French PM: Naked Breasts Are More French Than Headscarves

Artwork by Anna Jay.
The tense political standoff over the burkini in France continues.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has come under fire for implying that naked breasts are more French than a headscarf.

In a speech on Monday night, Valls praised the bare breasts of Marianne, a symbol of the French Republic and an icon of liberty and reason. Statues of her are found in town halls and courts across France.

Valls said: “Marianne has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!” The Guardian reported.

The implication is that Muslim women who wear the veil are not free and that the veil is anti-French, while bare breasts are emblematic of France.

Valls' comment has attracted criticism from politicians, feminists, and historians.

Historian Mathilde Larrere said in a tweet that the use of Marianne to represent feminism and femininity was "moronic," adding that her bare breasts were "just an artistic code," the BBC reported.

Others questioned Valls' understanding of French republican history and pointed out that Marianne often appears with her head covered in a Phrygian cap, and that she is not always portrayed with her breasts on show.

Cécile Duflot, a former Green party minister, said Valls' comment highlighted the regrettable way in which some male French politicians perceive women.

Valls has strongly defended the right of local mayors to ban women from wearing the burkini, although France's top administrative court decided last week to suspend one of the burkini bans.

The United Nations also urged French towns to repeal the burkini bans, calling them a "stupid reaction" that only fanned the flames of religious intolerance and did not improve security.

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