Literature may purport to open the mind but in France it seems to serve as a pretext for perpetuating narrow sexist stereotypes.
That, at least, is the view of feminists aghast at the revelation that no female writer has ever featured on the curriculum for the literature Baccalauréat, the equivalent of A levels.
Although women are wearily accustomed to sexism in France, which has never had a female head of state, the disclosure has sparked anger, with critics challenging the implicit suggestion that men were intellectually superior.
They point out that France has produced a host of outstanding female writers, including Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, who took a male nom de plume, George Sand, in order to get around prevailing prejudice as she sought to publish her novels in the 19th century
More than 2,000 people have signed a petition calling on the education ministry to find a female author for pupils to study in 2018.
Ideally they would have liked to introduce a woman next year but the syllabus has already been set in stone and, as usual, it features an all-male cast of writers. The latest addition is André Gide, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist.
“Why is there this excessive testosterone in the literature Baccalauréat?” says the petition launched by Françoise Cahen, a teacher at the Lycée Maximilien-Perret in Alfortville near Paris. “What are they trying to tell us symbolically? That it is impossible for us to become an artist?”
Mrs Cahen said the absence of female writers was all the more surprising for the fact that most literature teachers and pupils were women. “We must be careful about the way we present literature to young people. For now, it looks like men write great books. Women are there to study them and to admire them.”
She said that many French female authors deserved to be studied, like Simone de Beauvoir, the postwar feminist writer, Marie-Madeleine de la Fayette, the 17th century novelist, and Marguerite Duras, the 20th century author of such novels as The Lover. “My idea is not to demand parity, but at least one woman,” said Mrs Cahen.
A spokesman for Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the first woman to hold the post of education minister in France, said she “takes the issue seriously. She wants women in the textbooks, on the syllabus and in the exam.”