I don’t think there is a time in history that can be remembered where women weren’t being told how to dress themselves. And currently Muslim women, and any other women who like to cover up at the beach, are feeling this same pressure in many of the beach towns in the South of France. A ban on the revolutionary beach attire called the ‘burkini’ (or ‘burqini’) started in Nice and has spread across 30 other towns (to date). The swimsuit offers top to toe coverage, while being functional enough to swim in. Think something like a full-body rash vest. This modern garment has liberated many Muslim women from being stuck inside or at home, while their family enjoys swimming at the beach without them. They now feel comfortable enough that they can also join in on all the fun!
But, with France rocked by the recent terrorist events by extremist Islam, mayors across the country have decided that the best course of action to put their communities at ease is to enforce a dress-code on their beaches. A dress-code that so clearly targets Muslim women.
— ALBAIH (@khalidalbaih) August 24, 2016
To put this in context, France has been enforcing secularist dress-codes since 2004, when a ban on “ostentatious” religious symbols in the classroom was put in place. This ban includes head scarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses. While I hear ya France, on wanting people to be equal across the board, and not feel uncomfortable or intimidated by the symbolism that someone else’s choice of dress, I would debate that perhaps it is the internal fear and the weight that this fear puts on symbolic dress that needs addressing. I mean, have you not seen the stats about extremist Islam actually only making up less than 1% of the total Muslim population?? A few dickheads ruining it for the whole bunch. This is why we can’t have nice things.
And when did women at the beach with their families even come into this equation?? Oh France, you appeared so liberal with your ban on supermarket food waste and your 35 hour work weeks. Come on, be the incredible example this world needs! Having your armed police-force targeting women at the beach, issuing fines and standing over said women while you force them to undress is not what this world needs. It is not what you need.
I never thought I’d see a day where wearing too many clothes at the beach was an enforceable offence. For a modest, mid-century culture of the 1950’s, it made contextual sense that people were offended by the bikini. These “we’re seeing too much of your butt” feelings still linger through our current society, but no longer are women removed from the beach if they refuse to cover up, you just look the other way if you don’t like it. Make like comedian Steve Hughes, and just ‘be offended’; you’ll be ok, trust me.
Of course, not all of France believes in the ban on burkinis, and there are many politicians that understand that a move like this could actually heighten tensions rather than alleviate them. The French high court has since ruled that the bans are illegal, stating it as a “serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms”. Here here! However, this ruling only encouraged two of the thirty mayors to lift their bans, and now the French government is left having to decide how to deal with the other eighteen towns of oppression. One mayor in favour of the ban has stated “I don’t think that many of them do that (wear a burkini) because they want to – but because they have to. We have to protect those people.” Have these mayors actually gone around and done a poll of all women in burkinis and asked them whether they want to be wearing them or not?? Because you know where assuming gets you. Groups of current-day feminists have found that out after taking a similarly outraged stance against dress-codes that cover their women up, and being confronted with the idea that, actually, if we want women to have the freedom to dress how they want, the other side can’t tell her how to dress either. It’s counter-intuitive.
And so, the debate of the burkini (and the wider topic of integration of Muslim life into French life) marches on. Watch this space.