Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Burquini chic?

Should women in France be prohibited from swimming based on the design of their swimsuits? What if the problem is that the swimsuit covers too much?
PARIS — A Muslim woman garbed in a head-to-toe swimsuit — dubbed a "burquini" — may have opened a new chapter in France's tussle between religious practices and its stern secular code.
Officials insisted Wednesday they banned the woman's use of the Islam-friendly suit at a local pool because of France's pool hygiene standards — not out of hostility to overtly Muslim garb.
Under the policy, swimmers are not allowed in pools with baggy clothing, including surfer-style shorts. Only figure-hugging suits are permitted.
Nonetheless the woman, a 35-year-old convert to Islam identified only as Carole, complained of religious discrimination after trying to go swimming in a "burquini," a full-body swimsuit, in the town of Emerainville, southeast of Paris.
She was quoted as telling the daily Le Parisien newspaper that she had bought the burquini after deciding "it would allow me the pleasure of bathing without showing too much of myself, as Islam recommends."
"For me this is nothing but segregation," she said. [...]
The "burquini" covers the arms to the wrists and the legs to the ankle and has a hood to cover neck and hair.
An official in charge of swimming pools for the Emerainville region, Daniel Guillaume, said the refusal to allow the local woman to swim in her "burquini" had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with public health standards.
"These clothes are used in public, so they can contain molecules, viruses, et cetera, which will go in the water and could be transmitted to other bathers," Guillaume said in a telephone interview.
"We reminded this woman that one should not bathe all dressed, just as we would tell someone who is a nudist not to bathe all naked," he said.

Frankly, I think that the official's comments to the extent that the clothing contains germs is pretty silly. Human skin is pretty darned germy, and the bathing suits which cover almost nothing aren't doing much to keep germs from entering a pool or bathing area.

If the concern is that baggy clothing isn't as safe to swim in, that would be one thing; I have no idea if studies have ever been done, but it seems reasonable to suspect that looser, baggier clothes could become heavier with water than other ones, and that too much in the way of a baggy garment could impede one's ability to swim. But nobody's talking about safety here, are they?

The question of modesty when it comes to swimwear is a complicated one. Some women I know like the idea of these or these, while others find that a regularly-available skirted swimsuit or "shortini" style will do. But even the most modest of the suits at the links above don't offer the coverage of the Muslim "burquini," and will likely not impede anyone's ability to swim.

If the French officials were concerned about the ability of a woman to swim in baggy pants, I'd probably have some sympathy. Unfortunately, this seems like the usual clash between France's secular state and the growing Islamic population rather than a real concern about public safety. It's hard to argue with this woman quoted in the article:
Women "jump on the occasion so they can swim with their families. Otherwise, they end up staying on the beach and watching," said Leila Mouhoubia, who runs an online site from France that specializes in the sale of Islamic swimsuits. Sales, she said, are strong.
"I think it's forbidden (in France) because it presents an image of the Muslim woman (and) they have prejudices against Muslims," she said by telephone. "They want women to be undressed."
Considering that women are allowed to wear swimsuits which are revealing far beyond the point of modesty in France, it seems as though Ms. Mouhoubia has a point.


Rebecca said...

Crazy. The health comments were complete nonsense and obvious grasping at straws.

Kerri said...

It seems as if Britain is going to the opposite extreme and requiring ALL women swimmers at public pools to be covered head to foot, regardless of faith, in order not to offend Muslims swimming there.

Anonymous said...

There is some wisdom behind the baggy swimsuits/clothes while swimming but NOT if it is made of swim suit material. Cotton clothes do stand a chance of clogging their filters and also weighing the swimmer down. This doesn't look to be the case and I say, way to go and I hope they win.
In the US they sell similar shirt to protect your skin from the sun. So along the same lines, not only are they being modest, they are also protecting their skin. This also would be ideal for us who have very fair skinned children.
Again, if the suit is made of swim suit material, it shouldn't weigh the swimmer down enough to matter, really.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and we do own similar shirt and they are worth it especially if you are in the pool for a long time. They beat having to reapply sunscreen. I might not wear it if I were competing, but then again, it looks like these ladies are having fun, not swimming against Phelps....just saying.
And no, they don't weigh us down enough to matter either. Better than a cotton t shirt really.

eulogos said...

I believe in England some pools have several hours some days when this type of dress is required for women. This is so Muslim families can swim together and no one will have to see women in the state of near undress in which western women commonly swim.

This seems fair...but on the other hand, I doubt if they would have a modest dress swim time requiring what Christians consider modest dress!

As for the French situation, I believe we should support the Muslim position here. There is no good health reason for the rule. We make not like the idea of swimming in one of these. (Although it is only a little over a century ago that Christian women in England 'bathed' in clothes which covered them nearly this much. They also did so in the shelter of a 'bathing machine, not out in the open.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathing_machine) But, as I was saying, we might not think today that such exhaustive covering is necessary. We may not be comfortable with much about the Muslim attitude towards women. But we have to realize that many many Muslim women believe in their religion and accept these standards. We should also realize that Catholicism is as odd to the secular mind as is Islam. If we want to have a basis for arguing that Catholic nurses should not be forced to participate in abortions, that Catholic institutions should not be required to cover contraception in their healthcare, etc etc, we need to support Muslim rights of conscience as well. To go to completely analogous matters, if we want to be able to wear a crucifix or keep our ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, or put a creche on our own front lawns, we ought to support similar rights for Muslims.

The first freedom of religion bill in this country was passed in Maryland by Catholics, who saw the Protestant population increasing and could see themselves outnumbered; they were thinking of antiCatholic legislation in England and trying to prevent this proactively.

Susan Peterson

Rebecca said...

Who are the people opposing Muslim women being able to wear the suits? In general, I mean, is it mostly secular folks, or is it Christians? I'm curious.