French Swimsuit Discrimination Continues

ACORN International France Human Rights Organizing

            Marble Falls      An article in US papers the other day must have struck at the heart of true feminists everywhere.  The subject purported to be the annual lament for women, as we move into the heart of summer, over how to pick out a swimsuit for this season.  They showed a picture of twenty or more styles on offer.  They reported that US women on the average only spent $25 on a swimsuit.  The point of the piece, whether intended or not, seemed to be to stoke the annual anxiety that summer, swimming, and, particularly swimsuits, causes for young women and many much older about body issues and images.

In France, the country we once thought of as the home and inventor of the bikini, we might never think that swimsuits would be an issue.  The issue in fact on some beaches might be whether a swimsuit of any kind is worn.  We would be wrong, since swimsuits have become a huge issue and a stand-in for religious and cultural discrimination.

ACORN’s French affiliate, the Alliance Citoyenne, and many of our members who are Muslim women, have been waging a campaign for several years to force governments to allow Muslim women to participate in sports, even while wearing a hijab, and to access public facilities, like swimming pools, in head-to-toe coverings, reflecting the modest requirements of their religion.  The organization has paid quite a price for listening and acting collectively on this issue, given the government and the conservative obsession with secularism and mono-culturalism in the country.  Grants have been stopped or rescinded.  We have been evicted from our national headquarters in Grenoble first from a public facility and more recently from a building where we were the tenants of the local Communist Party, which says something in itself.

Part of the problem is that we’re winning, and many don’t like that.  The General Assembly several months ago eliminated the discrimination in sports for Muslim women, even as the Paris police tried to deny us permission for a celebratory rally and exhibition game next to the Assembly.  We had done swim-in protests for several years in France and, in a reversal, the Grenoble mayor and city council voted to open the pools to Muslim women wearing the so-called “burkini.”  Our members went wild with excitement.  This was news throughout France and much of the world.  The reaction was equally fierce in opposition to our victory.  Prosecutors took us to court to overturn the approval, seeking to fine the organization for our impunity.  In a tortured ruling the federal court ruled that the burkini was not permissible, rationalizing that they had jurisdiction over the city of Grenoble and citing as precedent that they had also outlawed in the past something for men, like an oversharing speedo contraption.  Of course, we will appeal.

It’s not a French expression, but an American one, that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.  Discrimination against women and religious practice is a one-two punch, but there’s nothing sneaky about it; it’s still a pig and it’s discrimination and an affront not to French culture, but to basic human rights that should be enjoyed by everyone.