There’s been a lot of news articles going around about France’s new obsession with beach-wear. I will admit to not reading all of them, but I’ve read enough to be absolutely fucking fed up. I very literally woke up last night to pee and then couldn’t get back to sleep because somewhere between the bed and the bathroom I started thinking about burkinis and just could not stop.
There are lots of factors in some French cities’ choice to allow police to force a woman on the beach to take off what they consider offensive or inapropriate clothing – ie. clothing that makes it clear that she is a muslim – ie. the famed “burkini” (an interesting article written by the creator of the burkini – a woman – can be read here).
I love France. I really do. And I know that this “burkini ban” is not representative of the French population at large. But it’s also not a country with a great track record when it comes to respecting women or women’s bodies. Because let’s face it, having men follow you at night in their cars telling you their opinion of your body and asking for your phone number is not #1 on my list of behaviours that make me feel safe, valued, and respected as a member of the community.
I understand that France is having a terrible time. I understand that people are afraid and confused and shocked because Paris is the idolized Queen in perpetua of white Western culture and she’s being torn apart. And, sarcasm aside, that people’s lives and families have been irrevocably damaged. I understand – but that’s no excuse.
I currently live in a country where there are times when I really wish I did own some sort of large cloth bag-and-headscarf ensemble, if only to keep from routinely breaking down into tears on street corners where the light was red and literal truckloads of men saw that as the perfect opportunity to holler their thoughts about my body at me as I walked by. But let’s face it: said ensemble would only have them hollering at me for different reasons. But most importantly I wouldn’t be wearing a bag because I wanted to be wearing to a bag (and, as anyone who knows me already knows, if I wanted to go out in the street dressed like The Paperbag Princess I would have no problem doing so). I would be wearing it as a response to other people’s behaviour. And that smacks of giving in.
I also understand why men in trucks/one sidewalks/on bikes/walking past me feel the need to force their opinions on me. I understand that we all want control in a world where very few of us have any. I understand that the easiest way to feel like you have control is to take it from those who can be counted on to have less – most often women and people of colour. Vocally and publicly policing women’s appearance is the crudest form of control. If her body pleases you, you tell her so – and what you would like to it. If her body doesn’t please you, again, you tell her so – and what she should do to fix the situation.
As if simply by being born with a few awkward bits of flesh flapping about at the end of your torso gives you the right to police (what an appropriate word!) another human being and their choices.
As if you and your desires are what is important about a woman.
As if you have any bearing whatsoever on how she chooses to look or dress.
As if you mattered.
When it comes to burkinis in France we have the holy trinity of modern powerlessness in Western culture: women of colour who are visibly muslim. They are the perfect victim for a government that wishes to pretend it is taking control of a situation it clearly has no idea how to deal with.
So, I get it. But let’s be honest:
In what world is forcing a woman to strip in public considered the appropriate response to anything?
And yes, yes, forcing anyone – man or woman – to strip in public is morally reprehensible. I mean, we all saw the Game of Thrones episode where Cersei was forced to walk naked through the streets of whatever that city is called as atonement for her sins (ironically, Cersei has commited various “sins,” but the show never discusses the fact that their fanatical religious order fixates on all the ones that aren’t actually sins – just, you know, her expressing her sexuality. But I digress). There’s a reason that being naked in public is considered a punishment for any and everyone. But do not even try to tell me that women’s bodies are not already more at risk in public spaces – anywhere in the world, including the internet. Do not pretend that we do not have more at stake,that our humiliation will not be all the more accute, and that we are not placed at a higher risk of physical violence when publicly shamed.
So tell me, who is this helping? Who does this protect? And don’t give me that fucking “liberating women” bullshit. Forcing someone to do something is the literal opposite of freeing them. If you want to see a woman take off her clothes, go to a strip cub – don’t humiliate her in front of her children and then have the nerve to call it liberation.
Why is it that women’s bodies continue to be the first line of attack when countries and cultures disagree? Why is it so difficult for individuals and governments around the world to understand that our bodies are autonomous? That we are not simply place holders in our own flesh and blood until such time as they decide that we are needed? At least soldiers – like strippers – get paid.
If a man forces a woman to wear clothes that she would rather not wear that is, I think, wrong. But forcing a woman to take off clothes that she would rather not take off does not make you a liberator. It just makes you a different (and yet remarkably similar) variety of asshole.
As the country that produced Voltaire, France, have you so truly lost your sense of irony?
P.S. This said, apparently the supreme court has just suspended the ban. The fact remains, however, that it was considered a legitimate response to national terrorism. My rant still stands.