In retrospect: France’s ‘Burkini’ Ban – another example of women caught in the crossfire of misogyny

Recently French women were forced to disrobe or fined for wearing the ‘burkini’ on French beaches. In one example of this, David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes banned the swimsuits on beaches in his resort town.

It’s not that I was offended as a person of Muslim, or even Middle Eastern, heritage. But, just like when I hear men spitting out that common phrase ‘I don’t have a problem with Muzlims, I just don’t want ’em marrying my daughter’, I am offended as a woman. I am offended that the patriarchy feels they can police my sexuality and now my clothing.

I actually couldn’t get my head around the burkini ban. To me it was absolutely illogical. I am unable to see the difference between this ban and the enforcement of so-called religious clothing. It just seems like everywhere women turn, they are subject to some sort of ruling on how they choose to dress or show their body.

Strangely enough France couldn’t even determine what actually qualified as a burkini. Apparently some Muslim women were targeted on public beaches in France while wearing attire other than the dreaded ‘Islamic swimsuit’. Personally I detest the burkini but I hate the word even more. It should’ve been called something like veilkini. Let’s face it, the burkini evokes images of Taliban-enforced blue shrouds. Arabic words are used provocatively in the West by the religious right and the racist right. Even the creator of the word and garment, Australian Aheda Zanetti, admits it is controversial.  Zanetti also went on to say that half of women who buy burkinis are not even Muslim. Seeing as the burka is a garment that covers the whole of the face and body, the burkini is not even an accurate term. But this is where we’re at, and now it is only a matter of semantics. We can call it a burkini, we can call it a wetsuit, we can call it diving suit, we can call it maillot shara’e (an Arabic term which means lawful/Islamic swimsuit – anyone spot the irony of the use of French?). The fact is, a woman cannot cover her body in the way she wants, but a man (even a Muslim one at that) can stroll onto the beach in Cannes, if he wants to, wearing a burkini, sorry, wetsuit, like this with no hassle:

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Women cover or reveal their bodies in all sorts of ways on the beach, and covering is most definitely not just the reserve of Muslim women. We are constantly bombarded with messaging telling us that a body suitable for the beach is only a thin one. We are told to stay away from the sun’s harmful rays. Some of us have skin conditions or have had skin cancer but still want to enjoy the beach.

So far we have Muslim women, fat women, sick women all potentially affected by the burkini ban and other policing of women’s bodies. That’s quite a lot of women. It’s also a lot of minority women. Women are such an easy target. Women of colour, immigrant women, Muslim women – while not always the one of the same – are an even easier target. The list is growing.

Back to David Lisnard, who said ‘I took this decision among several other rulings to make sure my city is safe in the context of the state of emergency’. So we counter a fear by feeding into it? Such a kneejerk reaction is irrational. I just want to know how many terrorists donned a burkini, or any sort of swimwear, before committing an atrocity? If fashion is such a gateway to terrorism, why haven’t thick soled black boots, à la Richard Reid, been banned? While the burkini that M&S started selling this year, was something seen in the Middle East c. 2004, Reid’s poor choice of footwear was far more offensive.

Joking aside, while I’m totally against enforced religious covering, the thought of women being penalised for what they’re wearing makes me sick to the stomach. As someone who’s been subject to mandatory veiling, but even more scarily, my father’s eyeing of my hemline, I will defend every single women’s right to wear what they like. It was difficult for me to write this blog post, not least because it’s a personally emotive issue. I don’t like women being made to feel that they should dress in a certain way, directly or indirectly. However, I cannot agree with the public opposition to the burkini especially as it is essentially racist and misogynistic. The opposition hates the women in the burkini not just the burkini itself. I’d also quite like to take to task the religious right wing who single-handedly put down women for wearing bikinis, as if being naked (their word) is something to be ashamed of. All women stand to be affected by the realisation of this type of misogynistic ban, if not now, but in the future. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that ISIS, the group responsible for some of France’s recent terrorism, do not want women on beaches full stop – be that in a bikini, a burkini or a burka.

Telling people to ‘go and live in Saudi Arabia’ if they want to wear a burkini is just so senseless. We take the moral highground in the West against Islamic states, but only when it suits our image of democracy and secularism. Do we have to compare ourselves to the lowest common denominator while simultaneously othering native European Muslim women? Why does this have to be a race to the bottom?

I have had encounters with (armed) religious policemen in the Middle East. I didn’t expect to see a woman in Nice have to be terrorised by local police in the same way. She wasn’t even wearing a burkini. French men love undressing Muslim women, be that in historic French Algeria, the beaches of August 2016 or modern day pornography.

Ah, les hommes… Men, men, men, everywhere, love telling us women what to wear. Why are so many middle-aged men so obsessed with what women wear? It’s a battle of egos and women are just pawns in the middle of it. These men are not concerned for our liberty or our rights. Show your boobs to sell something, but don’t get them out to feed your baby. The pressures to cover or to reveal are two sides of the same coin and this coin is very much in the hands of the misogynistic world we live in.

P.S. that awful M&S burkini is not longer available. I’m hoping it didn’t sell out, rather it was shelved due to crimes against fashion. Next time they really should ask a Muslim woman what is en vogue. More importantly, the French burkini ban has been lifted. For now.

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