The recent spate of laws banning the burqini (a hijabi version of the swimsuit) from French beaches, and the recent incident where a woman was forced to remove a burqini by three French police officers carrying guns, ought to cause outrage among feminists.
Feminism is meant to be all about women choosing for ourselves what we wear, not being forced to adhere to standards set by men. Therefore if some women choose to wear a burqini for whatever reason, there is no reason on earth why they should be prevented from doing so.
Cultural practices vary
It's also unrealistic to suggest that every society and culture should have the same standards of modesty and social interaction. In most of Southern Europe, greeting someone by kissing them on both cheeks is common practice. In England, this makes most people uncomfortable. In England, we generally greet people by shaking hands; in some countries, this is regarded as too intimate, and is not practiced. In North Africa, it's quite usual for adult friends to walk around holding hands, but in Northern Europe, it's usually only couples who do this. Most people don't walk around wearing a bikini anywhere except on the beach, because it's generally not done.
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do"?
Some people have claimed that the French have every right to enact whatever laws they please. Oh really? What about if they decided to segregate beaches by ethnic group?
Others have claimed that if we went to Saudi Arabia, we would be expected not to walk around in a bikini, and probably expected to wear a burqa. Maybe so, but if we claim to be more enlightened than them, we should not impose our standards of dress on Muslims.
Don't conflate Islam with terrorism
The French cities who have enacted this law have claimed that they are doing it in response to recent terror attacks in France, but since only a tiny minority of terrorists are Muslims, and only a tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists, you cannot conflate Islam with terrorism.
The burqini liberates Muslim women
According to The Economist, hard-line Islam (which is actually in a minority) would not allow women to swim in public at all.
"It was about integration and acceptance and being equal and about not being judged. It was difficult for us at the time, the Muslim community, they had a fear of stepping out. They had fear of going to public pools and beaches and so forth, and I wanted girls to have the confidence to continue a good life. Sport is so important, and we are Australian! I wanted to do something positive – and anyone can wear this, Christian, Jewish, Hindus. It’s just a garment to suit a modest person, or someone who has skin cancer, or a new mother who doesn’t want to wear a bikini, it’s not symbolisingIslam."
Other women also wear the burqini
Nigella Lawson has been spotted in a burqini (probably to cheat the paparazzi out of pictures of her body, and good for her).
Skin cancer survivors have enthusiastically adopted the burqini to prevent a recurrence of melanoma.
Why no outrage about high heels?
Western feminists ought to be outraged about restaurants and airlines and other employers who force female employees to wear high heels - a far more oppressive practice than wearing clothes that cover the body.
Secularism and religious freedom
A genuinely secular society should not impose either religious practices or secular practices on its members.
And a genuine feminism should support women's right to wear what we want. You want to wear high heels? Fine, go ahead (but don't blame me if you get tendonitis). You want to wear flats? No-one should force you to wear high heels. You want to wear a headscarf / hijab? Great, go ahead. You want to leave your hair uncovered? No-one should force you to cover it. You want to wear a bikini? No-one should tell you that you are too fat to wear one. You want to wear a burqini? No-one should tell you to expose your flesh. Simple.
I thought this was a pretty black and white thing we feminists were agreed on. An article of faith if you will: Thou Shalt Leave Women To Do As They Will With Their Own Bodies. France... should surely know this article more than most. And yet, here it is – the French state itself – forcing women to wear or not wear certain clothes! Incredible! In Iran women are forced to wear the hijab by law and can be publicly admonished, fined or even arrested for ‘inadequate’ covering. Now, I’m sure many more feminists – and I’m guessing particularly those in Europe – would be quick to agree this is Not Okay. Surely the best thing is for women to be free to choose to dress however they want – be it wearing a headscarf or a miniskirt.