Seldom since the 21 to 1 vote to convict Louis XVI in 1793 have all political parties in France been so nearly unanimous.
They disagree about everything: mass Islamic immigration, les Anglo-Saxons, Putin, public spending, education, rioting, crime, Covid, Macron’s sexuality.
But for once politicians from all the main parties are in agreement: France’s identity is under threat. So is her culture. So is her liberté. So, if you add all those together, is the very essence of France. And MPs from all parties concur on both the existence of the threat and its source.
This most devastating assault on France since 1940 has been launched by two gendarmes in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer, a resort 70 miles south of Montpellier. Those two cops, one woman, one man, asked three female sunbathers in their 60s to put their bikini tops on.
That act of wanton tyranny occurred after a woman with two children complained that she didn’t want her tots exposed to the ungainly sight of three grannies playing footie with their mammaries.
Another holidaymaker witnessed the scene and was so enraged that she immediately contacted the local TV station. The station considered the event sufficiently newsworthy for its evening programme, and public indignation burst out like the cork out of a bottle of tepid champagne.
A wave of puritanism is sweeping the country, screamed the media, the public and its representatives. France’s quintessential freedom of exposing les seins on beaches is being undermined.
David Lisnard, the Republican mayor of Cannes was aghast: representatives of the state were enforcing “regressive prudishness”. The left, in the person of socialist MP Christine Pirès Beaune, was also “fed up with all these puritans and moralising people”.
Jean Messiha, of the Le Pen party, couldn’t agree more: French identité was under threat.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin explained unassailably that “freedom is something precious”, implying that asking women to cover their breasts is the thin end of a wedge. Next thing you know, cops will be executing people without due process, and foie gras will be banned.
And Aurélien Taché, MP from the ruling La République en Marche party, summed up the argument as succinctly as one expects from an heir to the legacy of Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre: “Everyone is free to dress or undress as they like.”
Now, not being French, an MP or heir to that glorious legacy, I’d suggest that this blanket statement calls for at least some qualification. Even in France public nudity is confined to beaches, and a person walking naked through, say, the Champs-Elysées is likely to be arrested.
In any case, the amount of nudity permissible anywhere has nothing to do with inalienable human freedoms or historical national identity. It’s a matter of consensual convention, and conventions change over time.
However, the convention that women’s breasts should be at least partially covered in public never changed in the West for many centuries. A woman aiming her nipples at variously interested faces used to be a feature of brothels or cabaret shows like Folies Bergère or Moulin Rouge.
Anything else was regarded as an offence against decency, propriety and elementary manners (in the case of those Sainte-Marie-la-Mer sunbathers, also against aesthetics). However, at some point that convention changed, and topless sunbathing became commonplace on French beaches.
This happened in the 1960s, at roughly the same time when revolutionary students were paralysing Paris, taking over university buildings, building barricades, abusing non-Communist professors, fatally defenestrating conservative students and endangering the very existence of the French state.
The movement of the soixante-huitards (I call them ‘soixante-retards’) was inspired by an anomic ideology having our whole civilisation in its crosshairs. Against the background of that cataclysm, the spread of topless sunbathing looked innocent.
Yet the two developments had something in common. Topless sunbathing was also inspired by a subversive ideology, one related to the student revolt and, in the long run, possibly even more destructive.
That ideology is militant feminism, which shares the appalling features of all ideologies. It’s rabid, hare-brained, based on mass appeal to the lowliest of emotions, devoid of any sensible rationale, and socially devastating.
Like all ideologies, feminism strives to burn every traditional certitude down to cinders, hoping that New Man will emerge Phoenix-style out of the ashes. Its target isn’t human institutions, but human nature.
In the case of topless sunbathing, feminists, ably led by their founding mother Simone de Beauvoir, were asking questions they considered rhetorical: “If men can bare their torsos on the beach, why can’t women? We are all equal, aren’t we?”
That was a no-brainer, in the literal sense of absent brains. We may all be equal metaphysically, dears, but equal doesn’t mean the same. Specifically, women’s breasts are different from men’s physically, physiologically, sexually and culturally.
That’s why, in our civilisation, they have always received a special treatment. And not just in ours, come to that. For example, in India covered breasts were a class characteristic: only women of the top castes concealed their charms from prying eyes.
Shame about nudity was regarded in the West, when it was still called Christendom, as a consequence of breaking a covenant with God. Over subsequent history faith in such doctrines ebbed, but it left a residue. Like all fundamental Western laws, shame about nudity has scriptural antecedents; like them, it has outlived faith in Scripture.
On a more down-to-earth level, nonchalant public nudity destroys the source of so much of Western culture, especially poetry. Lyrical poetry would have been impossible without some mystique attached to the woman’s body.
Seeing it unclothed used to be a prize to be won by wooing, courtship, professed adoration, a display of wit and passion. When men can see naked breasts swinging all around them, they stop seeing them – and their possessors – as something special, to be cherished and pursued.
Typically, they either ogle those appendages with lazy lust or, even worse, pay no more attention to them than they do to slabs of beef in the butcher’s window. This has far-reaching social and cultural consequences, every one of them destructive.
Conventions and traditions fall by the wayside all the time, which in itself is neither good nor bad. A lot depends on why they disappear, and also on what kind of social dominoes will fall in the process.
When traditional standards of decency change under the influence of pernicious ideology, no other standard is safe. One doesn’t have to be a “moralising puritan” to see that. One only has to be an observant person who can draw conclusions from what he sees.