Dear France, You Have A Problem. And It’s Not The Burkini.

Posted on August 26, 2016 in Cake, Cake News, Sexism And Patriarchy

By Cake Staff:

Not respecting good morals and secularism” : A Muslim women in a beach in Nice, France was given this ticket by the local police for wearing multiple layers of clothing. Not only was she instructed to remove her clothing at the spot, but she was charged a fine as well.

The incident, along with the photos of the incident, have garnered widespread attention and has evoked strong reactions from supporters, detractors and almost everyone who is perplexed with the “burkini ban” that France has in place. Local law has banned this kind of swimwear at the beach, in what seems to be, an absurd reactionary tactic to the horrific attacks in Nice back in July. In response to this ridiculous development, some are now asking big white men in speedos to be banned from France’s beaches, in jest, of course.

To be clear, while the language of the law does not explicitly use the term ‘burkini’, it does refer to clothes that stand in the way of secularism and calls for restrictions on clothing for certain parts of the body. Keep in mind that it has been noted that the burkini was invented in order to ensure that Muslim women are able to fully participate in Westernised public spaces while not having give up on their personal values, religious or otherwise. This would not only mean taking a dip in the beach waters but also for young Muslim girls who would want to attend swimming lessons. What makes it even more interesting is that the inventor has stated that around 40% of her customer base was non-Muslim.

It was not like France did not have sufficient bans on certain types of clothing: a hijab ban in public schools since 2004, a niqab ban in all public spaces since 2007, followed by recent local burkini bans.

Historically, France has been a country that holds its secularism with high esteem and pride. In fact, it has been long noted that France enforces its separation of church and state more vigorously than most Western nations. Formulated following the aftermath of the French Revolution, the concept known as ‘laïcité’, roughly means that religious identity should be kept absolutely separate from not only politics but also the French national identity. While it was brought about to eliminate the influence of the Catholic Church, things have gotten far more complex in contemporary multicultural France where such laws disproportionately target religious minorities in the country.

A disturbing yet thought-provoking argument that has been circulated on social media has been a presumptuous argument on whether nuns would be asked to remove their habit in a beach – a clear reflection of the cultural imperialism that plagues Europe.

While this trend is heavily problematic keeping in mind the uptick in violence and discrimination faced by French Muslims and the resulting Islamophobia caused by the recent terror attacks in France, there is indeed a problem that this country has to deal with – extremist radicalisation, NOT what a woman chooses to wear in a public space. Burkinis, hijabs, niqabs and burqas aren’t causing the attacks. And in the contemporary terror scene, knee-jerk reactions of this sort that targets people, especially women, of a particular religion will do nothing to help. In fact, what it creates is a toxic atmosphere.

What makes this all the more disturbing is that it reflects the trend of policing women’s bodies – something that has been usually identified as happening in relatively conservative societies. But this is in the heart of liberalism, the land of freedom of speech and expression and Charlie Hebdo. The French government seems to have an almost liberatory tone to the reason why they have enforced such bans.

The unfortunate fact remains that this too is a clear example of how women’s bodies have been the sites for men to divide and rule from time-to-time. On the one hand, women’s clothing (not swimwear alone) has long been and continues to be under attack if it doesn’t toe the ‘line’ set by patriarchy. To put it simply, women face problems if they ‘show too much’ or ‘show too little’. Even in a liberal landscape, the act of liberating (which is colonial in itself – think white men trying to ‘save’ the exotic woman from the hands of the savage barbaric men) becomes an act of unclothing.

France, you do have a problem. And it’s not the burkini.

Featured Image: A ‘Burkini’ specially designed for Muslim lifesavers. Source: Matt King/Getty Images.