The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has branded the full-body burkini swimsuits worn by some Muslim women a “provocation” that supports radicalised Islam….  Sarkozy said in a TV interview on Wednesday night that “we don’t imprison women behind fabric”.

Source: The Guardian

When it comes to beaches and swimming pools I’m not really that comfortable with my body.  Like most white people the bits of my body that are usually covered are quite pasty.  Also, I’m not in great shape so I’m a bit flabby.  The main thing I am self-conscious about though is being hairy.  I wasn’t really self-conscious about it until I got into my 30s.  By that time I think the hairless male torso with ripped abs had hit a new high in the media and advertising.  Ripped abs aside (that’s never going to happen) I have a pretty hirsute back and shoulders.  That is, of course, pretty normal, but it’s something you don’t see much of in media portrayals of men.  It’s an not “acceptable” image of masculinity in popular culture.

Of course when it comes to society making people feel body-conscious, women “win” over men every time.  Women have been objectified for centuries, and what women wear and how they should dress has been a point of ideological warfare for just as long.  Any rape case where someone says of the victim, “but look at what she was wearing,” is a pretty good example of how this warfare can play out.  Like me, but probably with even more intensity, I imagine many women also are not fans of beaches and swimming pools.  Like me they probably are aware of the difference between their bodies and the idealised body that the media saturates our society with.  And, like me, they probably wear something a lot more concealing than revealing.

It’s a hard thing: other people’s ideas about what beautiful is getting into your head and polluting the love you need for yourself to survive and feel valid.  Someone always feels like it’s their business to do that though; to create those images.  All those sexy sleek people on those American shows; all those sexy sleek people in ads, or hitting the cat walks, the red carpets.  All those men saying what is “right” and “wrong” about clothes, what is a provocation, or oppression.  Another man casting his eyes across the body of a woman and saying “bad,” “wrong,” “provoking”.

“We don’t imprison women behind fabric.”  Did that man go on to say: “we try to imprison them behind ideas, instead.  We let unrealistic images saturate their lives.  We comment on their looks.  We sexualise every move they make.”  Did he go on to say, “and we mock, and deride, and eliminate the shapes, and heights, and types we don’t like; we erase them from the media or make them the villains, or fools.”  What would Simon de Beauviour say about Mr Sarkozy I wonder?  Ms de Beauvour who suggested, in 1949 in France, that women are not born but made by their culture.

Or what about Ashlee Haze, and her wonderful poem For Colored Girls:

If you ask me why representation is important
I will tell you that on the days I don’t feel pretty
I hear the sweet voice of Missy singing to me
pop that pop that, jiggle that fat
don’t stop, get it til your clothes get wet
I will tell you that right now there are a million
black girls just waiting to see someone who looks like them.

Freedom, Mr, freedom is just that.  If it doesn’t hurt you (and it doesn’t), then you don’t get to say what women wear, how they should act, what they should believe.  You don’t get to push the button on the machine that pours out another stream of perfect white girls with perfect bodies (and a bit of photoshop) to make them buy some shit, and feel like shit, and inadequate.

You, Mr, are inadequate.  Participating in a popular culture that will one day make my beautiful daughters feel that flicker of doubt about themselves, and how they look, and what they should wear.  And even that is not enough, the oppression of your ideas is not enough, you need to put another layer on Muslim women; women who choose to wear something that covers their hair.  Maybe like your gran used to do when she went down to the shops.

Sarkozy insisted that Muslims in France are French people “exactly like any other ones” but, when living in the country, they must “assimilate” the French language and way of life, the French regions and the history of France.

I hope they teach the history of France.  I hope they teach about Algeria.  I hope they teach about Sykes-Picot.  I hope they teach Fanon and de Beauvoir and Foucault.  Then they will know they are right; those people being taught.  They will learn that the arc of history is long but that it bends towards justice.  They will learn that there will always be people like Sarkozy, and there will always be those who resist the oppression he represents.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō