Back in March, director of the NGO Women for Women International, Manal Omar, was publicly humiliated by a male member of the Oxford fitness club she was swimming at after he took offence at her five piece swimsuit. The swimsuit is designed to allow Muslim women who wear the Hijab to fully cover up so they can swim in public places, something that certain members of the British public apparently view as unacceptable:
I heard a loud voice from a man stating that he needed to speak to the manager about dress code. I picked up on it, but didn’t really give it too much thought, until I heard him yelling about “that woman over there” who was wearing the “burkini”, the gist of what he was saying seemingly being that it was inappropriate. What the hell is that? The burkini? I could feel a rising indignation at the man’s audacity in singling me out in this way.
Further humiliation followed when the local newspaper, Oxford Mail, took up the story , choosing only to interview to the male complainant, making no effort to speak to Omar herself and entirely misrepresenting the situation by claiming Omar was ‘fully dressed’ rather than wearing a swimsuit. Readers of the paper continued to distort the story, complaining in true Daily Mail style of political correctness gone mad, the dilution of tradition British values and the evils of immigration and multiculturalism. The Guardian has given Omar a platform to respond , and it is clear that the original complainant, along with the Oxford Mail journalist and her readers are nothing but a bunch of sexist anti-Muslim bigots:
Nobody in Oxford would be interested in new swimming suits with hi-tech material, but a crazy Muslim woman jumping into a pool fully clothed and potentially suffocating in the sauna was much more interesting. Since when have facts been important to journalists covering stories involving Muslims?
…he referred to me as a “silly little girl”, which I found amusing, considering that I am a 32-year-old, 5ft 10in, professional senior manager for an international NGO.
Clearly this man couldn’t deal with seeing a woman so brazenly refuse to display her body for his viewing pleasure, nor with the presence of an obvious sign of the Muslim faith in “his” fitness club. He also took it upon himself to speak for the other female club users, claiming that they ‘felt threatened because they were wearing swimsuits while she was fully dressed’. If the more revealing swimsuits worn by the other women supposedly make them feel so vulnerable, why does this man insist that all female swimmers wear them? Nothing to do with his sense of entitlement to female flesh, I’m sure.
The point here is that women get to choose what we want to wear, how we want to present our bodies, and what makes us feel most comfortable, be it a barely there bikini or a fully covering five piece swimsuit. Our bodies, our choice, no one else’s business.