Women’s issue of the week: Burkini ban suspended in France
By Annika Jensen, Editor-in-Chief
France recently suspended a ban on the burkini, a full-body swimsuit popular among Muslim women aiming to adhere to their faith while maintaining their personal comfort and style. While the suspension is a victory for all women in the fight for religious and gender expression, the burkini debate revealed an alarming reality: the issue was flying way under the radar.
As an intern with the National Park Service this summer, I wore Civil War era clothing almost every day; even in 100 degree heat (and higher) I was out in my chemise, petticoat, cotton dress and apron, struggling to stay cool and hydrated while maintaining a modest appearance—no ankles—for the sake of public history. Visitors ate it up. It provided them with an authentic experience while shutting down any opportunity for objectification or harassment. I did, however, receive a few startlingly consistent questions:
“Are you Amish?”
“Are you Hasidic?”
“Which church do you belong to?”
My uniform was instantly associated with religious conservatism, but not once did a visitor complain that my appearance was posing a threat or making the public uncomfortable. I was not asked to change for fear I would incite radical behavior. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia had no problem with my clothing, even if it was unusual.
The same did not stand at a beach in Nice, France, where a woman was asked by police authorities to change out of her burkini. The burkini, which resembles a wet suit that covers the head, is popular among Muslim women because it provides them comfort, confidence, and safety from the male gaze and other unnecessary offenses; it allows them to maintain a connection to their religious practices while sporting cute, practical, unique swimwear.
So, when a Muslim woman wears a burkini for reasons of comfort, custom, and self-expression, she is told to change in case she incites radical behavior or pushes her beliefs on other beach-goers, but when visitors find my 19th-century clothing to look exceedingly Amish or Jewish or Catholic, they have no problem.
Herein we find the need for intersectional feminism: to bring light to issues affecting women who stand on the receiving end of amplified misogyny because of their race, sexual orientation or, in this case, religious beliefs. Just a few weeks ago, I had no idea women were facing this prejudice, nor did I realize a country had banned a type of swimwear that is willingly and commonly worn by an entire religious group. When I read that the ban had been suspended I asked myself, “How have I not known this was going on?”
This is why feminist dialogue is essential for people of all genders, races, ethnicities, and faiths: while we may not personally face prejudice for what we wear or believe, other women do. We are either told to cover up (you look indecent) or show more skin (you look different), and it’s a problem. Don’t let the burkini fly under the radar this time.