The Burkini Raises More Questions

New pictures have emerged of armed French police officers forcing a woman on a beach in Nice, the south of France, to remove her clothing.

In the wake of an Islamophobic wave that’s gripping Europe and landing squarely in middle of the 2016 US Presidential election, there’s a fierce debate now raging about a piece of women’s clothing – namely the “Burkini”. The Burkini is an outfit that Muslim women have started to wear on beaches all over the world so they can swim and enjoy being on a public beach while still being modestly dressed. The Burkini is made of swimsuit material that covers a woman’s body while still exposing the face.

French Police React To Burkini-Clad Woman

In the south of France, Nice is a popular tourist destination and also the site of a recent and horrific terrorist attack. A cargo truck was driven by a French-Tunisian through a major crowded promenade on Bastille Day. Understandably, sensitivity is at an all time high. But the far-right movement in France is fanning the flames of bigotry and misogyny. Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and now running for re-election, has called the full-body burkini swimsuits a “provocation” that supports radicalized Islam.

So French police officers in Nice decided that a woman wearing a long-sleeve top was in violation of a new law banning the Burkini. That law recently went into effect in Nice whose deputy mayor, Christian Estrosi said a municipal police team had “acted perfectly to make sure that [the] decree was respected”. He also threatened legal action against anyone publishing pictures of municipal police. So far, 24 women have been stopped by police in the city since the burkini ban came into force.

The question is, when is it ok for women to be told what to wear? Is it ever ok?

To many people, the Burkini is an extension of the burqa, a face or body-covering garment that women all over the world have worn for centuries. The burqa comes in many different shapes, forms and styles.

Burkini

Oppression or Choice?

But is this covering oppressive or is it form of protection? It all depends on your point of view. In the secular western world, religious garments are reserved for the highly religious or pious. In many religions including Catholicism, Buddhism and Judaism, both men and women don clothing of “modesty”, to signify a particular degree of piety. For example, in Catholicism, nuns wear habits, long robes that cover their bodies along with veils that cover their hair.

Originally, full body clothing and veils were used in cultures by both men and women to protect against the elements. Vicious desert sandstorms meant covering . But in certain cultures, that clothing was perverted to control their movement, their communication and their place in society. Hence the association with that clothing and the subjugation of women.

That doesn’t mean however that all women who wear a veil, Burkini or burqa are subjugated, just as it doesn’t mean that all women who wear bikinis have loose morals. It does mean that we aren’t sure where to draw the line. While I personally disagree with the notion of wearing full-body outfits, masks and veils to appear “modest”, I will always support a woman’s right to choose for herself what she wears, as long as what she’s wearing is not clearly and outwardly dangerous to the public.

And by the way, the same applies to men. A man walking down the street in a mask or full-body outfit with only his eyes visible would be pretty terrifying, unless it’s the middle of winter and everyone’s bundled up against the weather in the same way. But choosing to wear more clothing on the beach shouldn’t be a crime. In fact, full-body outfits are used by swimmers all the time to protect themselves.

These athletes are participating in the Half Ironman of Arenales in Santa Pola, Spain in April 2014. Fully-clothed, including their heads:

While I’m conflicted over this question of oppression vs choice, I’m absolutely certain that we should draw the line at an armed man telling a woman to remove her clothes in a public place. That’s an inherent violation of a person’s right to dignity and self-protection.