Get Your Laws Off My Bathing Suit

Get Your Laws Off My Bathing Suit

Alexis ChapmanThursday,25 August 2016

The rules about women’s swimwear are always changing and can be very different from place to place. Most customs and laws have been trending towards allowing more of our bodies to be exposed while in swimwear, but still declare a few bits of lady skin to be taboo and not suitable for public. Now, several towns in France have added a twist and enacted legislation saying that covering up too much of our bodies is also not allowed. Burkinis, a type of full body bathing suit worn by Muslim women, have recently been banned in Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet, and Sisco on Corsica. A number of other towns are considering or are in the process of enacting similar bans. The burkini prohibition in Cannes took effect earlier this month and apparently ten women have already been arrested for wearing the outlawed bathing suits. To put that another way, ten women were just arrested in France because their bathing suits weren’t revealing enough. There is so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to even know where to begin.

For starters, the breathtaking sexism of these bans is painfully obvious and simple. At the same time, tomes could be written examining the millennia of sexism and the disturbing sexist attitudes about women’s bodies that are still so pervasive in many cultures and which enabled the passage of laws like these. For the sake of brevity it should be sufficient to say that women have the right to choose our own clothes, just like men, and that gender-specific laws mandating what we wear are sexist on their face.

Moving along to the other most obvious issue with the bans is that they are unrepentantly Islamophobic. The burkini was created by an Australian woman so that Muslim women who live in Australia, and other beach and water centric communities, could more easily participate in water and beach sports. These bans have taken a garment that was designed to enable Muslim women to adhere to their chosen dress code and still be a part of activities, and used it instead to single them out for unfair treatment by the law.

Another issue, which will hopefully be brought up by any lawyer defending a woman who is arrested because of the bans, is that there doesn’t appear to be any legal definition of burkini in France. Surfers, divers, spear fishermen, and others routinely wear wetsuits that cover at least as much as a burkini and, like burkinis, include hoods. Sometimes people even wear these types of wetsuits while surfing in Cannes. There is also a trend towards beachwear that covers more and offers better sun protection. Who gets to decide what outfit is or isn’t a burkini, and what are they basing that decision on?

Finally, none of the stated reasons for these bans make any sense. Corsica enacted their bans after a large fight broke out on a beach recently, but the fight may not have had anything to do with burkinis. The mayor of Villenueve-Loubet seemed to confuse the burkini with swimming fully clothed (which makes no sense), thinking that was unhygienic (which also makes no sense). Other stated reasons for the bans say they have something to do with “France’s soul” (this is ridiculous, everyone knows France’s soul comes from wine and cheese, not swimwear), and promoting secularism (maybe secularism means something different in French, but I don’t think singling out one religion is what it’s supposed to be about). In spite of all this, the bans have stood up to their first challenge by the Center Against Islamophobia in France. And more are likely to be enacted before any are overturned.

For now, Muslim women in France can either wear something that French lawmakers deem more appropriate, wear a burkini and risk arrest, or not come to the beach at all. These are not the kind of choices anyone of any gender or any religion should be facing in a country that claims to be free, and having your swimwear restricted is not something women should have to endure, especially in the country that invented the bikini.

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Image Credit: Alessandro Caproni on Flickr



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