This week, a dispute about how women should dress has again erupted in France — but this time, the circumstances were notably different.
According to initial reports published in the French press this week, two women wearing shorts were verbally assaulted as they made their way through an eastern neighborhood in the southern city of Toulon on Sunday afternoon. Local prosecutor Bernard Marchal told reporters a group of about 10 young men began insulting the women, who were out biking and rollerblading with their families, calling them "whores" and making other vulgar insults for their choice of clothing.
When the women's spouses confronted the men, a brawl broke out. The husbands and a male friend were severely beaten. The fighting, which was witnessed by children in the group, left one man with severe facial fractures and another with a broken nose, Marchal told Agence France-Presse. Two suspects, ages 17 and 19, were apprehended Tuesday; an investigation is underway to find the others.
The idea that the women had been harassed simply because they wore shorts led some to dub it the "affaire des shorts." However, on Friday one of the women involved came out to say that was inaccurate. "We were not in shorts. We were in sportswear," the woman, named as Marie, told the Nice Matin newspaper.
Part of the reason the incident spread so quickly was that it followed a previous attack on a woman wearing shorts. In early June, an 18-year-old girl named Maude Vallet said she was insulted, threatened and spat on by a group of girls while on a bus in Toulon — all because she was wearing denim shorts. Vallet posted a picture of her outfit on Facebook afterward, arguing that men can walk around the city with their shirts off and not face the harassment she faced.
After that incident, about 100 women wearing shorts gathered in Toulon for a "short walk." The event was promoted with the hashtag #TousEnShort — or "all in shorts."
So far, there is little information about the motivations of the attackers in either instances — details such as their religious or ethnic backgrounds have not been publicly released. However, some in France linked the reports of attacks on shorts-wearers to the ongoing burkini controversy.
"The question of the burkini, the proliferation of full veils, assaults on women in shorts and the beating of their companions share the same logic," Céline Pina, a former regional councilor for the Paris area and the author of a book on Islamist extremism, wrote for Le Figaro on Thursday. "It's making the body of the woman a social and political issue, a litmus test for the progress of an ideology within society."
Officials of the far-right National Front shared the story widely on social media, often using the hashtag #TousEnShort. Many suggested a link between the assault and Islam. "Again, our freedoms are being severely attacked," Julien Leonardelli, the department secretary for the party in Haute-Garonne, wrote on Twitter. "Sharia is already installed."'
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