Burkinis and ‘soul caps’ – Olympic women are back in fashion
Forget football, hockey and cricket: controlling what women wear at work and in their leisure time is the most popular sport in the world.
It always has been. But the sexist and racist obsession with the way women cover their heads and bodies reached new heights in the summer of 2021.
It is partly the season. As women head to the beach or swimming pools across Europe, some daring to wear the dreaded burkini, there is the traditional outburst of anger at the onslaught of Muslim women on the “European way of life” .
Part of it was the Olympics where female athletes grabbed attention and make up over 50 percent of team members from Canada, China, Australia, Great Britain and America.
And in part, this is good ol ‘pre-election Islamophobic bodybuilding as French and European politicians try to win votes by taking punches against their supposedly separatist Muslim citizens, with special venom directed at women who wear the hated scarf.
Whatever the reason, trying to teach women what to wear is the world’s all-time favorite obsession.
Unlike other sports, it is not limited to any country and no special qualifications are required. There are no fixed rules. Anyone can criticize, condone and codify women’s clothing.
The game is inclusive, bringing together a matching collection of voyeurs, misogynists, racists, fanatics, religious fanatics and culture warriors – but also feminists and other equality activists.
It welcomes the educated and the less numerous, the rich and those in difficulty. Economic inequalities are ignored and appearance does not matter.
No special training is required to start controlling women’s dress, although coaching and access to a smartphone can make it more exciting and fun.
Above all, it transcends bitter political divisions. Democrats and Autocrats, Liberals and Illiberals, Progressives and Conservatives may disagree on everything else, but they share a common fixation on determining women’s clothing choices.
Certainly, men must also adhere to the dress codes of the company. But the rules seem pretty basic: wear a clean top, decent pants, not too shabby shoes and you’re done.
There are sometimes sarcastic comments about the crumpled “look” of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the way politicians dress. Do you remember when Barack Obama outraged his detractors by wearing a beige suit?
But the vitriol directed at his wife, Michelle, for daring to show her arms or the attacks on Hillary Clinton for donning “pantsuits” were much meaner.
Why on earth should holy men, politicians, judges, journalists and business leaders pass judgment on their male counterparts when there are so many women to condemn?
Global attention has long focused on the challenges women face in Saudi Arabia and Iran, two of the countries where Muslim leaders like to legislate on women’s clothing and conduct.
Not to be outdone, many of their European counterparts and a few perfectly white and Western institutions such as the French National Assembly and the European Court of Justice, as well as international sports federations, are joining the fray.
Challenging patriarchy, power and privilege has never been easy. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has learned through a “couch door”, even supposedly “awake” male colleagues can turn into empowered alpha males when pride calls.
To defend oneself
But spoiler alert: women are fighting back. Just as they did with the #MeToo movement that brought down an army of male predators, women are taking to the streets, courts and polls to demand an end to the male dress diktat.
Testing sexist rules on ‘femininity’, the Norwegian beach handball team recently requested that their sportswear be replaced with spandex shorts instead of bikini bottoms. They’ve been fined, but change is in the air.
German gymnasts were honored when they donned full leotards at the Olympics to protest the “sexualization” of their sport.
And anger – including from a few MEPs – has been directed at the International Swimming Federation for refusing to endorse special “soul” swim caps designed for black female athletes. A revision of the ban is under discussion.
Human rights activists have warned that there will be an increase in anti-Muslim violence, harassment and stigma following recent French legislation which further restricts headscarves.
They also fear that the recent decision of the European Court of Justice which allows employers to prohibit workers from wearing any visible sign of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs in order to present themselves “in a neutral manner to customers or to avoid conflicts. social “, does not increase racism and discrimination at work.
The courageous female athletes received praise from feminists of all races and religions and from women across Europe. There is also sympathy in Europe for women targeted by restrictive laws in Muslim countries.
This solidarity dries up quite quickly, however, when European Muslim women are involved. This indifference is doomed to failure, however.
Europe’s struggle to build a true Union for Equality requires collective action and the formation of coalitions, not fragmentation and competition on racial and religious grounds.
Selective outrage against patriarchal divisive-rule strategies runs counter to the global struggle for gender equality.
So why be surprised that shame and policing of women’s bodies and dress are gaining more and more ground as the world’s favorite sport?