Gender and Sexuality Column

Clothing laws should protect all women’s body agency

/ The Daily Orange

Body image has always been a societal challenge for women. Add in laws and religious fear, and it becomes a nightmare. After terrorist attacks this past year in Nice and Paris, the French have received an outpouring of worldwide support, but due to finger pointing, local segregation produced by fear has ensued.

Combining Islamophobia with misogyny, more than 30 French cities are now trying to ban religious women, especially Muslims, from wearing burkinis, a full length swimsuit that covers the whole body.

France’s highest administrative courts ruled that mayors of French cities do not have the authority to ban burkinis, according to CNN, saying it is a direct response to growing terror concerns. Enhanced by a photo of two French officials forcing a woman to take off her burkini at a French beach, the notion of religious discrimination has been taken to a whole new level.

On the other side of the world, New York’s laws reflect the opposite mentality. Women are allowed to go topless in the Big Apple — yes, I mean X-rated topless. And yet, even if a woman does walk the street nude with the law on their side, police officials and politicians tend to still get involved and try to cover them up.

When it comes to equality, laws should protect rights of individuals across the spectrum. It’s ridiculous that a law created out of religious fear and another created out of the demand for freedom and equality, both cause controversy and judgement. The choice of some women to cover and the choice of others to go nude should both be respected by society and protected by law.

When Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs who studies the Middle East, first heard about the burkini ban, she found it to be absurd.

“I’m not convinced the burkini ‘represents Islamism.’ It’s a type of swimwear that many devout women —and not just Muslim women— find compatible with the modesty requirements of their faith,” Elman said in an e-mail.

Unlike the burqa and niqab, the burkini is skin tight and does not allow for concealed weapons.

“There are legitimate security grounds to ban the niqab and the burqa, but the burkini doesn’t present any similar threat to public safety,” Elman said.

There are advocacy groups like GoTopless and foundations aiding women who were arrested for baring it all. Yet women in France are being arrested for not being topless, then asked to remove their clothes. The two sides of this argument are not only setting women back, they prove that laws or no law can bind women to something outside their own personal beliefs. Whether it is religious freedom or personal freedom, the law should never get in the way of a woman’s battle of personal expression, religion or body image.

As if it could not get more ironic, a short film was produced by French filmmaker Eleonore Pourriat in 2014 called “Oppressed Majority,” that exposes opposite gender roles in society. This short film includes women attacking men, running topless and patronizing men for not being good house-husbands. This is ironic because this film displays French society trying to get rid of fear and stereotypes, and yet it is the French that are now displaying fear, creating hatred once more.

Women have fought society on self-image since the beginning of time. So by making clear the sense of self found through religion or clothing, or both, we can start to change societal norms and break free of stereotypes and misconceptions.

And though France suffered largely and the world came together to support the French people, it is difficult to see their response to the attacks as justified in this context. So while the war on terror continues, so does religious and women’s oppression.

Myelle Lansat is a junior magazine journalism major and policy studies minor. She can be reached at malansat@syr.edu.

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