Earlier this summer, several French cities and towns including Cannes (of the Cannes Film Festival) and Nice have banned a popular Muslim swimsuit, the burkini. This swimsuit, popular amongst Muslim women, covers the entire body except the face, hands, and feet. After several religiously inspired attacks across France, including a deadly attack in Nice on Bastille Day, French politicians urged the ban of the burkini. This is not an unprecedented move in France, a country that values secularism, and has already banned several other forms of headscarves. France is one of few countries that has full bans on burquas and niqabs and also a more widespread ban on other forms of headscarves in public schools. Now women caught at the beach wearing a burkini are fined or asked to remove the burkini.
Why do people across the globe have such a preoccupation with what women wear to the beach? Is it oppressive for a woman’s religion to dictate that she must be fully covered while at the beach? Or rather is it oppressive for the government to forbid a woman to dress modestly at the beach?
The truth is that women’s attire is scrutinized at beaches across the globe, and oppression can take many forms. Recently, I came across this image which points out the irony of the situation.
I realize the captions here are in French. Basically, in the “lottery of indecency” the artist (@lasauvagejaune) is sarcastically writing social commentary about how the general public might reproach a woman dressed either in a burkini or in a mini skirt.
If a woman wears full covering at a beach, such as a burkini, she is ridiculed for being a prude, overly-religious or she is forced to remove it. However, on the other end of the spectrum if a woman wears too much makeup she may be considered slutty. If she reveals her breast or wears a short skirt she is considered immodest and shameful. Next week I will be going to a French beach where sunbathing topless will be completely accepted and no one would give me a second glance. However, if I tried to tan topless in Florida, it would not be the same case. It seems that no matter what a woman wears, unless it falls exactly within the prescribed “cultural uniform” she will face public scrutiny and disapproval.