restricted access 14. Lesbian Mothering in Contemporary French Literature
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227 Lesbian Mothering in Contemporary French Literature | by gill rye 14 In France, as elsewhere in the West, since the latter part of the twentieth century the contemporary family has been undergoing a process of accelerated change, with an increase in the number of lone parents, post-divorce “blended”families,andsame-sexfamilygroups,andaconcomitantdecline in the conventional nuclear model of the family (Roudinesco). France’s “gayby-boom” (Cadoret 15; Gross 14) dates only from the mid 1990s (while that of North America took place in the early 1980s) even though lesbian and gay male parenting in France actually has a much longer history, and many parents who identify as homosexual originally became parents within a heterosexual marriage or partnership. Today, an increasing number of gay and lesbian couples in France are choosing to become parents, either alone, within their same-sex partnerships, or via co-parenting arrangements with other individuals or couples. These new family groupings not only contribute to ethnographic change but also call into question conventional notions of the family. In particular, lesbian families, which effectively consist of two mothers, cannot help but confront us with questions about the very meaning of “mothering” and about what it means to be a mother today. This chapter engages with these very questions by considering two examples of what is proving to be an emerging trend, namely representations oflesbianmotheringinFrenchliterature.ThetextsareÉlianeGirard’snovel Mais qui va garder le chat? (But Who’ll Look After the Cat?) and Myriam Blanc’s 228 gill rye largely autobiographical Et elles eurent beaucoup d’enfants … : Histoire d’une famille homoparentale (And They [The Women] Had Lots of Children … : The Story of a Same-Sex Family), both of which were published in 2005.1 Many of the issues with which lesbian parents in France are confronted echo those encountered in other cultures, but the dynamics of conformity and difference , normalization and transgression that lesbian families embody are particularly pertinent in the specific context of the French Republic. Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, fraternity) may be its founding and defining principles, but France’s model of egalitarian universalism eschews all forms of identity politics in favour of integration and assimilation into an inclusive notion of “Frenchness,” and, moreover, the family in France is firmly conceived as a heterosexual unit. In this context, I explore how and to what extent Girard’s and Blanc’s texts each portray lesbian mothers as “normal,” “ordinary,” “just like other mothers,” and how far they represent them as forging new terrain, experimenting with social forms, reinventing the family. The narrators in both texts themselves lay claim, alternatively, to normality, in their qualities as parents, and difference, in terms of carving out new family forms. My analysis, then, focuses on specific areas where these dynamics coalesce, namely, the issue of visibility, the question of the father, the figure of the second mother, and the problem of language. It then goes on, in the final section, to draw together the various strands of this analysis in an engagement with Élisabeth Roudinesco’s suggestion that same-sex parenting may offer a model for the (French/European) family of the future (221–44). First, though, I want briefly to outline the French socio-legal context in which my discussion is situated. European (EU) legislation and French national laws of the 1980s and 1990s on part-time work, maternity leave, and rights have done much to change working conditions for women as mothers in terms of equal rights and the work–life balance, and to alter expectations of how mothering in France can be lived. Yet, the effect of these laws is limited, as they actually tend to endorse rather than challenge conventional representations of women’s mothering roles (Guerrina). The French PaCS legislation (Pacte civil de solidarité/Civil Solidarity Pact) of 1999 is a case in point.2 By means of the PaCS law, the union of same-sex couples was legally recognized in France for the first time, in terms of taxation, inheritance, and social benefits. Such a law would seem to offer new horizons for forms and concepts of the family, but, although PaCS agreements are open to both heterosexual and homosexual couples and as such provide a legal framework for rights and responsibilities for unmarried, co-habiting couples, they make no provision for such couples with—or planning to have—chil- 229 lesbian mothering dren. Under French law, unmarried couples, those with or without a PaCS, whether hetero- or homosexual, cannot adopt children, although single...