I would hope all my readers already recognize that it is wrong to force a woman to wear extra clothing and cover more of her body. Whether we’re talking about the Taliban’s reign in Afghanistan where women were forced to wear burqas or the FLDS Mormon cult in the United States which requires high necked floor length skirts for women, such rules originate from the belief that women are inferior and sexual beings. Objects of temptation and lust.
I’m less optimistic each reader will already recognize how likewise wrong it is to force a woman to wear less clothing or uncover more of her body. A series of laws targeting the dress styles of Muslim women have gone into effect in France, making it unlawful for a woman to wear a face veil in public, or a girl to hear a hijab in public school, or for a woman to wear a burkini (a full body swimsuit with hood, very similar in appearance to a wet suit) at many of France’s public beaches.
This week on a beach in in Nice, France armed law enforcement officers forced a Muslim woman to remove her burkini tunic. Four men with guns were called upon to address the threat posed by a Muslim woman lying in the sand at a beach. Four men stood over her to ensure her compliance. Four white men watched as they made a woman of color undress for their desires.
This is state sexual violence. Imposing immodesty, with fines and armed men, is such a clear violation of bodily autonomy. Women should not have to meet a certain level of undress to participate in society. Dress codes are inherently authoritarian whether they call for more or less skin showing. Dress codes targeting women and girls are sexist and defended with sexist arguments. American schoolgirls are policed on the basis their bodies distract boys. Muslim women in France are policed on the lie that their bathing suits cause the make violence of terrorists.
The fact is, my non Muslim western culture both socially and legally requires me to keep my breasts covered in public (with a few exceptions). If modesty laws were changed today and I was allowed to walk around topless, I probably still wouldn’t do it because I would feel naked and exposed, no matter what the local definition of nudity was. The idea that armed police could stand over me and force me to remove my shirt, to expose myself, in the name of secularism horrifies me. That’s what happened to, what was done to, the woman in Nice.