On Burkinis and Bans

One of the perhaps strangest debates of this summer have been in France over how much, or little, women are allowed to wear on the beach. According to some of the men involved in banning the burkini (to date, no women have been publicly involved in any of these bans), it is apparently a symbol of French nationalism for women to wear as little as possible on the beach. To them, it has nothing to do with fashion, comfort, or preference, but rather a patriotic duty. I wonder if these men feel the same about mandatory speedo wearing…

Many coastal towns have banned the “burkini” (actually a specific branded thing, but used as shorthand for any full body swimsuit that also covers the hair), despite a ruling from a high court that has overturned these bans. As the summer winds down it is likely that this issue will recede into the political background, with periodic resurgences of debate due to the French elections.

There is no small amount of irony around this debate in the following facts:

  1. The burkini was invented to actually encourage Muslim women to participate in Western style beach culture, something that has been quite successful as demonstrated by the number of women in France who have been affected by this ban, and by how prevalent all kinds of swimwear are in Israel.
  2. It used to be the other way around, not that many decades ago, women were fined for wearing bikinis, due to them showing “too much” skin. The burkini ban therefore seems to not have much to do with preventing terrorism as continuing centuries of men deciding what women can or cannot wear.
  3. Democratic values of free choice seem to be more threatened by the bans than the existence of burkinis, particularly as modest swimwear is not worn exclusively by Muslim women, but also by thousands of women who simply don’t want to parade around a sunny beach wearing a bra and panties.

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