Sexual Violence of Modesty Bans

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. 

One thought on “Sexual Violence of Modesty Bans

  1. I think this is definitely a case where those who have a problem with burkinis can be accused of being oversensitive. At best I can imagine how some bathers might FEEL. Bathers wearing bikinis or trunks might feel as though the burkini is some sort of statement against them. “Burkinis hurt our feelings” might not be the reason given by the government for the ban, but it’s likely the reason why a lot of people would support it. I think those people should be able to get over their feelings though. I mean even if someone went over a beach in some other body covering swimwear, telling those in bikinis that they should cover up more, what should be the answer to that? That the one preaching should have to strip down to the level everyone else is stripped down to? At worst they could be told to forced to leave the beach if they don’t stop the preaching, but I’m pretty sure the burkini wearing woman was far from preaching to the others what they should be wearing.

    I’m reminded of a couple of things. I used to watch WWF(WWE) wrestling in the past and it would’ve been early 2001 a “villainous” group of wrestlers was formed called “Right to Censor”(the group was a response to real life wish to censor WWF’s television shows). The wrestlers in this group were conservatively and modestly dressed. I think it consisted of 3 men and one woman. I remember seeing a WWF show where the female of the group, Ivory(Lisa Moretti) and the group leader Steven Richards, were out preaching against WWF adult-content and in response some of the “good guy” wrestlers came out of and stripped both Ivory and Richards down to their underwear. That was seen as a fitting punishment for their preaching and it probably was to most of those who enjoyed WWF. It’s a bit of a trope. The modest person getting stripped down as punishment for forcing their modesty on others(whether that is actually the case or not). It’s a bad trope, but I think that a lot of people do react to this kind of trope with cheering. Apparently some of the other bathers cheered when the woman was forced to strip down as though she was some sort of TV villain.

    The other thing I’m reminded of was when I began watching DVDs with a friend of mine who is quite Christian and sensitive. I would pick out DVDs from my collection and suggest them and he would agree to watch ones that didn’t seem offensive. Sometimes when we were watching one he would avert his eyes, sometimes at things which to me seemed pretty inoffensive and easy to take. He found things in the film hard to take and I found THAT hard to take. I guess I felt as though his actions implied that he thought I was bad for enjoying those parts of the film. I admit that after I knew about his sensitivities I was tempted at times to exploit them or mock them to “get him back” for “making me feel like I should share his sensitivities”. I don’t think that I have mocked him or exploited him much, but I did decide to be a lot more strict about what movies I’d agree to watch with him. I just wasn’t comfortable enjoying a moment in film, while he averted his eyes so as to remain “uncorrupted” or so it seemed. My friendship with this man has continued, but I’ve decided to spend less time with him to avoid conflict. I fear that he really is trying to change me and that I’m not just being oversensitive. I feel that simply staying away more would be better, lest I react badly to something he says. Sometimes two people are not a good combination or they become not a good combination, without saying that one of them is at fault.

    Of course the woman at the beach should be free to wear a burkini though. I don’t see why it’s too hard for people to learn to accept someone who wears more clothes at the beach than they do. Frankly it seems like less of a challenge than the challenges I’ve faced with my friend.


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