Mankinis, Burkinis, Teletubies, Burka’s and Niqqabs: Similar but not the same!

Everything is a product of its time.  The Mankini is a product of the recent phenomenon of men presented as sex objects as women have been long presented. The mankini is clearly provocative, even more than Madonna tap dancing on your toilet seat eating Twizzlers. If a man want’s to wow, like WOW, at the beach, he has only one choice…. The mankini. It lifts, consolidates all the while reducing wrinkles, and everything, fantastic.

Similarly the Burkini is also a product of its time, like a 1000 years ago time, revamped for modern Islamic holidays on secular French beaches. It is basically so a lady can keep her hot trunk junk for her husband’s eyes only.

Teletubies…. This is what ladies wearing burkini’s look like, and what French Muslim men dream about when they think about visiting the beach. If you fantasise about teletubies, the burkini is for you. And yes, I will sell you the IP rights for this brand new porn genre – send me an email, we’ll talk.

While I applauded the French for their determination to maintain French secular values even at the beach, the burkini ban this last summer was hard to justify. The ban was bound to (further) blow up in their face if it had not been suspended by a Nice court.

One has to marvel at the Frenchness of the whole thing: enforced appropriate nakedness in order that the secular values of egalite, fraternete, liberte are preserved on the beaches of the French Republic.

I love it, but a ban on the Burkini isn’t justified and actually misses the point.  The ban skips out on the Burka and Niqqab – facial coverings (yeah not those kinds) with far more serious implications than the Burkini.

The Niqqab and the Burqa come from a time when women were excluded from the public sphere. Seeing a women’s face other than for their husband’s pleasure was distinctly unimportant. The existence of the Niqqab and Burqa perpetuate and reinforce the exclusion of women from society, from the public sphere.

I think you will agree that name, handshake, signature and recognition by face are the ancient basics of every transaction, be it political, economic or social. These were fundamental elements of the ‘deal’. They provided the basics around which the law and customs governing business transaction were developed. The Niqqab and Burqa eliminate a fundamental requirement of business and political transaction, the ability to see another’s face.

In the article ‘What a Girl Wants – What women want from feminism’ <a href=”/index.php?p=41”>What a Girl Wants – What women want from feminism’</a> I explore the ‘public sphere’. This is the world in which political decisions are made – discuss, demonstrate, debate, elect and vote. It is the realm in which we exercise our rights as citizens and adhere to our responsibilities as citizens. It is the space in which business deals are made. Where reputation and trust, and therefore the person and the face attached to it, are fundamental.

The public sphere is where the world – business, politics, work – happens and on a most basic level requires that you show your face. The custom of women covering their face could never develop in the Western world of today. It would be highly unlikely to develop in any society where women are active in the public sphere. This is simply because covering the face is an obstacle to communication and recognition, particularly in the public sphere. Not only a hindrance, it is also a symbol of the wearer’s (women’s) exclusion from the public sphere.

The covering of women’s faces was developed in a time when a women’s face was quite simply inconsequential.  Being able to recognise a women’s face and attach reputation and personhood to it was inconsequential. Inconsequential because women were not in the public sphere, they only existed in the private sphere – they didn’t go to work, they weren’t citizens, barely seen as persons under the law, they didn’t do business. Back then the girls didn’t do deals. But the girls do deals now, and it is both our pleasure and duty to facilitate the girls doing deals!

The Niqqab and Burka are from a time when the public sphere was still a male-only sphere, and a women’s face was useful only in so far as her husband deemed it so.

The basic practical benefits of people showing their face is obvious. But the symbolism of banning a mode of dress that promotes female inequality and inactivity in society is just as important.

Showing your face is a simple principle of both practical and symbolic benefit. It is a principle Western countries have the right to expect all its citizens shall observe.

Making an exception in regard to this principle (and others) risks losing the political culture that has made multiculturalism possible. If we tear away the pillars in order to satisfy one group within our diverse society, we risk having the roof that provides shelter and sustenance to our Western liberal multicultural societies come crashing down on us all, regardless of our religious, ethnic or cultural backgrounds.

We ask everyone regardless of their background to observe a few core principles that facilitate an open and accessible public sphere for everyone, in particular women.

Wear what you like at the beach! Dressing up in a bikini, a mankini, a wet suit, a burkini or looking like a Teletubby is, in the famous words of Britney Spears, ‘[your] prerogative’. That is Western liberal democratic freedom at its best. In fact women in Burkinis reinforces and supports the Western precept of freedom of expression and diversity! Vive le Burkini!

But sorry, down with the facial coverings (unless agreed upon by two consenting adults) as they are a basic obstruction to women’s participation in society.

… and quite simply, why do I or anyone else need to go to great lengths to justify the very few yet crucially fundamental rules we (Western societies) expect newcomers to follow? If you are contemplating moving to a post-Christian secular liberal Western society than you would expect to have to make some adjustments. Surely, if one of your customs is incompatible with one of our few but important principles (women’s rights) than you simply make the choice to either change or not to come. Surely this is not too much to expect?  (but more on that bomb shell in our next instalment!… whenever that comes)

7/4/2017 Update: While I consider a ban on facial coverings to be excessive, I feel that for any occupation that requires a lot of communication such as teaching, health professionals, advisers, etc. people should not be allowed to cover their face while working in such a role. I feel that encouraging Muslim women and families to support and move towards abandoning face coverings is also important. I think most of all it is important for them, in order to fully engage in society.


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