The mice are scampering because the cat is in the house. April Fools' Day in a modern and completely serious version

It is a French idea to criminalise the evasion of equal sharing of domestic responsibilities.

Times are hard for jokers, jokers, anecdote tellers and April Fools' Day punchers. In the past things were simple: a joke was a joke, it was supposed to amuse the company, relax the atmosphere and make everyone feel good. It was also known - more or less - what could be funny and what should be avoided.

A good joke, as you know, must have an element of surprise, but it must also be skillfully set in reality. In this respect, the author of the Fool's Day joke, unknown to the general public, presented a dozen years ago in Wiadomości TVP, demonstrated excellent intuition. The viewers heard that the EU languages are going to undergo an orthographic revolution: as part of unification and simplification, diacritics are to be eliminated from all of them. Polish tails, German umlauts, French accents and all those little circles, commas and full stops from which no language is free will disappear. Surprising? Yes. Witty? Even very. Is it plausible? Yes. Not such things were invented in Brussels.

Today, however, the difference between jokes and serious ideas is all too often blurred. Take skin colour, for example. It is not good when it is whitewashed. Little Black Bambo is a bit afraid of this, although of course he has no idea that the very thought of bleaching his black skin is racism. But when Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, reveals that when he was young he dyed himself black to play the part of a Negro (a word he did not use, of course), it turns out that this, too, was a sign of racism. To whitewash is wrong, to blacken is also wrong - it is not easy to discern in this.

What is there to say when laws and regulations come close to a joke? Some of them look as if their initiators were preparing ideas for April Fool's Day.

Respect for curly hair

Although the Crown Act has nothing to do with the British TV series, the name of the bill is obviously associated with it, and this is probably no coincidence. The initiators of the legislation, which was passed by the US House of Representatives in March, may have wanted word-of-mouth advertising and audience favouritism. The full name of the bill: "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair" - is grating and hard to remember. Crown is a very different thing.

The law aims to put an end to what in English is called "hair discrimination". People with hair described as "African" or "Afro" are said to be discriminated against. The hair is black, frizzy, short or curled and tangled in knots, braids and dreadlocks. Black children with such hair experience problems at school because teachers demand order on their heads, while adults have trouble finding jobs. This, according to activists from the Campaign for Crown, is what is happening in the US, where the issue is however on its way to being formally regulated. The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate, but legislation is already in place in Illinois, Massachusetts and a dozen other states.
Owners of hairstyles like the man in the photo reportedly feel discriminated against because of their hair. Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Couldn't the owner of an African haircut just wave his hand and look for another job? He could and probably would have done so at one time, but the spirit of modern times favours casting everything in an iron-clad legal framework. This is preceded by a campaign to publicise the issue, mobilise supporters and seek allies in political circles. That was the campaign for the Crown in the US, and that is what is happening now in the UK, where the campaign is just starting.

"I was sent home from school more than once because my hair didn't conform to the school policy, which called for 'afro-style hair to be a reasonable length and size'. I was told it was too much, that I was distracting other students and that I was blocking the blackboard," Ruby Williams, 19, who is now part of a campaign against hair discrimination, told the BBC. Two MPs in the House of Commons have joined the campaign because, as one of them, Labour's Kim Johnson, said, "all too often people are victims of racial hatred because of their appearance. And yet it is important that they can be themselves".

Hair discrimination is also a problem in France and Belgium, which both have significant proportions of minorities of colour. In France, however, it can be subsumed under existing legislation, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of appearance, with exceptions justified by the nature of the work.

There is, however, a French idea in the category of April Fool's concepts. Sandrine Rousseau of the Green party suggests that evading the equal sharing of household responsibilities should be considered as a crime! Women, she reminds us, are burdened far more than men, and this violates the sacred principle of equality.

Pani Rousseau jest w czołówce działaczy swej partii, starała się nawet o jej nominację w wyborach prezydenckich, przegrała jednak z Yannickiem Jadotem. Gdyby nie to, jej nowatorski pomysł mógłby stać się elementem programu i wytyczyć nowe drogi w pojmowaniu równości. Jako deputowana może oczywiście swą ideę lansować, ale, sądząc po braku oddźwięku, szanse na powodzenie są nikłe.

Curfew for the cat

A black cat is sitting on the window sill. You cannot see its face, but it is not difficult to imagine it, because outside the window a mouse orchestra is marching furiously. Drums, cymbals, trumpet - loud music resounds in the empty, snowy scenery, with mountains on the horizon. The mice have reason to rejoice: the cat can do nothing to them. It can only watch helplessly.

Mice play it safe, but, contrary to the popular adage, it is not because the cat is not at home, but precisely because the cat is at home. The reason is that, as the caption to the picture in the Icelandic daily Morgunbladid explains, 'the city of Akureyri prohibits cats from leaving the house'. Cats are to be kept under lock and key and can only go outside on a leash. But does a cat on a leash accomplish anything?

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Legislation restricting the freedom of movement of cats was adopted in early November last year by the city council of Akureyri, Iceland's second largest city. The council is motivated by environmental concerns: cats hunt birds and small animals, and as it is difficult to persuade them of their bad habits, they should simply be kept indoors.

The rules are not due to apply until January 2025, or perhaps in the meantime, common sense will prevail and the restrictions - as proposed by the veterinary associations - will be restricted to the bird breeding season. The hope that in three years the cats can be brought up in the desirable spirit is as realistic as assuming that they will want to switch to vegan food. However, there is a clear loophole in the council's resolution that concerns free-roaming cats. How to discipline them? What sanctions should be applied if, unmindful of the bans, they wander freely around the city?

Deputies in Akureyri kept quiet about the mice, probably assuming that the problem did not exist or that it would somehow solve itself (the cats were not asked). If they had remembered experiences in the antipodes, maybe they would have looked at it differently.

Last summer, the world's media were full of reports and photographs from the Australian state of New South Wales, haunted by a truly apocalyptic plague of mice. They are literally everywhere, said desperate residents: not only in farm buildings, granaries and warehouses, but also in homes - in wardrobes, cupboards, drawers and beds. Wherever you stand, you come across a mouse.

All this has had an impact on food supplies, because mice have to eat too. But where did they come from in such large numbers? We do not know, but it is possible to predict, without much risk, what may happen in those Australian cities and towns whose authorities have decided to limit the freedom of cats.

This is done under the slogan of saving the environment and the millions of small animals - birds, mammals, marsupials and reptiles - that cats hunt without any moral resistance. If they cannot be stopped, other means must be used: the wild population must be drastically reduced (by extermination, unfortunately) and indoor cats must be kept indoors.

This usually takes the form of a curfew, or ban on letting cats out at night, but in the town of Bendigo, Victoria, there has recently been a total ban on letting cats out of the property. After four years, when a review of the results is to take place, it will be clear who emerged victorious. What will happen if it turns out to be mice after all?
Akureyri looks lovely from a distance, although the local cats probably have a different opinion about it. Photo Arnold Drapkin / Zuma Press / Forum
99 genders

A veritable gold mine of ideas and concepts, which until quite recently would have been regarded as a good April Fools' joke, is the realm of gender. Who would ever have thought it possible to seriously consider how many genders there are? Two, anyone would say. They would certainly have been right then, but now, in the age of the miraculous multiplication of the number of possible genders, they are. The new state of consciousness allows us to look at this issue differently. Although there is no shortage of those who resist. A study conducted in the USA at the end of last year by the Rasmussen Reports institute showed that as many as 75% of Americans are of the opinion that there are only two genders. "As much as" or perhaps "only"?

Perhaps the most Primaphrilian aspect lies in the fact that even the most ardent followers of gender ideas have not been able to agree on how many genders really exist. Four, seven, fifty-two or perhaps fifty-eight? The UK's Daily Telegraph once jokingly wondered about the number 99, while Women's Health magazine published a precise calculation which concluded that there are only twelve genders.

Let us add, for the sake of clarification, that this was the case last spring, when the list was published, because in such a vibrant field everything changes quickly and perhaps today this number is already outdated. Anyway, the discrepancies are huge and only a real daredevil would have the courage to count how many genders there are today and how many are still waiting to be recognised.

Amnesty International also does not shy away from such important issues, as it conscientiously and seriously presents a concise guide for the less well-informed on its website. It gives it a clear title: "Gender Identity for Beginners. A guide to good support for transgender people". There is much to learn from it. For example, that asexual people fall into the trans category, but intersex people do not, because they can identify with the sex they were "assigned at birth", but they can also choose something else.

It is difficult to get one's head around it, but in general the impression remains that a huge range of possibilities are opening up to those interested in gender play.

Is this not an April Fool's Day in its purest form? It is hard to believe that the Amnesty of today, mired in this kind of nonsense, is the same organisation that half a century ago, when it stood up for freedom and the rights of persecuted people, won the respect of the world and the hatred of regimes. At most, the present quibbles can be regarded with a smile - and a hint of disappointment.

– Teresa Stylińska
– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: Elizabeth Rabanal, curl expert and founder of Curly Culture Salon, works on Sara Khalil's naturally curly hair on Sept. 19, 2021 in Oyster Bay, New York. Photo by Alejandra Villa Loraca/Newsday RM via Getty Images
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