I was in the South of France when the burkini was banned there. I was on a train and reading through the news on my phone and I quietly contemplated what it meant without discussing it with any of my friends. A few days later we were in our room in Barcelona and the article came up again and they expressed their shock and I responded in a way that I'm embarrassed about.
I said: I can kind of understand it, it can be threatening that sort of conservatism.
I've tracked that opinion back to when I was in Turkey on a family holiday 4 years ago and the lovely hotel staff expressed their concerns at the growing level of conservatism in their secular country and the growing number of women wearing full burqas and burkinis at the beach. They felt it was synonymous with an ever oppressive government.
This is what I was responding to when my friends brought the topic up and I didn't give it any thought whatsoever. I immediately regretted saying it because I knew that I was wrong but I was too embarrassed to say so. Instead I internally cringed and tried to telepathically apologise to all the women I'd just oppressed with my own words.
I want to be honest and say how I initially responded because I think that's how responding to something alien to your own world usually works. Isn't it that the first thought is society's ideals rubbing off on you, and the second the thing you actually, truly believe?
So I actually, truly believe that no woman should be told what and what not to wear - especially when it comes down to not showing one's body in public for reasons of belief/faith/insecurity/fear. I don't think I will actually understand why a woman may choose to wear a burqa, I am not religious and I do not come from a background with those values, but I would never tell a woman not to, because that goes against my own values.
I think I initially reacted to the ban with that pathetic, lowly response because it didn't seem real. I hadn't actually seen a woman wearing a burkini. But then the internet exploded with a terrible story and a terrible image of a group of stern, ignorant looking policemen standing around a woman as they forced her to undress on the beach. Suddenly the ban was real and women in France were not free. Muslim women in France were not free, let me correct myself.
The entire concept of not letting women who choose to wear burqas onto the beach to enjoy the sun and the summer and the sea breeze is just as oppressive, just as dehumanising as an extremist Islamic state. Forcing a woman to undress herself is just as abusive, just as humiliating, just as horrifying.
I'm learning that an ever oppressive government does not just force women to cover their faces and hair and bodies, it forces women to expose themselves and undress their beliefs and values in front of an entire beach of people. In front of mean, careless, insensitive policemen.
Liberté Fraternité Egalité? I'm not buying any of it.