We recently learned that a French woman wearing a burqa made of bathing suit material (clever!) at the beach was forced to remove it by armed police. This is in keeping with recent bans on the full body bathing suit for several incredibly racist reasons that somehow do not apply to any other religions.
Not only is this so clearly about Islamaphobia, it’s also about controling women’s bodies no matter what they wear. Remember when women weren’t wearing enough in western society?
How about we stop telling women what to do with their bodies and refocus on how we value and treat women.
As long as we keep focusing on what women are or aren’t wearing, we lose sight of who benefits from controlling – and keeping the focus on – our bodies. In this, and most cases, those who benefit are those who have power (men, and specifically white men, and the systems and institutions that value them over others). They are running political campaigns (Sarkozy, Trump, Brexit) and waging wars (Bush, Harper, Putin) while using women as props to justify oppressive political agendas that maintain the status quo of capitalism, imperialism, and ravaging the earth. Sexualized violence is used as a weapon of war as well as the justification for it. Pretending patriarchal, white supremacist, western societies know what’s best for others – for women – is assuming cultural superiority.
“When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one.” ― Arundhati Roy
Armed men representing the state requiring a woman to leave a public space, pay a fine, or remove her clothing is sexualized violence. Period. This is a violation of women’s bodily autonomy, and it is an act of power and control. There is no consent when there is no real choice. Doing something under duress or threat of force is not the same as enthusiastic participation. All of this makes us think about women on the witness stand in Canadian court rooms who are questioned on whether they took off their clothes themselves while someone sexually assaulted them. Taking your own clothes off when you fear for your safety is not consent. Compliance is not consent. Doing what you need to do to survive and protect yourself is not consent.
The treatment of the woman in a burkini is sexualized violence motivated by racism, hatred, fear, Islamophobia, war, misogyny, and male dominance. We shudder to think of the future assaults committed by “good samaritans” taking it upon themselves to enforce this state sanctioned violence in the same spirit of “protecting” French and other western societies’ (read: patriarchal, white supremacist) identities.
The fact that those who witnessed this act of violence did not help, but rather yelled at her to “go back where you came from,” reminds us that we are all responsible for holding ourselves, each other, and our leaders accountable for not perpetuating misogynist, racist violence. Especially in the age of Harper and Trump when people are being given permission to act on their most horrific feelings of hate.
Critiquing the status quo and those in power, along with valuing ALL women across difference, is required to end rape culture. Hang in there. No one said feminism was easy. But it can be unbelievably brilliant… and fun… check out this French Feminist protest!