the mother and child is, literally, such a dominant religious icon.

Parenthood today is achieved by many different means: through donor sperm, surrogacy, egg-donation and adoption (see the movie Instant Family about fostering and adoption by parents of all varieties).

And then there is the 'blended' or 'reconstituted' family, which mixes hers, his, theirs and kids from other relationships.

In view of all these changes, maybe 'mother' and 'father' simply could do with an update?

Not so easy. The French instigators of the 'Parent 1' and 'Parent 2' proposal have encountered some robust opposition.

Madame Petit does not have the backing of President Emmanuel Macron, nor that of the Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, who has said that the 'Parent 1/Parent 2' lobby has over-reached itself. And it is improbable that the senate will pass it, for the moment anyhow.

There is also an interesting objection raised by the philosopher and founder of the Hannah Arendt Research Institute, Chantal Delsol: "'Parent 2' is itself a discriminatory term. If I must call myself 'Parent 2', doesn't that mean that I am subordinate, less important, and finally, a domestic servant?" The evident implication is that 'Parent 1' is top dog and that is blatantly an offence against equality.

Most younger parents are more inclined to share family roles, which is great. But the equality reformers wanting to eradicate all differences between Ma and Pa are in a similar position to those secularists who have tried to banish Christmas.

There's a case for re-naming the December saturnalia as 'Winterval' or 'Happy Holiday Time'. But the brand has proved itself too big to bring down. 'Mother' and 'Father', 'Mum' and 'Dad' are like Christmas: the brand is so deeply embedded in our consciousness that no mere law is going to change it any time soon.

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