French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was taken back to school for a history lesson after suggesting the bare breasts of Marianne – the symbol of the French republic – justified the controversial burkini ban. Valls, who has voiced his approval on restricting the attire, made the comments at a Socialist Party rally on Monday (29 August) night.
"Marianne has bare breasts because she feeds the people, she does not wear a headscarf because she is free!" Valls declared in a Toulouse suburb, according to Le Monde newspaper. "That's the Republic!"
His remarks instantly drew ire and were derided as "moronic." Mathilde Larrère, a university professor and French Revolution specialist, set the record straight in a series of embarrassing tweets for Valls.
"Marianne has a naked breast because it's an allegory, you cretin!" she wrote on Twitter. The post has since been retweeted nearly 1,500 times and received over 1,000 likes.
Larrère explained that the use of Marianne's naked breasts was just "artistic code". She added that it is "the image we want the Republic to represent, and not at all a comment on women".
Marianne became a symbol of the French Republic in 1848 and only certain representations show her bare breasts. According to Larrère, this depicts different views on the Republic rather than women.
The French prime minister's comments were not applauded by Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine and Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the BBC reported.
The burkini ban has sparked furious debate both in France and in the UK. The UN has slammed the restriction as "a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms" and a "stupid reaction" to recent terror attacks.
"These decrees do not improve the security situation but rather fuel religious intolerance and the stigmatisation of Muslims in France, especially women," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Last week, France's top administrative court overturned the ban on the full-body swimsuit. The court found it "seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms"and could set a legal precedent for 30 other towns which also implemented the ban on its beaches.
Ange-Pierre Vivoni, mayor of the Corsican town of Sisco and the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard were among a handful who insisted that they will continue with the ban.