Naked breasts are more French than the veil, says Prime Minister

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Moya Crockett
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The highest court in France recently ruled that the controversial burkini ban could not be enforced, stating that doing so would violate “the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”.

But if you thought that meant the debate over what women can wear to the beach was over, you were sorely mistaken. One man is determined to keep the burkini row rumbling on and on: the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls.

In a fiery speech at a rally on Monday night, Valls argued that the veil worn by Muslim women contradicts French national values, stating that the naked breasts of Marianne – a national symbol of the French Republic, adopted during the French Revolution – represent freedom.

“Marianne has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free!” Valls reportedly told supporters. “That is the Republic!”

His comments reignited debate about the burkini ban online.

Left-wing French historian Mathilde Larrere tweeted: “Marianne has a bare breast because it’s an allegory, you cretin!”

She added: “Marianne in the nude was an allegory of the 19th century, when the Civil Code reduced women to the status of minors and barred them from voting.”

Larrere also pointed out that artistic depictions of Marianne have not always shown her bare-breasted. Often, rather, she is shown wearing a Phrygian cap – a head covering symbolising freedom and the pursuit of liberty, thanks to its resemblance to caps worn by emancipated slaves in ancient Rome. 

Other Twitter users observed that today, Marianne would be just as likely to be arrested for public indecency as a woman wearing a burkini.

Valls has been a high-profile supporter of the burkini ban, introduced by around 30 French mayors under the pretext of protecting the country against further terror attacks.

“For me the burkini is a symbol of the enslavement of women,” he said in an interview in August, adding that France was locked in a “battle of cultures”.

He had previously told reporters that he viewed the burkini as “the expression of a political project, a counter-society, based notably on the enslavement of women.”

However, Cécile Duflot, a former Green party minister in France, said that Valls’ praise of Marianne’s bare breasts was indicative of the way some French male politicians viewed women.

Most of the burkini restrictions were enforced in the southeast of France, an area home to a high proportion of immigrants and where far-right politics have gained a firm foothold. Despite the higher courts’ ruling against the burkini ban, some mayors have said that they still plan on enforcing the rule.

Images: Getty, Wikimedia Commons


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.