Over the past few weeks, French booksellers and publishers have been getting naked. Why, you may ask. Well, it’s all to do with a children’s book that sought to end the stigma around being in the buff and the conservative backlash it has provoked.
The book, called “Tous à Poil” or “All Naked,” is a children’s picture book which depicts several characters getting undressed and then taking a dive into the sea. The cast of characters in the book come from all walks of life, including a school teacher and a policeman. This is deliberate as the authors, Claire Franek and Marc Daniau, purposefully wanted to attack the broad stigma surrounding being naked and the naked body.
They are quoted by the Guardian as saying: “If you think about it, whether you’re a baby, a doctor or a baker … we all have buttocks, a tummy button, genitals and even moles. With this book, we therefore decided to take an uninhibited look at nudity.”
The authors also say that they wanted to show a variety of regular looking bodies in order to act as a counterbalance against the numerous images in the media that are routinely cosmetically or digitally altered.
The book’s subject matter might seem unarguably empowering, but conservatives in France’s center-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party say they are outraged by the book because of its “graphic” nudity. President of the party John Francis Copé went on television last month lamenting the book as degrading and potentially damaging to children, saying it shouldn’t be part of school curricula. There’s just one problem: while the book is on the suggested reading list in many schools, it is not mandatory and no parent has been forced to make their child sit down and read the book.
Nevertheless, Copé’s party has made no secret of its mission to fight what it sees as an erosion of public morality. While there appears to have been no direct call to ban the book, Copé’s sentiments that the book wasn’t suitable for public sale have provoked cries of censorship and concerns that talk of book banning is not far off.
Interestingly though, it appears Copé’s comments have backfired. Just days after his February 9 appearance on LCI Sunday, “All Naked” shot up the book charts. Meanwhile, a group of publishers and booksellers decided that they would pose nude — with strategically placed books to preserve their modesty — in order to highlight what they see as the growing danger of censorship.
“Naked to show our support for authors and books which have been unjustly attacked. Naked to support those works which open imaginations, widen horizons and debates,” they are quoted as saying ahead of the release of the picture campaign (which you can see here). “The book should not be the target of intolerance – it allows all citizens the possibility of having an informed look at today’s society, and the world of tomorrow.”
While a strong conservative streak has shown itself to be a firm component of French politics, in recent years conservative groups have taken a lurch to the far right, often melding seamlessly with religious conservative groups and their morality crusades.
This was starkly illustrated last year when France began its debate on a same-sex marriage law. Religious conservatives waged a war on the bill. They made spurious claims about same-sex marriage damaging society and their elevated rhetoric even led to a number of violent anti-gay hate crimes. Religious conservatives most recently also managed to kill a bill that would have granted equal surrogacy rights to same-sex couples.
Conservatives in France haven’t stopped with gay marriage, however. They have attempted to undercut LGBT-inclusive sex education lessons, in some cases going as far as texting parents to tell them when to pull out their kids from lessons so as to avoid this kind of instruction, and waging a policy war on teaching children age appropriate things about human sexuality and contraception. This is in addition to rising calls to tighten women’s choice legislation and make abortion access more difficult.
What is interesting though is that while several French people have said they personally wouldn’t buy the book “All Naked” for their children, very few appear willing to say they wanted the book banned, demonstrating perhaps that a naked hostility to freely accessing literature is a step too far and a war the religious conservatives cannot win.
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