Gemma Styles: The Battle Of The Burkini Rages On
"It’s just another form of racism being dressed up as 'values'.”
In a change from the usual ‘women on the beach’ stories in our mainstream media (basically celebrities and whether or not they’ve gained weight) we’ve been hearing a lot about women putting more clothes on – namely wearing a high-coverage swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’. Created by Aheda Zanetti, the swimwear products were designed to allow women, including Muslim women, to enjoy and participate in swimming and exercise.
“I wanted to introduce a full range of clothing to suit a Muslim woman — or any woman — that wanted a bit of modesty and wanted to participate in any sporting activities,” said Zanetti. She designed the burkini after her niece had trouble playing netball while wearing her hijab, which was “completely unsuitable” for athletics.
The burkini has been banned on the beaches of around 30 beach towns on the French Riviera since the end of July. Nice, for example, banned clothing that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion,” citing the Bastille Day truck attack and murder of a Catholic priest in July this year. The ban has garnered a huge amount of media attention, with one widely-shared incident involving a Muslim woman being ordered to publicly undress on a beach hitting our headlines and causing outrage among human rights and feminist groups in particular.
I think this reaction is justified. How does anyone think it’s okay that armed police officers cornered a woman enjoying some time on the beach and ordered her to strip? Like, read that sentence again, HOW is that allowed? Some commenters have pointed out that the woman in question actually wasn’t wearing a burkini at all – just clothes. Are they banning wearing too many clothes on the beach? If I turn up on a French beach wearing a wetsuit and a hat am I likely to be fined? Somehow I don’t think so.
Like a lot of people, the citizens of France are scared – this fear, borne from horrendous acts of terrorism in the country over the past couple of years, is being misdirected towards people who pose no threat to them whatsoever. A lack of understanding is what’s contributing to this fear and getting rid of people’s headscarves isn’t going to help that. Numerous comparisons have been made between Muslim dress and that of nuns – if we’re banning overtly religious dress then why isn’t this rule the same for everyone in France?
Since the incident and the press traction it received, thankfully, a high court in France has overturned the ban, ruling that it “violates basic freedoms” and is itself, in fact, illegal. The majority of mayors in towns along the French Riviera, where bans were introduced, are currently refusing to lift the burkini restrictions – the state seems to be facing some dilemma about how to react to them and this issue will likely take some time to play out.
In sad news, a YouGov poll has found that almost half of British adults would vote to ban the burkini from UK beaches. Unsurprisingly, this viewpoint was popular among UKIP supporters… it’s just another form of racism being dressed up as “values”. If you’re going to the beach and seeing a woman covered up is going to seriously affect your fun then you need to have a chat with yourself and worry about why that is. I’m willing to bet these are the same people who would complain about women above a size 8 daring to put on a bikini.
As much as this is a debate about secularism and religion in France in particular, the story is spreading to draw out more of the ingrained racism and sexism in our society – people being offended by women covering their bodies. People being offended by women not covering their bodies. Are we serious here? Maybe just let women wear whatever the hell they feel like? Yes, some women in the world feel forced to cover themselves – but forcing others to undress when they’re happily covered isn’t the same as helping those who are oppressed.