The French controversy. The Burkini

​http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/19/opinion/frances-burkini-bigotry.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

The beautiful Cannes Bay

Nigella Lawson wearing a Burkini to keep skin protected and model displaying recent design.

Nope, I can’t let this one go, I tried, but I can’t!

I live just outside Cannes in the French Riviera and heard last week, as did everyone else, that the mayor of Cannes had banned the use of the Burkini on all Cannes beaches. As of Thursday (yesterday) 4 other mayors had followed suit.

My instant reaction was to be horrified. Many friends on Facebook have been applauding the decision, I simply felt this was a knee-jerk decision taken by a predominantly male committee who failed to understand the dynamics here.

In the last week I have written and re-written an article about the rise of sexist, demeaning comments and view points on social media, in Trumps campaign and the depressingly slow progress to protect women’s ability to be safe, to be equal in societies worldwide and to be in control of their own destinies. It’s 2016 and some days I feel we haven’t moved at all. News coming in every day of specific and terrifying hardships for women and girls. However, I have now abandoned that article for next week.

Back to the Burkini.

A few weeks ago my son and I slipped away for a quick dip in the sea. It was just before the main holiday rush and we found a spot halfway down Cannes seafront where the beach narrows to just a couple of meters. We could sit against the wall to change then walk into the beautiful, blue, twinkling Mediterranean quite easily. Gentle waves, warm water, turquoise colour. I come from Wales and Cornwall where the Atlantic is cold, dark and moody 364 days a year, I will never take it for granted. So as I changed I noticed a young woman, on her own, swimming up and down in this quiet part of the beach in a Burkini. I noticed for a number of reasons but mainly  1. It looked a VERY enjoyable thing to do and 2. I hadn’t seen a Burkini before! 

I find the practice of covering a woman’s face on religious or any grounds absolutely abhorrent and dehumanising and a practice I can see no justification for in Western Europe or anywhere else for that matter. I feel it prolongs the subjugatation of women and strips them of their identity. But this was entirely different. This was a young woman taking herself to the Mediterranean for a dip in the warm waters. I didn’t and will never know why she was wearing a Burkini on that occasion.

The Burkini was created by an Australian designer, Aheda Zanetti, who created it for women who did not want to expose their bodies on the beach FOR WHATEVER REASON! And that bit is crucial. Having only had my son at a relatively late age, been through emergency c-section, had years of no sleep due my son being ill I simply had no energy left to perfect my body to Cannes standards, bikini time on Cannes beach amongst the young, the beautiful and the Pilates set can be stressful! I would like to have the choice about how much of my body I expose at any given time to the public! No, previously I could never see myself going as far as a Burkini (not so sure now though, and Nigella Lawson did!) but I defend the right of anyone to cover as much as they want to when swimming in the sea. The reasons could be many, scarring, privacy, jellyfish, skin cancer, sun burn, self consciousness. Religion is just one. It is one thing fighting against the forced covering of a woman’s face or excessive veils, these can be replaced with clothes or cultural wear of individual choice but the removal of a Burkini means bare flesh and semi nakedness, this may not be acceptable or comfortable to many women.

So my argument is this  – please don’t confuse the real issues of subjugation of women, which we need to spend all our energy and resourcefulness tackling, with an aspect of possible free choice about how much of our bare flesh we expose to others. I feel this blunt, tactless ban fired only at women will remove freedoms rather than liberate.

And a final thought. After this ban will that lovely young woman we saw swimming be able to take herself to the Mediterranean waters in Cannes for a swim from now on? I don’t know.

Vocabulary

Nope…………………………Casual way of saying ‘no’!

As of…………………………From that moment on.

To follow to suit…………..To carry on in the same manner

To applaud something…..To give praise, to whole heartedly agree with something

Knee-jerk…………………..A response to something that is instinctive, quick and not well thought out.

Predominantly…………….Mainly, mostly.

Demeaning…………………Something that humiliates or belittles others.

Hardships…………………..Difficulties

To slip away………………..To leave unnoticed 

A quick dip ………………..A quick swim

A spot……………………….1. A place, an area. ‘We found that spot a bit crowded’. 2. A round dot.

To take something for granted…………..To get used to something and fail to notice it any more.

Abhorrent………………….Absolutely disgusting, terrible.

To prolong something……To make it last longer

Subjugation……………….Keeping a person or group inferior to everyone else and restricted in their habits.

Crucial……………………….Very important

Resourcefulness…………..The skill needed to find solutions to problems.

Tackling, To tackle something………..To try to solve or fight against a problem or difficulty. ‘He tackled that with great maturity’. 

Blunt…………………………1. Rounded, not sharp. 2. Thoughtless comments that might be true but utterly hurtful to say. 3. A blunt instrument, a tool used for a precise job that is completely wrong, that causes excessive damage in the process.

Tactless……………………..Thoughtless, insensitive.

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