PARIS (AP) – French women are renowned for their instinctive talent for chic and impeccable outfits. But now they may well be confused.
Ministers, who were already working overtime to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and accelerate the economy, have been sidelined in a debate over whether crop tops or other skinny clothes on teenage girls in theaters class are a serious affront to the French Republic.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said girls should go to school dressed “in a republican way”. It apparently means primitive and modest, but no one is quite sure.
Meanwhile, fueling the feeling that women in France just can’t win, some have recently been criticized for covering up too much – by wearing a Muslim headscarf.
Blanquer was responding to an initiative launched on social networks, called the Monday September 14 Movement, encouraging students to come to school in their best “provocative” or “indecent” clothes. The idea was to claim freedom from what is considered an implicit dress code in public schools, which do not have written rules on dress.
In a country where portraits and statues of the topless symbol of France, Marianne, are ubiquitous, Blanquer’s remark has sparked mockery on social media. Some items depicted women of the French Revolution in their traditional “Phrygian” cups and dresses with deep necklines exposing the neckline.
The word “republican”, referring to the French Republic, has been used more and more in recent years by government officials to describe the values of the democratic system on which France has been built for over 200 years. But many, even among his government colleagues, believe that Blanquer has gone too far.
“In France, everyone is free to dress as they wish,” said Tuesday the minister in charge of equality between women and men, Elisabeth Moreno, in the Paris daily. “Women have taken centuries to break free from dress codes. This freedom (which has been won) is priceless. ”
For some, the remark of the Minister of Education in response to the September 14 movement is a minor dispute, but for others, the serious issue of women’s rights is at stake. Moreno and Minister of Industry, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, regretted that only girls were at the center of the debate.
A teacher from a high school in Alfortville, south-east of Paris, Françoise Cahen, tweeted: “The parents of young Marianne are asked to quickly pick up their child, expelled from school for his non-republican outfit. Attached is a photo of the bust of Marianne, national symbol of France, with bare breasts.
In another tweet, Cahen noted that what is really “indecent” at school is the needy students who cannot afford school supplies or athletic shoes.
Amid the mockery and disagreement, the education minister could take comfort in a poll on skin-revealing clothes at school released by polling firm Ifop on Friday.
The survey of 2,027 adult men and women of all ages showed widespread opposition to such attire, with 73% of women opposing it and 58% of men. The poll had a margin of error of about 3%.
Two in three French people (66%) are opposed to schooling without a bra, of which 41% are young people. Plunging necklines were also seen as inappropriate class attire, while popular, low-waisted tops were 55% rejected by seniors, while 59% of those under 25 approved.
Pollsters linked the results not to Republican dress, but to a general feeling that “it’s still up to girls to manage male desire” despite their generation’s rejection of such notions.
The debate over school outfits has also been framed by the resurgence of the long-standing controversy over the Muslim headscarf, seen as an affront to France’s secular foundations. Headwear has been banned in French schools since 2004.
A Muslim college student who wears a headscarf has been tracked down on Twitter after showing on French television how his classmates can cook meals on a budget. And separately, the vice-president of the student union UNEF, Maryam Pougetoux, sparked an incident when she appeared before a parliamentary committee on youth and the coronavirus in her headscarf.
Several scandalized lawmakers have left, starting with Anne-Christine Lang, the centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron. She tweeted that as a “feminist committed to Republican values … and women’s rights” she saw the veil as a “mark of submission” and had no choice but to leave.
The UNEF replied that “being a feminist is as much supporting the Monday September 14 movement as supporting women who choose to wear” the headscarf.