First of all, this post is not what you think it's about. (Though I could write style-crampin' aspects of having an infant who doesn't sleep through the night yet. Suffice it to say that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.) No, it's about the French.
Or rather, it's about what they French have done now. It's something that would never be done here. At least not without a whole lot of whooping and hollering. Forget Maplethorpe for a minute. Can you imagine the public reaction if an American museum featured a new exhibit that's basically a children's guide to sex?
The characters treat sexuality with humor and sometimes sarcasm. There is a "love-o-meter" to measure the strength of romantic feelings, a "pubermatic" that shows bodies transformed during puberty, and a pinball machine where tiny balls in the shape of sperm race for eggs.
In a "teenagers" corner, an area isolated by curtains, the curious can put on headphones to get answers to questions such as, "I have one breast bigger than the other, is that normal?" "What is masturbation?" and "I'm afraid to have my period, is it painful?"
By using cartoon drawings rather than realistic images, Gouy says, she hopes to reduce the children's discomfort and pique their imagination.
"In France, kids are bombarded with sexual images -- in films, ads, songs, on the Internet," she said during an interview on the periphery of the exhibit, which takes up almost half of a floor of the sprawling museum. "To show things in a way that allows for imagination lets children come up with their own representation of sex."
Near a "love mural" drawn by Zep, which details the sexual act itself and the preliminaries, one side of a free-standing wall shows an almost life-size drawing of a boy on top of a girl with his hands under her shirt and her hands down the back of his pants; on the other side, the girl and boy are similarly engaged but with the girl on top. The illustrations may seem risque by American standards. But here they are being used to coach children toward the most French of ideals -- in this case, equality.
The exhibit, aimed at 9-to-14-year-olds, is intent on taking the edge off the dialogue with children about sexuality. Take, for example, the French name for the exhibit: "Zizi Sexuel" -- taken from the title of Zep and Bruller's guide. A zizi is an innocent word for a little boy's penis. The title's translation in English is "Sexual Willy."
OK. I'll admit that the phrase "Free Sexual Willy" popped into my head for a moment.
Seriously, though, the exhibit has its protesters, but opposition is described as "mild" and has been unsuccessful in getting the exhibit closed. It's kind of amusing, though, that in an effort to have parents keep their children away from the exhibit, the opposition "the group also sent brochures previewing the exhibit's content to 8,000 Paris-area schools for parents to see." How much do you want to be some of of the kids saw those brochures once they got home?
In this country, the opposition would be anything but mild. The recent court battles over our sex-ed curriculum here in Montgomery County, MD, got me to vote in the primary, even after I'd declared that I would sit it out.
If I were a Parisian parent, I'd definitely take my kids to see the exhibit, or at least the sections appropriate to their ages. But I'm one of those parents who figures the more my kids know the better; the more they are able to make informed choices. Now, I'll do my best to guide them towards what I think are the right choices (for example, I'd prefer my kids wait not until they're married to have sex—since if their LGBT marriage still might not be an option—but until they are emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and materially prepared to handle all the potential outcomes).
That's because we're the kind of parents who will go the extra mile to make sure our children learn as much as they can, as opposed to parents who are motivated by what they don't want their children to learn, and will move heaven and earth to ensure that their children don't learn certain things.
More about those parents in a bit...