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This week columnist Allison Pearson reported in The Telegraph about the new burkini range unveiled by Marks & Spencer, writing that the burkini ‘shows Britain is letting sexism sneak in under the radar’.
She claimed that it is an ‘insidious attempt to normalise the treatment of a woman’s body as something to be embarrassed about’. How times have changed (apparently) since women would once be chastised for showing skin at the beach. This is not surprising for The Telegraph, but if this columnist was attempting to disguise her Islamophobia with feminism then she failed miserably, as while her article progresses from calling out body-shaming to blaming multiculturalism, it becomes clear that this whole piece is just another embarrassing excuse to equate Islam to misogyny.
I thought, at first, that she had just missed the point: anyone can see that the ‘burkini’ would be intended for Muslim women, yet Pearson seems to be criticising M&S’ jump back in time, comparing the range to Victorian swimwear. Until this point, all I was thinking about was her hypocrisy in denouncing misogynistic body-shaming while at the same time dismissing women, Muslim or not, who may opt to cover up. By means of a mention of this year’s Cologne attacks, she stretched to equate wearing the burkini to saying to all men: “I must not be a source of temptation. It is my fault if a man lusts after me or rapes me”. Allison Pearson puts male opinion high on the list of women’s fashion choices, just as she claims Islam does. What she does not seem to recognise is that women – even Muslim women – can and do have the freedom to dress as they like.
No, the ‘burkini’ play on words had not in fact gone over her head, and soon enough her real agenda of bemoaning the Muslim influence on British culture became obvious:
Fair enough if M&S sells them in its stores in Dubai and Libya, but stocking it here in the UK is the thin end of the wedge. How long before headscarves are all the rage?
So this is about multiculturalism, not misogyny – or rather, it is about how the inherently misogynistic Islamic faith is threatening what it means to be a British woman. Are we back to this argument again? Is it even worth pointing out that she is fine with this ‘misogyny’ happening in Dubai or Libya, but it is only a problem if it is in Britain? What a great feminist!
Allison Pearson should be ashamed to use feminism as a way to criticise Islam, and she should be ashamed to criticise Islam in the first place. Of course, many (Muslim) women are pressured or forced into covering up, but ironically Pearson ‘the feminist’ thinks that all women who do cover up are doing it for men, not for themselves.
Nigella Lawson, who is not a Muslim, wore a burkini five years ago on the beach simply to cover up from the sun, out of Personal Choice – that thing Allison Pearson does not think that women have. The original Telegraph article even mentioned this, but she left it out.
Even more disappointingly missing the point, 59% of people who read her article are actually ‘outraged’ by the burkini, believing that women’s bodies do not ‘need’ to be covered. Let’s not pretend that this columnist is not just having a hard time with one of Britain’s main retailers embracing the Muslim community. While I do definitely believe that she is a poor feminist, she is also obviously shaken to the core by the threat of non-British influences, as seen in the token reference to Sharia courts.
Pearson’s attempt to use feminism to try and speak out for all women against oppression (read: Islam) is embarrassing. And the fact that the majority of her readers agree with her says nothing about changing beliefs about feminism, but rather about dangerous attitudes towards Muslims.