Amid an ongoing debate over whether to ban Muslims from wearing burkinis,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls decided this week to escalate the rhetoric over what it means to be a French woman. In a speech Monday, Valls claimed that naked breasts were more French than a headscarf, according to media reports.
Valls went on to glorify the bare breast of Marianne, a national symbol of the French Republic which stands for an allegory of liberty and reason. He said: “Marianne has a naked breast because she is feeding the people! She is not veiled, because she is free! That is the republic!”
Following his remarks, critics began to question if Valls truly knew the history behind the French Republic. Historian Nicolas Lebourg told French newspaper Libération that Valls seems to have confused Marianne with the earlier 1830 Delacroix painting of Liberty Leading the People. This particular figure has her breasts uncovered.
Refinery29 reported that throughout French history, Marianne has often appeared with her head covered in a Phrygian cap and her breasts were not always displayed. The Phrygian cap is a soft, felt hat that symbolized freedom and the revolution.
This is not the first time that Valls has been vocal about how he feels about “burkinis.” In the past he has defended and rallied behind French mayors who support the banning of the swimwear that covers a woman’s entire body with the exception of her hands feet and face.
Since the “burkini ban,” the United Nations has urged France to reconsider and lift it. The intergovernmental organization called the ban a “stupid reaction” that only fuelled the religious tension against Muslims and did not improve security.