Nicely alliterative headline, but news from La Belle France is disturbing. French Mayors with local beaches have decided to ban the wearing of this cover-up swimsuit for Muslim women, as they consider it a ‘provocation’ against French secular values, or some such. The Conseil d’Etat, a kind of supreme court, has ruled that those bans are suspended, and the polemic continues.
Alas, everyone has missed a critical mistake! But firstly a little history of the burkini, which was invented by Aheda Zanetti, an Australian designer, after the 2007 Cronulla riots in Sydney. She proposed the swimsuit in lifesaving colours for Muslim women to join local surf clubs, and hence improve community relations.
Zanetti’s company owns trademarks to the words burkini and burqini, but they have become generic terms for swimwear acceptable to Islamic traditions, by covering most of the body, except for the face, hands and feet.
Secondly, there are different forms of Islamic dress for women: total body coverage with a burka, a niqab shows the eyes, and face uncovered with a hijab.
So, the overlooked problem stems from the misuse of the word burqa in the creation of a catchy garment label. A burkini does not cover the face, so it should really be called a hijabkini, but that doesn’t resonate like the amalgam of burqa and bikini. So it’s a misnomer, and the repressive, menacing burqa ethos is now attached to harmless full-length cossies (like wet suits?).
Ironically Zanetti’s idea of inclusion has backfired in France, so maybe the swimsuit should be re-branded there as friendly, sun protection wear. What about Cousteaukini, as a nod to the French godfather of scuba diving? Nah, I reckon Koala Kossie is perfect for the French market, with all those cuddly connotations.
In the so-called Western world women had full-length bathing suits early last century. Even in 1946 at Bondi a ‘beach inspector’ remonstrated with the first scandalous bikini wearer to cover up, but now bikinis are apparently the norm.
The French mayors and their boosters should all have a ‘douche froide’! The French habit of investing objects with symbolic meaning and extraordinary power has gone too far this time. Although understandable after the horrors of these last few years, quand même!
(Thanks to Cathy Wilcox for allowing use of her cartoon from SMH 29 Aug))