Speedos, Burkinis and Liberal Religion

Sarah and Me at Mont Saint Michel

France may well be the only country where a woman can be forbidden to wear a burka and a man required to wear a speedo. The burka ban was passed by the national legislature ostensibly for security reasons. Anything covering the face or concealing one’s identity is seen as a potential threat. The speedo requirement is a little more complicated.

In France the speedo is considered more hygienic than less revealing swimwear. The French believe that the more fabric in the swimsuit the more likely it is that germs will be transmitted from person to person. The fact that there is not scientific evidence to support this belief does not change anything. So if you are a male and you want to go to a public swimming pool in France expect to be required to wear a speedo.

The burka ban was created to deter terror. Clearly no one thought through how much terror might be generated by the sight of some of us in a speedo. The French are not the only people with contradictions. In America we see rallies for religious freedom where people also speak about banning Muslims from the country. Such human inconsistencies are present in every nation on earth.

I find such contradictions fascinating. In college I once asked someone, “If you are a vegetarian why do you feed your cat meat?” I was genuinely curious and meant no offense but subsequently decided that this is not a great question to ask on a first date. Since that time I have tried to explore the paradoxical nature of humanity with a little more sensitivity to other people’s feelings and a lot more awareness of my own foibles.

The reason I have been reflecting on this topic lately is two beach resorts in France have banned the burkini, a swimming suit preferred by many Muslim women designed to cover up a maximum amount of body. In other words women can go topless but are forbidden to cover up. This is just one way France is very different from Tennessee.

In this age of skin cancer awareness it seems like there might be a growing interest in the burkini from people regardless of gender identity. If so the French will probably not be leaders for this cause. The burka/burkini bans are often framed as instruments for the liberation for women. However, the laws and rules are usually made by men and imposed on women. It is hard to see how you can liberate people by forcing them to do something against their will. Requiring someone to forgo her burkina is a lot like requiring someone else to wear a speedo. It might lead to more embarrassment than liberation.

Whenever I am asked to explain what it means to be a religious liberal I will sometimes quote from the Declaration of the Rights of Man that came out of the French Revolution, “Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of our natural rights has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights.”

The “Rights of Man” is a document that uses male language and was drafted by men. I think we can all agree that men don’t get to decide what constitutes women’s liberation. However, if we allow each other the freedom to chose our own swim attire I believe we will be taking a step in the right direction for freedom for all people. If we exercise our freedom in ways that undergird and support the freedom of others we come closer to “Liberté, égalité, fraternité, sororité, transgenderité.” allowing us to see someone in a burkini or bikini, a speedo or swimming trunks and say, “vive la différence.” – Chris










Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s