Nuns and surfers may be allowed to cover up at the beach, but it is not okay for a Muslim woman wearing a harmless tunic and a headscarf to do so.
Wth the it being deemed necessary for the police to intervene and force her to undress, in the presence of the press and all the other swimmers. The burkini ban in Nice – and other French towns, since it is an outward display of religious affiliation – has caused uproar against the injustice caused by a combination of misogyny and islamophobia.
It is truly horrible that the police intervened to force a woman sitting on the beach remove her garments, demeaning, ridiculing her, and denying her the right to express her perception of how her own body feels more comfortable and liberated, without harming anyone in the process of her nap on the beach.
This, however, is not just the result of islamophobia, but also an effect of our patriarchal society and its double standards that show how apparently no decision a woman can make about her body and appearance, can go off without judgment or policing from male authority.
The illustration of a French artist that has become viral perfectly demonstrates these double standards imposed upon women on our society.
A headscarf is judged even when the women who wear it decide to do so, on their own fully informed free will, and so is wearing no makeup because then you are considered sloppy, but when you wear too much makeup you are slut shamed.
A hidden body is considered to be as much shocking as – gasp! a nipple that women are not allowed to show in public, not even to breastfeed, and unshaven, naked legs are deemed as offensive as covered legs in the beach.
About a hundred years ago, women were required by the US law to were full body swimsuits to respect public decency and yet today, in 2016, little seems to have changed when a policeman is allowed to intervene for a woman to do the exact opposite: cover up, in order to respect “good morals”.
So where is the freedom in that? How different is it from religious (both Muslim and Christian) spaces that require women to cover up in order to enter?
In France, the response both to the burkini ban and to the rise of conservative politics in general, seems to be given through the fashion turn for women towards a less gender-conforming expression, and it shows us that the clothes we wear can be a significant form of social protest.
Navaz Batliwala in her book The New Garçonne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman, examines the notion of the modern day garçon manqé (tomboy), considering that French women have a long history of making social statements through androgynous fashion. The new dominant gender-non-conforming look, drifts away from the more traditional concept of Parisian sexiness and femininity.
This rise of non-sexualized clothing chimes – non-coincidentally – with the political situation in France right now, with female politicians following the trend suit – accidentally or not. It is supposed to be a protest against the male policing and objectification of women’s bodies, appearances, and in extension, their choices and lives.
All this general dialogue is led by one specific realization: that fashion is not just about clothes, plain and simple: fashion is a form of communication, protest, and expression of ideals.
The way we dress has repeatedly in history meant something, and has often been a refusal to conform in oppressive standards set for people without their consent.
Fashion, according to Natash’s article on clothes companies similar to Peau de Loup, is not just aesthetics, but as every other form of art, it often comments on the state of society and culture.
When it comes to tomboy fashion, she believes that saying that women and non-binary people can wear what men do, is the equivalent of saying that they can also do what men do, while at the same time expressing their identities freely, gaining the confidence they deserve, protesting for the injustices they face and constructing role models for themselves.
So France is a modern day paradigm of both how injustices have not yet been eliminated to a level that characterizes the so called ‘women’s liberation’ in Western society, and we are still required to conform to double standards.
However, when these standards are set in fashion, they are often met with the resistance through the expression of people whose identities are attempted to be policed the most.