"A breast is a better symbol of the republic than Muslim veils," says French prime minister

Manuel Valls told an audience that the image of a bare female breast "nourished the people" while the bukini represents "enslavement"

Marianne, Manuel Valls

Visitors looking at the famous French paining 'Liberty Leading the People' at the Louvre-Lens Museum [Pixabay]

In the wake of France’s ongoing troubles with the burkini ban, the country’s prime minister Manuel Valls has been widely criticised after suggesting that naked female breasts are a better symbol of the French Republic’s liberties than a Muslim headscarf.

Speaking on Monday night in Colombiers, Valls told an audience that the bare breast of Marianne, a young woman who stands as a symbol of France on official documents and stamps, was an appropriate icon for the nation. “Marianne has a naked breast because she nourished the people! She was not veiled, because she is free! That is the Republic! That is Marianne,” Valls told the crowd.

Stamps issued in France using Marianne to represent the country [Wiki Commons]

Valls’ comments on Marianne were widely challenged by several prominent French feminists and historians. Mathilde Larrère, an expert in the history of the French Revolution and citizenship at the University of Paris-Est responded by tweeting: “Marianne has a naked breast because it’s an allegory, you cretin.”

Larrère also added that while Marianne supposedly represents the ideals and goals of liberty, equality, and brotherhood as laid down by the French constitution, she was created at a time when women were considered to be entirely inferior to men and were denied voting rights.

French historian Nicolas Lebourg writing in the French broadsheet Libération said that he believed Valls had mistaken Marianne with the iconic Eugène Delacroix paining Liberty Leading the People, in which a woman personifying the goddess of liberty is seen holding the French tricolour while leading the charge of people over the bodies of those fallen in the struggles.

Delacroix's 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People, which features Liberty, often interpreted as Marianne, leading the charge for freedom [Wiki Commons]

Others pointed out that Marianne is traditionally depicted wearing a bonnet rouge or a Phrygian cap, a hat covering most of her head.

Valls has been a vocal critic of the Muslim headscarf and had shown support for mayors across the country’s southern regions who introduced the infamous burkini ban in more than 30 coastal towns. Despite France’s highest court overruling the ban, The Local reports that Valls has said the debate over the swimwear is “not over.”

“We have to wage a determined fight against radical Islam, against these religious symbols which are filtering into public spaces,” Valls recently said. “For me, the burkini is a symbol of the enslavement of women.”

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