The summer heat is oppressive. My boyfriend Jörg is tall and well built, and often goes jogging in shorts. I enjoy catching the admiring gazes from other women. Jörg also jogs without a shirt. I’s so hot now that I also refuse to wear a t-shirt over my sports bra - anyway, the parks and outdoor swimming pools are teeming with women in bikini tops. ‘Get your tits out,’ yells a guy from behind me. I try and suppress my disgust. Jörg doesn’t seem to even acknowledge this guy’s cheek. ‘You could have covered up a bit,’ he says. ‘You don’t have anything on your top half either!’ I retort. Is that my emancipated boyfriend who has just turned all conservative? ‘I don’t have breasts either. Do you have to show everyone?’ he responds quietly, as if my neckline stopped just before my nipples. We enter into a frank discussion about equal rights as I wheeze furiously next to him.
Later, I take a visit to an open-air swimming pool with a friend, Hanna. In my women’s magazine there is a debate about whether the burkini, a full-body swimming costume including headscarf, and whether it should be permitted at public swimming pools. The counter arguments are the same as by any debate on muslim headscarves, from the hijab to the burka, from which the burkini takes its name: ‘sexist’, ‘demeaning to women’, ‘disguising’. Should you only ban the burkini once muslim women are actually allowed to visit a public swimming pool? Whether women should be allowed to totally mask themselves, if the so wish, is a difficult question – do you always want to hide yourself in public? Use the veil as ‘protection’ from lusting men? Why doesn’t the same apply to them?
I don’t like getting bikini top tan lines, so I lie topless on my towel. Soon, every second man passing by on his way to pool pauses for a brief leer. ‘What are you gawping at?’ I snap at two old men wearing tight speedos, a beloved German penchant often made fun of elsewhere around the world. In Germany, around 85% of men wear swimming shorts that generously display their ‘best bits’. Hanna wants to go in the water, and I do too, but with no intention of taking my bikini top with me. Maybe the heat has gone to my head, or maybe it’s my continuing rage towards Jörg. Either way I feel like a modern Joan of Arc, single-handedly leading a victorious march anti-discrimination against women. I don’t give the two triangular scraps of material a second look as I stride away, head held high next to Hanna, in the direction of the pool. Everyone around us begins to giggle, whisper, and jeer.
The head lifeguard, a fortysomething sporting a beer belly and tight red speedos, is busy giving three young boys a telling off. ‘Can the young women who is topless please report to the lifeguard station,’ I hear over the tannoy, as I dive into the water. The message is repeated twice, so everyone can hear. ‘You can’t go around like that here,’ he tells me. ‘It’s against the rules. ‘Not that you’ve got anything to hide but no-one goes around here without swim shorts on either.’ I am raging, and just want to go home.
Jörg is looking at me, dumbfounded. ‘Do you always have to play the suffragette? Hidden breasts are so much more attractive. If I saw you naked all the time it wouldn’t be exciting anymore.’ I start hissing: ‘Just because our breasts turn you men on, you think you the right to control over them and we have to hide them? Then you drivel on about human and equal rights when it comes to headscarves? If hair, the face or even the whole body are seen as an object of lust of muslim men, and therefore have to be covered up, it’s wrong, but when it’s just about breasts then it’s understandable? Because you deem it so? And what is it with men and tight swim shorts? Do you think what wobbles around under your tight swim shorts isn’t an object of lust for us? Why shouldn’t you have to go around in big baggy swim trunks?’ ‘Sweetie, that is totally different...’ I like being called sweetie, I am cute – but right now I don’t want to be ‘sweet’. Not for Jörg. Not for anyone. He spends the next night sleeping on the sofa. And in my dreams I jogged through the streets topless but with a headscarf and sunglasses.
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