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Go topless and wear a hijab

The feminist thing to do is not to advise ladies to remove their bikini tops, but to dare stand up for women’s rights and fight against all forms of oppression and discrimination

Carmen Domingo
Toples piscinas
Going topless is a regular practice at the Picornell swimming pools in Barcelona.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

The latest campaign by the Department of Feminisms and Equality of Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, was released a few days ago, coinciding with Go Topless Day, an annual event started in 2007 in the United States to support women’s right to go topless in public.

The Catalan government campaign said that “for you to have to cover your breasts is not normal, it is discriminatory. That’s why, on Go Topless Day, we are reminding you of your rights.”

I confess I had to watch it twice.

And not just because there are quite a few public swimming pools where it is forbidden to go topless; it wasn’t even because the video defending the public presence of tits depicted a male nipple, describing it as truly “free.”

No; what struck me the most was the fact that just a few weeks ago, this very same Catalan government lectured us with an infographic explaining the various names and uses of the Islamic veils which, of course, only women use.

I don’t know just how empowering it is to go topless, considering how common it is on our beaches, not to mention that our mothers were already doing it back in the day (I know, I know, our grandmothers didn’t, don’t call me nostalgic, it’s only been done for 50 years).

So I had to watch the campaign video twice, because most of us women are already doing as we please on the beach, without the regional department chief having to provide any advice, and I’m afraid that’s not the problem anyway. The problem lies with the women who cannot do as they please, and it is towards them that a specific campaign (not this one) should be geared – perhaps in Catalan, Spanish, English and Arabic.

Because it seems incredible to me that nobody is thinking about all those women who, as former Catalan leader Jordi Pujol would say, are Catalan because they live here and work here, and should also feel the support of Catalan government agencies to free themselves of the hijab, the chador… garments that, may I remind the department chief, serve to sexualize and discriminate against women, regardless of the fact that the odd town run by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) has celebrated and defended their use.

You might say that I’m mixing different issues, or call me an Islamophobe, but the fact remains that this same call for bodily freedom made by the Catalan government should include all women, because the use of a garment like the hijab is not the result of a free decision by women, but of a patriarchal imposition. That’s why it comes as a surprise that this government is running campaigns in favor of going topless yet failing to mention the use of the hijab, which by the way is increasingly on display at our beaches and pools.

It seems like the modern thing to do is not doing whatever women want, but to bare your breasts because the Catalan government calls it liberation and to cover your hair because the imam wills it so, and the government calls that multiculturalism. And both positions are getting public sponsorship.

I would tell the department chief that the feminist thing to do is not to advise women to remove their bikini tops, but to dare stand up for women’s rights and fight against all forms of oppression and discrimination. But of course, that might create more headaches that hollow applause.

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