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Burkini Is a Feminist Issue Too
Translation by Elaine Grisé

2 septembre 2016

par Lise Bouvet et Yael Mellul

Since several weeks now, the controversy surrounding the burkini ignites the country to such an extent that we could believe this is the latest attack to have taken place. Witnesses of the swirl this matter induced, we observe that Islamists have collectively confined us in a perverted device that takes place in 4 ways.

The most important reversion in this debate is the concealing of the feminist issue.

The biggest skill of Islamists is to clear out from the debate the ideological dimension and the sexist signification of the burkini, the message it is delivering regarding impurity and shame put on the female body, reducing it to a simple racist issue. An anti-Muslim racism can certainly occur in some of the views expressed against the Islamic veil. However, this is not a command of truth incompatible with the irreducibly feminist dimension of the story. One does not invalidate the other and the huge difficulty we’re facing here requires that we look at the entirety of the phenomenon in a dialectic way. A similar rhetorical ‘tour de force’ is at work in the reduction of the problem to an issue of civil liberties.

What is staggering is that when pro-burkini activists come on women’s field, it is to immerse us in a complete relativism and lead to a surprising reversal. ‘’Comparison is not reason’’ and we assist since the beginning of the controversy at a paralogisms and dubious analogies parade, whether it is regarding the burkini, the monokini, nuns on the beach, or fashion diktats : at the end, the burkini may be a patriarchal constraint just like any other, and since all women are oppressed, who are we to stop them from choosing their voluntary servitude ?

Everything is put on the same scheme in a redoubtable tangling process : all of a sudden we’re not talking about the burkini anymore, but about the bikini or the wetsuit. The ingenious process is to make appear the municipal bans from a few beaches as a national administrative measure aim at sympathetic Australian bathing suits worn by men as well as by women. It is not so, of course, but the sleight of hand consisting in the obliteration of the sexist and ideological dimension from the situation looks like a convincing conjuring trick.

The second level of the layout is to lock us up in impossible alternatives, in political and legal dead-ends

If we are for bans and verbal warnings regarding the burkini, we are losing on the civil liberties level, on the secularism of the state and we are promoting Muslim ‘chasing’. What we saw in Nice is unbearable and we have to loudly say that we are condemning this women’s humiliation. We are clearly opposed to these bans or verbal warnings. But, and here is where the trap closes itself : being against these bans is losing equally. To allow that women are being tagged the way they are by the burkini is to make the same mistake made with other kind of veiling. Under the claim of permitting that these women remain free to move (whether they are victims or extremists, the result is the same), we got used to the veil, then the hijab, then the niqab, then the burqa.

The result is that now in certain areas of France and of Maghreb, un-veiled women are a minority. They are harassed, cornered and threaten into veiling themselves… This is the reason why Tunisians and Moroccans prohibited the burkini on some beaches. To summarise : being for the ban is playing Front National’s game, opposing the ban is letting Islamists win. ‘’ Battery you lose, tails you lose’’. At chess, this is called a blow master. In politics, this is the moment you realize-that is to say when it’s too late-that the opponent is on your field and that you have to retreat.

This aspect of the plan put in place by Islamists is a formidable perversity, but it’s not over. There’s a third level to it. The French society embroidered itself in an impossible alternative, it exhausts itself instead of moving forward. We’re at war since 2015, traumatized, terrorized and grieving. After this last bomb, the burkini ‘thing’, Islamists succeeded in raising tension one step further, especially in arousing community tensions as well as liberating racist and antisemitic speeches.

Instead of concentring on our reconstruction, we turn back the violence we received against ourselves and mostly against scapegoat women in a hysterical climate curling the absurd like in a Ionesco play. It is ISIS’s purpose to provoke a civil war in France, particularly by strengthening French Muslim repression. The fact is that Nice pictures will feed for a long time the jihadist propaganda and Islamists have undeniably won the image battle. ‘’Nice’’ is no longer a truck rolling over people, it is the verbal warning of a woman.

The other master stroke is the achievement of an amusing French- bashing outbreak

Anglo-Saxon media play to their heart’s content with the caricature of French, as they love to do. Like in a Walt Disney movie, France holds the role of the villain. This, regardless there is still no law in France supporting the ban. On the contrary, it is in Muslim countries that much more severe laws apply. By an umpteenth perverted reversal, we tell ourselves that after all, regarding the terrorist attacks, France had it coming. The result is that after the divide of the French society, and the divide of feminists, they were able to divide coalition allies. All this with very few resources required, putting women at the frontline as human shields was actually all they needed.

Then we get to the ultimate stage where the trap closes itself on us, it is still and always women who are sacrificed and forever losers

Women’s bodies, in any war or conflict, are the battlefield where men are waging their wars. Only women received warnings in this beach situation, not at all those who lock them up in these tissue prisons. Thereby, we achieve the greatest of perversity, never naming the perpetrator, but going after women with ruthlessness. The Nice images are awful. Yet, we’ll never see images of the men doing the veiling. Men who push the veil on ‘’their’’ women are far, very far from our anger. The vicious device operates in a way that enables to never see the causes, just the consequences. And in fact, we create a false responsibility without having to name the initial evil. With this perverted inversion, we women are guilty ; in particular veiled women or ‘bad’ feminists. Not those who confine women, not those who declared war on us claiming our bodies are impure, indecent, or calling for assaults if we’re not wearing a veil.

In this, the burkini embraces the feminicide perpetrated by ISIS, which goal is to destroy women. Remains to be seen until when we are going to play and lose at this game. Looking at the actual state of the debate, it’s fair to think it’s not happening anytime soon.

* Translation by Elaine Grisé.
* French version on and Le Huffington Post France.

Lise Bouvet, blog.
Lise Bouvet is a political scientist and a philosopher. She is currently a translator and curator for Ressources Prostitution (, an international network of researchers about the sex industry. Her passions are Jazz and photography. Her website.

Yaël Mellul, blog.
Yaël Mellul is a lawyer. She initiated the French law of 9 July 2010 regarding the criminalization of psychological domestic violence. She is currently the President of Femmes&Libres, a feminist organization. Her website.

On Sisyphe, August 30, 2016.

Lise Bouvet et Yael Mellul

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