When Western women betray their Muslim sisters with gestures of patronizing regressivity

March 24, 2016 • 10:00 am

by Grania Spingies

A few days ago I wrote about a new sports outfit for Afghanistan’s women soccer players. It always disappoints me bitterly when Westerners help prop up parochial norms in other societies, especially ones that have have been enforced against women without their consent or approval of those women – or of society in general . The one bright light in that story is that perhaps some girls will get to participate in a sport that they might not have been able to.

Now there’s a new example of this closer to home. Marks & Spencer in the UK now offers a swimsuit, the burkini, for sale. Their sales pitch is this:

This burkini suit covers the whole body with the exception of the face, hands and feet, without compromising on style. It’s lightweight so you can swim in comfort. [Ed. by Grania: Yeah right.]

Also doubles as a ninja suit, or possibly a waiter outfit in a themed restaurant.


Other uses include pyjamas for those afraid of earwigs.

Its other use is to avoid sunburn, and I suppose if someone wants to appear in public in a full gimp suit, that’s their own business.

Man in bondage suit for comparison. This one prevents nose sunburn too.

While some people are patting M&S on their collective heads for embracing multiculturalism–and I am sure this outfit was marketed with the very best of intentions–what they are also doing is endorsing the mindset that says that women’s bodies are shameful, and are to be regarded as the property of either their fathers or husbands. They are to be concealed under the guise of “modesty” and “virtue”, very often with the explicitly stated corollary that those women who do not cover up are immodest, dishonorable and immoral.

There is no way for any woman to win when faced with that sort of choice. You are doomed if you comply, you are damned if you refuse.

We all know that pretty much the only proponents of this point of view  in the 21st century are conservative religious authorities.

Back in the 1950s it was the Catholic pope bitterly complaining about the bikini when Kiki Håkansson won the Miss World beauty pageant wearing one. History is silent on what the pope, the epitome of celibacy, was doing watching beauty pageants. We only know that he didn’t like it and felt it incumbent upon him to say so in public.

Bathing costumes in the 1890s. Practically libertine by burkini standards.

For years the Miss World pageant in all its tawdry and pointless glory treated Western religious sensibilities with the contempt they deserved. In 2013 they did a 180 degree about-face on the bikini issue. The reason? The organisers were afraid of offending Muslims in that year’s host country, Indonesia. To be clear on this, the host country had not demanded anything of the sort. This was a “proactive” decision taken unilaterally by the organisers, and in so doing they sent out a very clear message that the only the feelings of the most conservative religious people mattered. As Dr Brooke Magnanti wrote in The Telegraph:

[I]t continues to be surprising that many feminists seem to have no great problem with this. Sure, the ends some wanted have been achieved. Bikinis gone thanks to the Pope or Muslims or whoever it is this time. But at what cost? As they say where I come from (the US), ‘you got to dance with the one who brung you’. Such dirty alliances always, always, come with a hidden cost. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what outcome religious conservatives of any faith are aiming for when they order the womenfolk to cover up.

Seventy years ago your grandma was wearing this.

So why is this a problem in a cosmopolitan melting pot like the UK in  2016? When retailers in Western Europe produce these sorts of garments, they are not “helping” women. They are pandering to the whims of male ultra-conservative religious leaders, and in so doing are tacitly endorsing the misogyny contained in all such religious edicts on female clothing. Like the well-meaning fools who rushed out to don a hijab in a show of solidarity (and lack of neural activity), it betrays those Muslim women in the community who do not wish to conform to whatever the most conservative and parochial voices of self-appointed leaders have ordained acceptable. These acts endorse and promote the worldview of those who suggest that women are to be treated like children or possessions. It severely undermines the voices of women who wish to live as authors of their own lives.

Here’s a simple test: if you are promoting clothing that looks like it predates everything in the last century and at least half of the century before that, you are promoting the opposite of progress.

143 thoughts on “When Western women betray their Muslim sisters with gestures of patronizing regressivity

  1. My first thought on seeing that burkini picture was “just buy a wetsuit or a drysuit. It looks just like that, you’ll blend in with the surfers, and it will keep you warm in cold water.”

      1. I guess you are right. However in JAC’s other article on the soccer clothing, those looked pretty form fitting. Consistency is not one of their hobgoblins.

  2. Who is going to produce the first photograph of a fully clothed male of the human species ready for swimming?
    Don’t hold out your hopes, unless it is a scam of course.
    Shame on UK M&S. I for one will write to the CEO and with your permission quote PCC sentiments.

    1. When you write, perhaps suggest to M&S that they should make an equivalent swimming outfit for men!

      Imagine the outrage.

        1. My surroundings certainly could. However, I’m afraid I’m not that charitable. Suffer, surroundings! Or better, contemplate the 355+ degrees of the horizon that doesn’t include me. 😉


  3. Excessively retrograde. I guess the only reason for women to go along with this is to avoid beatings or being killed.

    Unfortunately, we have this in backwaters of our own culture with certain Christian and Jewish variants in addition to Muslims. Amish, certain Mormons, orthodox Jews, etc.

    I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. Although I could wear bathing suits and
    sleeveless or backless dresses, I couldn’t wear pants with zippers in the front because that was “Men’s clothing”. When we’d go to the midwest to a state that will remain nameless,
    my grandmother was a member of Church of God, Holiness, a church even more fundamentalist than the one I grew up in. She didn’t cut her hair or wear makeup, wore high-collared, long-sleeved, long-skirted dresses, and stockings that were opaque. One time, I went swimming in the river with some of the girls and their mothers from Grandma’s church. They wore dresses. I, shockingly, wore pedal pushers (that zipped on the side). With their skirts floating above the water, they looked somewhat like colorful mushrooms.

    1. I’d go along with it because I have always hated my white yucky body. Of course, I’m sure this opens up a whole other can of worms about how much women do hate their poor bodies.

      You will never see me at a beach….never ever.

      1. I was saddened by this, and by what you wrote below that people told you your body was not beautiful.
        I see (from your other comments in this thread) you realize very well that people saying such things are either mean or (to put it politely) haven’t thought enough on the subject.
        I’d wish you go to to the beach again.

        I’ve thought that beauty standards for the opposite sex are just a result of natural selection. That is, we like potential partners who are healthy, strong and young enough. The latter is particularly important for women. Of course, a man who throughout his life likes the female body as it looks at age 45-50 will have little chance to leave progeny.
        However, my theory is wrong – or at least doesn’t include all that is there. Because beauty standards are different across cultures, can change fast within the same culture, and in recent times in the West (as you mentioned) are totally disconnected from reality.

        1. Thanks mayamarkov. It was much harder when I was younger (teens, 20s) and thought I was the one to blame. Sadly, I think people do really think it’s okay to tell others they find you repugnant when you don’t measure up to what they think is okay. Even in my 30s, I had a coworker tell me I looked disgusting and should “get a tan” and this was at work where he could see only my arms, face and hands. I think the rationale for this is I’m purposely making myself look unappealing by not tanning (of course I can’t tan) and that needs to be corrected because one of my jobs as a young woman, was to look nice for the men. Sadly, women also enforce this behaviour as I’ve had women come up to me (when I was a teen) and tell me how unattractive I looked being fair skinned. These women were no great shakes beauty wise but I guess in their minds, I was deliberately trying to look unattractive or I was misguided in what attractive looked like.

          1. There are many men who prefer pale women. I am one of them. I never understood the hysteria about tanned skin, especially by people not naturally tanned. Snow-white is my ideal of beauty in women.

            Human skin is hurt by sunbeams. Many fair-skinned sun worshippers look like mummies in their 40s. I call them “Grillhühnchen” (women) or “Grillhähnchen” (men), the german words for rotisserie chicken.

            1. They do look like roast poultry! I usually describe it as “you know white people who tan too much and their colour looks really weird because they’re white people?”

              You just can’t win though. I have an East Indian friend who tries not to be too dark because her husband doesn’t like it. No one can be who they are. There is always something.

              1. Of course you can. Surround yourself with people who accept you as you are and ignore the rest. (But listen to reasonable criticism offered in a polite manner.)

                Likewise, scrutinize any relationship if you feel you have to accommodate to the other person’s views or tastes too much.

                I know people with Asperger’s Syndrome who have similar problems with their “normal” peers. They have to learn to accept themselves despite the pressure from “neurotypical” people.

          2. Hi Diana

            I’m staggered that anyone would have been so rude as to comment uninvited on your looks at work.

            But regardless of that, please don’t let that stop you going to the beach. I’ve always found it extremely helpful in such situations to reflect that 99% of people are so absorbed in their own affairs they’re not even going to notice me and the 1% that do notice my existence aren’t going to say anything anyway, why should they? The beach is full of nondescript people (and by ‘nondescript’ I mean ‘anybody who doesn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Pamela Anderson’). Short of setting yourself on fire, nobody is going to take any notice of you. (And I mean that in a good way 😉


            1. Thanks infinite… I did swim at the Great Barrier Reef in 2009 but I wore a head to toe suit because of the jellies.

              1. Jelly jihadists. Those buggers will paralyze you and I saw them in there too.

              2. I have heard of the Australian jellyfish and they’re no fun at all.

                I occasionally reflect on how lucky I am that the places I’ve usually swum are relatively free from nasties. I do see tiny blue jellyfish stranded on the beach at Piha but I’ve only once noticed one in the water and I’ve never heard of anyone getting stung so I guess they’re fairly harmless (to humans, at least).

                And the lagoon in Raro – it’s full of sharp spiky things but nothing that will attack you if you don’t poke it first. (Except triggerfish in mating season and their mouths are only 1/4″ wide so the most they can do is nip annoyingly).


            1. Or aerosol-ly, like Trump… 😀

              I did the rub-on tan for a while–even tho it’s a PITA and one does end up looking like a carrot, to my mind it was better than Nordic white…Can we please get back to the female-skin-shade-preference times of Scarlet O’Hara?

              I didn’t think so.

              1. Yeah me too. It’s funny though because Boehner is one of the white people that are just a weird colour.

              2. The modern stuff is pretty good and realistic looking but I worry about putting all those weird ass chemicals into my skin. I feel the same way about copious use of sunblock and try to cover up rather than slather (plus it’s gross when you sweat, which I do a lot in the summer).

            2. I used to but now I don’t because it’s too much work and I think my whiteness fits with the rest of the way I look.

  4. I actually find nothing wrong with the idea of such clothing, PROVIDED it is not compulsory. Women and men should have options for swimming clothing beyond a string bikini or speedo. As I get older, I am less comfortable appearing half naked at the beach or pool and have opted for a loose-fitting swim shirt in addition to long board shorts for aesthetic reasons as much as UV protection.

    The convention that only bikinis or tight-fitting swim wear are acceptable can also be viewed as oppressive, creating unnecessary pressure and anxiety.

    We should have swim wear options that run the gamut from revealing (for those who are comfortable with that) to conservative for those who are, for various legitimate reasons, not ok appearing half-naked in front of strangers.

        1. +1 to stopping old men wearing revealing clothing at the beach, or old people in general?

          I’d like to understand why it is considered humorous to make such a joke about old men, but would be viewed differently if such a comment was made about old women.

          1. I know, I know🐸 I knew I’d get blowback as soon as I hit POST. Males and females should wear whatever they want. In my experience there seem to be more old men in Speedos around than old women in bikinis. Now I’m going to sound ageist and sexist…and I believe I am neither.

            1. You should get blowback on these things. I don’t see how it helps reduce sexism and ageism to….make sexist and ageist comments. Just because the objects of your ridicule are men, does not make it less sexist than it the objects were women.

              1. Ha ha. Problem is, I’m not sure I could come up with many objective reasons for a person not to wear this or that, such that their refusal to agree with me would constitute a real error. Suppose a morbidly obese person wants to wear a bikini. What are the facts of the matter that make this wrong?

                That’s why I favor having as many options as possible available, for both sexes.

              2. There used to be one piece bathers that had a pleated skirt attached Maybe that would be the thing or an inner bit that like a regular one piece and then a short nylon or whatever the fabric is loose topped dress with pleats sewn over that

            2. It’d be good if people could objectively consider things like beachwear and honestly answer the question “Is this a good look for me?”

              That goes for all people of all ages, though it might sound trite gyms with the slogan “We’ll help you look good naked” are really on the right track. 😛

              1. Since when is an assessment of “does this look good on me/you/them?” objective? It is always cultural.

                Also, since when are people obligated to try to look good? There are many reasons to wear clothing, and being serviceable for the activity is one of them. I may not look good in my swim clothes, but whether that might bother someone is not going to keep me out of the pool. People who suggest otherwise can go fly a kite on the freeway, preferably in the dark with high-speed traffic.

              2. that’s pretty arrogant. No we do not have to look like Greek gods.

                I know plenty of people who really don’t eat that much, who exercise a lot and still put on really quite a lot of weight as they age. I think its partly genetic and partly the chemical reaction of the kinds of foods available to them when they were young (I seem to recall, I may be wrong, there is increasing studies indicating very sugary diet in earlier life creates metabolism dysfunction that inclines one to put on weight). Balanced diet of course helps but these people do have a balanced diet- occasionally they slip. Its an issue of how people are made to feel in the world because of what they wear – so its sort of related to the burkina issue

                To be fair there is an extra expense to the market catering to all different sizes and age groups especially for something like swimwear where there’s a decency requirement as well and its expensive to provide something (certainly for women) that is both supportive and comfortable to swim in and has loose non revealing cover as well. For that reason it may be expensive to make and provide for and end product probably a bit pricey. They bigger chains may want to market it separately from other things because frankly its human nature that a lot of people will want to feel the fashion /glamor vibe when they are shopping (or even making) clothes. But surely with so many boutique stores and need for larger size underwear as well there should be more available to larger women in swimwear – including made to order shops. Or even online – and giving dimensions and having it made to order. It just might be a bit expensive but the model should be there and its right that people push for it.

            3. I agree with you Merilee.

              Speaking as someone who appreciates (ahem) the sight of young women in bikinis, I guess older people gotta wear something. I just don’t have to look at them. (And that includes me. I wear swimming shorts. Not gonna wear a shirt, it feels odd. If the sight of me wobbling my slightly over weight slightly gynaecomastic hairy bulk down the beach is less than aesthetic, then don’t look. If I could switch myself invisible I would out of consideration for the aesthetic environment, but I can’t so I don’t. Deal with it). Unfortunately most men over 30 seem to be like me. Far more men than women, as Merilee noted.


              1. Growing up in a very liberal household, I don’t really have any issues with nudity and I think it’s fine for people to show off their bodies no matter how they look.
                The only exception are the people who can’t put on a damn shirt at a restaurant. I don’t mind people running around naked on the beach, but I’d prefer not to have have someone’s sweaty boobs lying over the table where I’m going to eat.

                Coming back to the topic it’s sad that this is the only way some of these women will get to swim. I also immediately thought about some s&m suit when seeing that. Sadly ,for these women their “bathing suits” represents an oppressive culture instead of a voluntary sexual game.

    1. I’m also uncomfortable with forcing people to cover up OR to uncover per personal choice. Indeed, other than thehead covering part, plenty of women in my office are about as covered as that model.

      My wife and I have spent plenty of time at a nude swimming resort. To us even the requirement of a bikini or speedo is enforcement of an arbitrary standard.

    2. The flaw in your reasoning is that, as you point out, men and women could already buy loose fitting shirts for the beach, and many already do. This M&S option and marketing campaign is (IMO) obviously trying to appeal to groups who don’t want their women fitting in. This goes beyond providing mere ‘high coverage’ options, to seeing a demand for socially isolating high coverage options and deciding one is going to profit off that demand.

      Now I don’t consider myself an authoritarian leftist; I’m of the opinion that any rule against such things is more socially damaging than allowing it. So I don’t think we should necessarily do anything about M&S’s offering. But I don’t like that they chose to do it. It bothers me on an personal moral level even if it doesn’t bother me on a legal level. If I were in the clothing business, I don’t think that is the sort of product I would want to make a buck off of. Of course, decisions like that may be one reason I’m not in sales.

      1. I definitely don’t think that there are enough options for women. It’s almost as if the pendulum has swung too far the other way in terms of what is acceptable to wear. There is a convention in the West that when you go swimming, you should reveal a lot of your body. The standard issue bathing kit for women is a bikini (hey everybody, look at every inch of my body) or a tight-fitting one piece. Just visit a store if you doubt this.

        There needs to be more socially acceptable options for women, specifically loose-fitting swim clothing that covers most of the body.

        1. Take your point there shouldn’t be commercial option where can only wear skimpy clothing. However you seem to be talking about swimming in a scuba suit – that can be hot and you can not swim fast in it.
          There are one piece bathers that aren’t too revealing and if one is that well developed – maybe don’t swim.

          1. I think that:

            A. It should be socially acceptable to bathe in far more modest clothing than bikinis, tight one-pieces, and speedos.

            B. Men currently have more options to bathe modestly than women.

            Which of these do you disagree with?

            Also, I don’t understand this statement:

            “There are one piece bathers that aren’t too revealing and if one is that well developed – maybe don’t swim.”

            OR, how about a women should have options that are less revealing and form-fitting than a one-piece, just as men have those options. I hope the part about “maybe don’t swim” is a joke.

            And no, I am not advocating that women swim in a tight, hot scuba suit.

            There is also an interesting corollary to this. While men currently have more options for modest swimwear, they actually have less options for revealing swimwear in many parts of the West. In the part of the US that I grew up in, a man would be ridiculed for wearing anything resembling a Speedo.

            1. I have no problem with A at all – my points were broader about other forms of Muslim clothing and actively supporting it. I think the burqini is a bit segregationist and would rather women weren’t pressured to wear it but if they want something more modest no problem. The point is the other clothing has to be worn all the time and is really restrictive or symbolises broader restriction – forms of covering the head, and often also covering to not show even ankles or wrists, plus another layer over the jumper and tracksuit to cover any breastline – super hot.

              1. ” my points were broader about other forms of Muslim clothing and actively supporting it”

                That is a good point. Anyone (such as myself) who supports more modest clothing options have to be careful to emphasize that this is not the same as endorsing compulsory, segregationist clothing for women.

              2. I agree with your point that society shouldn’t pressure everyone to swim in light gear – that said if you want a burqini type thing it should be designed for western men and sold as such. I meant I don’t have an especial problem with the burqini compared to other gear and from a liberal standpoint shouldn’t be banning things – but I think there is a problem with a big Western company taking it up. Thats promotion. This is a completely different issue – muslim women shouldn’t have this pushed on them. If you want long swim clothes for your (white male or non Muslim) demographic produced you need to lobby for that to companies that there is a demand.

                The thing is this is about the Burqini being produced by a Western company and it is directed at Muslim women something they are expected to wear – they are designed for muslim requirements re Women. And the company by doing so its actively endorsing this. Muslim people in Australia actually designed it years ago and were making some. The question is promotion – a big Western company encouraging and extending this in Western countries. So it is problematic and protest against it would be fair enough.

            2. I agree with you blitz442. Men and women should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in at any time. It’d be great if there were more options available for everybody.

              I think Grania is right on the mark with her post too. It still seems to happen too often that when it’s women who are the victims, it’s not as bad somehow, or even recognized.

              However, I’m finding these comments about overweight people not swimming, or not wearing certain clothing, pretty offensive. It’s just another prejudice, and one that comes from judgmentalism just like any other prejudice. There is an assumption that people are overweight because of some sort of character flaw such as greed or laziness, but oftentimes that isn’t the case.

              It is not okay to mock others for their physical appearance.

              1. Those who are saying, for example, don’t swim if you look awful in a swimsuit, or making comments about overweight women wearing bikinis. It wasn’t directed at you.

              2. I meant if one wants ultra modest clothes to swim (as opposed to be by the pool as blitz442 indicating) because say busty or don’t fit body ideal or feel they don’t and self conscious. Then if they are not happy with anything on the market either lobby for the market to cater to you (there must be lots of people in this category) or if you still feel really anxious about swimming maybe don’t swim but don’t encourage Burkinis to be mainstreamed that designed to impose an ideal of maximum modesty on some minorities. I didn’t mean it to stigmatise people of different sizes – but it seems overly fussy to me – better to lobby industry but sometimes can’t help society being cliquish its like people fussing about the size and decor of each others homes. Either change yours, or don’t let it bother you or tell them (in this case companies) its unrealistic and unfair.

              3. I agree. I feel like there are a lot of people who’d love to spend more time in the water – it’s a wonderful feeling after all – but they don’t because their body shape/size is one that society has taught them to be ashamed of. It’d be great if there was a greater range of clothing suitable to be worn in the water so everyone could feel comfortable. We’re not going to change societal attitudes over appearance overnight, but we can make pools places that everyone can enjoy.

                The problem I have with the burkini is that it’s a symbol of the oppression of women. I can understand that many come from more conservative societies and may simply feel uncomfortable exposing themselves whatever their body is like, but I find the head covering particularly offensive. Seriously, WTF is the problem so many religious have with women’s hair? If a stray lock is all it takes to drive a man into paroxysms of uncontrollable lust, he’s got a much bigger problem than can be fixed by a burka or niqab.

              4. Yes, I often say that being “fat” is not a character flaw. We are so focused on looks in our society that it seems it is socially acceptable to mock and deride anyone who doesn’t meet whatever unobtainable standard that happens to be at the time.

            3. Im really sorry I really didn’t mean to sound rude about this and it was rude – I was really referring to, say, busty people, and Im a bit so, who might feel self conscious. I meant it to convey my feelings about choices over burkinis vs clothing for rest of society. I felt if the option is unrealistically portrayed as between swimming and supporting mainstreaming of burkinis, then not much can be done about wanting other options. Burkinis are to be designed and mass produced for Muslim women to cover everything – including additional dress-like cloth over the scuba type basics to make sure breast can’t be seen – mainstreaming these just makes it harder for these women to escape the other dress codes in the wider areas of their life beside swimming

              I agree society shouldn’t be so cliquey about these things and I feel a better alternative would be to lobby business to provide more alternatives for the mainstream but not actual burins – if theres a market they should provide it because lots of people would want it. Another possible option is talking to people who are cliquey about fashion and saying they are being well cliquey and unrealistic and unappreciative of peoples difference

          2. blitz442 Im sorry I really didn’t mean to sound rude about this I was really referring to, say, busty people – I am a bit so – but society shouldn’t be so cliquey about these things. I just don’t think supporting mainstreaming of burkinis is the way to go for reasons I outline.

        2. There is a convention in the West that when you go swimming, you should reveal a lot of your body. The standard issue bathing kit for women is a bikini (hey everybody, look at every inch of my body) or a tight-fitting one piece. Just visit a store if you doubt this.

          Hmm. I think that may depend on where you shop — or maybe what size or age you are. Or, possibly, region. Here in the Midwest there are plenty of bathing suits with skirts on the beaches, as well as t-shirts and shorts. I’ve never heard anyone comment on it.

          1. I’m not sure that this detracts from the general point that there is a difference in what men and women TYPICALLY wear to the beach or pool, at least in the US. And that this is a difference that matters, such that women seem to be put in a position where they have to have more on display than men in order to meet social convention. Which would seem to create a climate of increased anxiety and self-consciousness.

            Maybe this is different from your experience, maybe men and women wear more or less the same things were you swim? Or you don’t think that the difference matters?

            1. Technically speaking, men expose more of their body because they don’t wear tops anymore. Women do, so there’s less on display.

              I guess it comes down to whether or not it’s seen as uncommon or shameful for a woman to wear a bathing suit which isn’t particularly revealing, one without a scoop neck or with a skirt or shorts. Not that I’ve noticed, there seems to be a wide range of options. But I’m probably not the best representative or spokesperson for the Fashion Police. 😉

              1. Women’s bottoms cover far less real estate than the trunks men typically wear. So women expose far more of their hips, legs, and buttocks. And the tops don’t cover too much.

                For one piece bathing suits, they may cover more real estate but are tight, thereby more akin to body paint than clothes.

                If I have to wear what women wear (either a tight one piece or some little garment than barely covers my nethers), I would feel very self-conscious.

              2. I know the feeling re covering real estate –

                maybe a one piece bather with a short loose topped dress style with pleated skirt lower bit sewn over – once were a few like that

            2. … women … have to have more on display than men in order to meet social convention …

              Apparently, you have never had the unfortunate experience of espying a speedo.

              1. I know what a speedo is. I’ve referred to it several times above. I’ve also qualified my comments to relate mainly to the US, where men typically do not wear them.

              2. Excuse my ignorant, badly expressed earlier comment a while ago and you raised and important issue re narrowness of range of swimwear for the female population as a whole. Problem is for women its got to support various areas as an under garment (the one piece) in this case. But then other things could be added to the framework and really in this day and age there should be thriving businesses, possibly an online interface model that cater to this and have a range of styles, sizes and patterns, where you can browse the range online and order what you like giving your specific dimensions to be made to suit. Or shops that do this plus say do larger brassieres that are good quality and have an online range which could then even be a branch of a larger chain of general clothing.

        3. I’m not a woman so can’t comment on the availability issue. But I mildly disagree with your argument about convention. I’ve never really seen any social or cultural pushback against women who choose to wear shirts at the beach. If someone told me that was the case in the ’70s when people used to slather baby oil on themselves to increase their tanning, I’d believe that. But in today’s US culture where people are pretty aware of the risks and causes of skin cancer, IMO wearing hats and keeping on some outerwear is seen as just another culturally normal option. Its not seen as either good or bad, just another equal choice among many.

          In contrast, long pants would probably be met with some strange looks. I’m not sure someone would get social pressure to wear something more revealing, but people would sure think jeans or the equivalent at the beach was weird. IMO that has more to do with thinking “its wierd you are wearing long pants when it’s 90 degrees outside’ than it is with a cultural demand to show thigh. After all, capri pants are “culturally” acceptable summer wear for women, and they’re pretty long-pantish.

          Put on capri pants, long sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a hat and sunglasses – nobody’s going to bat an eye at that sort of thing at the beach. And it covers as much skin as the burkini. As I said before, it really seems to me that the burkini is inteneded to socially isolate the woman, not just cover her skin.

          1. I used to wear a sweatshirt to the beach in the 80s because they didn’t have decent sunblock and I am very white. Still people told me how ugly my white body was so I haven’t been on a beach to swim in decades.

      2. “This M&S option and marketing campaign is (IMO) obviously trying to appeal to groups who don’t want their women fitting in. This goes beyond providing mere ‘high coverage’ options, to seeing a demand for socially isolating high coverage options…”

        Fully agree.

    3. The problem though is that the “burkini” is not a swimsuit designed for comfort or convenience: it is a swimsuit designed to promote conformity and contempt. Context matters. What might look like a style choice or preference on the surface is really a symbol of submission. Women are responsible for inciting men’s otherwise uncontrollable lust. God thus holds them responsible.

      In cultures where women are supposed to go through elaborate and overdone methods to cover up for the sake of “modesty,” the result is never an increase in a woman’s ability to choose her preferences. The convention is more like a dictate: failure to comply means you are officially a slut. And this involves a lot more than ‘peer pressure’ regarding what’s fashionable or not.

      I agree with you on swimsuits in general, though. My last few bathing suits were tankinis with shorts.

      1. “The problem though is that the “burkini” is not a swimsuit designed for comfort or convenience:”

        My opening sentence should have said something more like “I have no problem with more modest clothing options for women”, rather than a sentence that implied specific support for the burkini.

  5. Apologies for going off topic but I thought I’d mention the sad news that the death of Johan Cruff was reported today. As well as being one of the very best players of football (soccer) the world has ever seen the following is one of the quotes attributed to him: “I don’t believe in God. In Spain all 22 players cross themselves, if it works the game is always going to be a tie.”

  6. … in full gimp outfit …

    Zed and Maynard would approve.

    The “burkini” — you sure that’s not an item from The Onion, or a comedy bit by Bill Maher?

    1. Definitely not. The public pool I use has women only nights once a week to accommodate Muslim women. Even in that situation, most Muslim women wear burkinis. These are not a new thing. I’ve never seen them for sale in NZ, so I assume they’re ordered from Muslim countries.

  7. “This matter is so angering!” said (at least) one Western feminist – ever! ME!

    Exactly yesterday, .just. even only the headline (“Keeping covered: Hijabs offer sense of empowerment for women who wear them”), as well as the whole of the front page and headlining article, both written by Westerners, when I picked up yesterday’s copy right off … … angered me — http://www.iowastatedaily.com/news/student_life/article_9772ad1c-e7b2-11e5-b838-bb3c8182b9c9.html !

    And now it juxtaposed, today, to Ms Spingies’ article — just about blows me up.

    Iowa State University senior lecturer (philosophy and religious studies) here and in the Daily article – Christopher Chase thus: “After talking with many women, Chase said he believes wearing a hijab is actually very liberating and empowering to these women.”

    What motherMuck !
    Hand me, please, the Barf Bag !

      1. Oh come on, it’s just like those cool pink and yellow stars people used to wear. Total fashion statement, plus it gives you a sense of place and identity. Very liberating. You need to brush up on your Dhimmi-think.

      2. The only time a hijab is liberating is when you can take it off if you choose. Most Muslim women are not in that position.

  8. Thanks Grania, great posts on what may seem to some people a light topic, but is actually incredibly important. I always understood that pushback against women’s rights would never end in my lifetime–how could I not, when I watched in high school as my own state was to blame for the country not passing the Equal Rights Amendment–but I never thought that feminists would themselves help the backlash. Especially a religiously-inspired part of the backlash. Drives me crazy, thanks for covering it.

  9. Repressive, tyrannical males. They have done this to women. It is a shame and I find only weakness and cowardice in wearing something like that.

    Swimming in water is one of the most amazing things humans can do and if I could do it naked (thank you shallow and insecure Christians) I would.

    Human bodies are our temples, our vessels by which we navigate this existence, and if someone does not like they way we look they can close their eyes.

    1. “Swimming in water is one of the most amazing things humans can do and if I could do it naked I would.”

      It isn’t all that difficult.

      1. Remove clothing.

      2. Enter water.

      3. Swim.

      4. Watch out for eels and fish interested in biting your lure.

    2. Don’t let women off the hook. They are the absolute worst for enforcing such standards amongst themselves.

        1. Very often as — these women — what is known as “male – identified females.”

          My own mother (herself the only female among five other brothers who became then an extremely jealous and so dissatisfied mother to three daughters and to “only one [utterly fawned over -] son”) was one. Her favorite verbs for us daughters and for what we were to daily practice were these three: to be soft, to be servile, to defer. To men, of course,

          Although … … my father was a feminist !

          Go figure !

  10. In a Melbourne council there was a wear a scarf/hijab in solidarity with hijab wearers day. Stephen Harper of Canada tried to ban Niqab which i think is probably illiberal – should discourage it and certainly not allow it to be worn in public office (e.g. teaching at public or any non Islamic school or probably any school, or not allow it where it is dangerous such as driving in a burqua or where it interferes with a job). However we give in on all these things. Moreover I understand in Canada they make 8 March also Hijabi AND Niqabi solidarity day since 2011 or even earlier. Various left people wear not only hijab but niqab on the day “in solidarity with their Muslim friends”. Its pathetic. I understand about being accepting and supportive of Muslim women in head covers of various kinds – and not isolating them. But its another thing to celebrate the kit and the family and communal religious pressure systems that indoctrinate women from a young age them keep them wearing it (tho they may genuinely want to which is fair enough but it comes with a package of control, religious and familial. For thouse frustrated by this system they receive no recognition of any liberal tendencies they might harbour or desire or not realise they would prefer.

    Although the hijab is the least obviously controlling and at least doesnt obstruct facial expression – it sends a message of some degree of gender segregation. It probably makes the neck pretty hot and often its accompanied by layers and layers of hot and featureless black/monotone clothing covering wrists, ankles, plus loose garment on top of all this.

    But its hugely preferable to things that also cover the face from niqab to every degree of extremity – I’ve seen women in shopping malls on their own all in black Including the eyes – I’ve no idea how they see to get around. Admittedly Ive come across this extremely rarely in my Australian city (3 times) and once Ive seen women in Afghan style burkhas. Ive also seen what looks like a child spouse in an Abeyah with her much taller and older looking husband gruffly telling her what to do in a shopping centre.
    The Burkini at least allows some women to participate in sport who wouldn’t otherwise so don’t have much of a problem though again its segregationist but its not something they have to wear all the time.

    Its one thing to be tolerant – its another thing to celebrate. The Western left are just so gutless about this

    1. To clarify I don’t have an especial problem with the burqini compared to other gear and from a liberal standpoint shouldn’t be banning things but the thing is about the Burqini being produced by a Western company and it is directed at Muslim women something they are expected to wear – they are designed for muslim requirements re Women. And the company by doing so its actively endorsing this. Muslim people in Australia actually designed it years ago and were making some. The question is promotion – a big Western company taking it up and promoting and extending this in Western countries. So it is problematic and protest against it would be fair enough.

    2. Rita Panahi had something to say about that councils decision.
      She did not approve, as someone who had struggled to be free of that absurdity.
      Maryam Namazie may have had a comment too, if she had known about such a thing.

      1. Maryam Namazie opposes wearing the hijab in support of Muslim women. I wrote about this a while ago on my website. I’m on the wrong device to provide a link, but if you go to http://www.heatherhastie.com and search for World Hijab Day, it’s easy to find. I’ll add the link to this comment later.

        1. Yeah, probably wearing a hijab in support of Muslim women is as good as praying. Support Muslim women by opposing their oppression!

          1. Again, exactly! 🙂

            Women who say they find it liberating to wear the hijab imo find it that way for very different reasons than those Muslim women who say they do. I can imagine that wearing a hijab would be really good when you’re having a bad hair day for example, or it’s just really windy, and you don’t have to spend all your time worrying about what your hair looks like. That would be liberating.

            For me, the point is that many women don’t have a choice, including many of those that think they do. Within their communities they will be at the very least judged to be of low moral character because they don’t wear a hijab.

            This is equally ridiculous of course. As an Egyptian scholar (whose name I unfortunately can’t remember) has pointed out, all prostitutes wear the hijab. (Not that I think prostitutes are necessarily of low moral character. Prostitution is legal in NZ, and I agree it should be. It’s safer for both sex workers and their clients apart from anything else.)

            1. Yes, I struggle with the thought that the availability of such clothing makes it easier for men in these families to force women to wear it. I’m pretty firmly convinced that along with ‘the women who can now go to the beach where they otherwise would not have allowed to’ and ‘the women who of their own free will like to wear it,’ there’s also going to be ‘male dominated groups that would otherwise tolerate a pragmatic compromise no longer tolerating it, because thanks to Marks and Spencer, they don’t have to.’

      2. Thanks for the link.
        I was partly referring the specific Melbourne suburban councils plan referred to by somer.
        Rita Panahi is a Melbourne social commentator who came from Iran. She writes for the Herald Sun. A slightly conservative paper. But she is pretty good.

        I doubt that Maryam would have heard of it though.
        I was impressed by Maryam’s recent, stick it to Islam photo shoot.
        Very bold.
        Unfortunately it garnered some stupid comments from people who should know better.

    3. “It probably makes the neck pretty hot and often its accompanied by layers and layers of hot and featureless black/monotone clothing covering wrists, ankles, plus loose garment on top of all this.”

      Indeed! I have no idea how women thermoregulate in those get-ups in any slightly-warm climate!

      1. I think it is cruel that women experience hot flashes etc at the time in their lives when they don’t want to take more clothing off! At least, that’s my experience taking the stupid medication Tamoxifen.

  11. On the other hand. ‘Freedom’ in the western world coupled with other factors(?) leads to the excessive selling of the female form. It is well nigh impossible to open a web page and not to be Confronted with a naked, semi naked, provocatively dressed woman together with invitations to view more shots taken at just the ‘right’ moment of breasts and bums and peeks under clothing. It gets very wearying.

    1. “It is well nigh impossible to open a web page and not to be Confronted with a naked, semi naked, provocatively dressed woman”

      Perhaps you’d provide a few example links?

        1. CB “You maybe have a very good ad blocker.”

          Yep, mostly made it myself. It isn’t really an ad blocker it is intended more for removing trackers and web bugs. I started it when Huffington Post had crawled to nearly a full stop because 60 to 100 objects have to be loaded per page.

          Since then Huffpo took a hard left turn and became less interesting anyway so I don’t go there but when I do it is interesting to see half the page missing.

          You can achieve somewhat similar results by pointing your DNS to “opendns.com” servers.

    2. I very seldom come across this on the web – Occasionally on sales sites there might be a woman not wearing much but I think i can handle that – and never invitations to look at more detail. The west has no higher rate for looking at online porn than anywhere else in the world and outside the web you find porn and prostitution areas anywhere around the world

      1. I wasn’t talking about pornography just a more publicly expressed salaciousness.-which gets wearying. I doubt if it is truly a more ‘free’ expression-whatever that word free means-just what is acceptable in a more permissive society. Some civility has been scrubbed off.whether that is good or bad I dunno? Some people get trapped no matter what and some are self aware enough and confident enough to be able to play sanely with societal norms.

        1. I know exactly what you’re talking about, CB, and it’s both annoying and depressing. But–nothing sells like sex.

    3. I agree. Clickbait articles and side-of-page ads are filled with semi-naked or provocative pictures of women. And I find it wearying too, and very much wish they would stop. Which I guess is somewhat equivalent to saying I wish it didn’t work; that people didn’t click on links just because of a titillating image.

      But I’ve never considered that “my” western culture. I don’t think western culture is necessarily defined by its most tawdry aspects or its lowest common denominator. It is sad that our free-market capitalism and freedom of expression leads to such base and venal stuff being popular. But IMO the key part of that comment – the part of that comment which truly represents western thought – is the ‘free market capitalism’ and ‘freedom of expression’ part, not the ‘venal stuff being popular’ part.

      1. That ‘My western culture’ part sounds awfully like what Jerry objects to when people say that Muslim extremism isn’t ‘real’ muslimism. Islam is a peaceful religion.etc etc.
        Something about our current permissiveness and strange contortions of the left wing view encourages that kind of wearying salaciousness and we have to own it-understand how it comes to be.etc. One can say -that tawdriness lurks underground in all cultures-probably true-permissiveness brings it out-repression drives it underground. Same as any other characteristic.
        I guess you cannot really ‘define’ a culture. It,being understanding how people are apt to react,is part of why we do not understand free market capitalism well enough to manage it without impoverishing large segments of our own population and many economies beyond our own.And destroying large areas of arable land, not to mention polluting the atmosphere to our own peril.
        How did we get here from a discussion of modifying burquas and the free market capitalism that encourages their manufacture?

        1. I don’t accept that I have to “own” any particular part of present so-called popular culture. I avoid most of it by not watching TV, chose to entertain myself with books, music, the outdoors…There are many other cultures in a big country like the US; what Madison Ave. portrays is not the only course we can choose to take.

          1. No, of course not. And it sounds like we have a lot in common. But I also try to see things in a broader context-how things actually work-beyond my own context.Being of a somewhat scientific cast of mind. When I say ‘own’ I don’t mean indulging in whatever new fad -but trying to understand the dynamics of the whole situation- Oh well-taking life too seriously

        2. No I’m not making a No True Westerner type argument. I’m making Hall-paraphrasing-Voltaire type of argument: when someone says or does offensive thing x, the enlightenment value is defending their right to say/do x. I have no enlightenment or western obligation or ownership over belief x itself. ‘Western values’ doesn’t mean that by allowing them to express x I tacitly agree with or approve of x. I’ll defend advertisers’ rights to use slimy and titillating advertising. That doesn’t mean I ‘own’ or am responsible for titillating advertising.

  12. I part company with you on this one, Grania. Bathing is one of the great pleasures of life, especially in hot climates. In many places in the world (Kerala in India, Jordan, Iran, even on Bondi Beach in Australia), I have seen women in saris or burquas going into the sea. Where I live, in Ethiopia, by Lake Tana, although there are no strict day-to-day clothing requirements for women, girls and women go into the lake fully dressed (in any case, the cost of a bathing costume would be well beyond their means – the boys go naked or in underpants). My reaction when I see this is pleasure that they can share in this common human delight, even if weighed down by heavy and inappropriate clothing. If they can enjoy it in a slightly more appropriate garment, so much the better. There is, of course, no way of knowing to what extent the constraints these women experience are external or internal. But surely it is better that they should be able to share in one of the greatest of simple human pleasures, than be excluded on ideological grounds.

    1. I’m confused – what argument do you think I am making here?

      I am talking about UK shops selling these items of clothing. There are no rules in the UK about women not being allowed to wear bikinis or sarongs or one-pieces or t-shirt & sarong or whatever item they see fit to dress themselves in at the beach or public pool.

      In Europe women (even Muslim women) do not need to wear a burka to get into a swimming-pool.

      Western shops selling burka-esque Western clothing here to women is subtly regressive and panders to parochial types who think all women should dress like this.

      1. Hi Grania, well your last paragraph is what I think I am arguing with. I am simply saying that for reasons of internalised constraint or external cultural pressure (which is to be deplored, but is exceptionally hard to counter in any liberal way – for example by the kind of laws passed in France), many Muslim girls and women simply would not be able to experience the pleasure of bathing. Of course, M&S is driven by commercial objectives in trying to reach a new market, but I don’t see that depriving these women of the possibility of enjoying the water in a garment that is somewhat more practical than full traditional attire or some heavyweight improvised garment, simply on the grounds that one disapproves of the reasons why they have to or feel they have to do so (which I do) – in other words placing ideology above the individual – is necessarily the right approach. Like it or not, female “modesty” is inherent to many cultures, so it could be argued that any adaptation that allows girls and women to participate in the same pleasures as their friends who are under no such strictures, seems a potentially progressive move.I don’t see how it is “subtly regressive”. Like most marketing, it is simply about identifying a perceived need, and seeking to meet it.

        On a slightly different note, responding to other comments in this thread, many feminists complain about the pressure of the “male gaze”, so I can imagine that there might be something liberating in wearing a garment that provides a one-way window on the world. The problem is, of course, that of choice: as a Western male, I suppose I tend to think that the voluntary wearing of the burqua is a form of identification with the oppressor, but there is something patronising and oppressive too in assuming that people shouldn’t want what they say they want.

        1. I think I agree with John Crisp’s first paragraph. I follow Grania’s point that in Europe Muslim women do not need to wear a burka in swimming pools – excellent! (But isn’t that the case in Britain too? – undoubtedly some British muslims will make their women wear burkas in a pool, but do they all do that?)

          Anyway, while it’s a good idea to encourage Muslim women to swim sans burka, for some of them it may be a matter of ‘wear a burka or don’t swim’ and the clumsiness of a burka may simply translate into ‘don’t swim, then’. And for them, the relative convenience of a burkini could make all the difference. (And maybe, after a while in a burkini, and getting used to public pools, they might feel emboldened to try swimming without).

          It’s a debate that has no real ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side – by making slavery more bearable are we encouraging slavery?


    2. Thinking here with my “Safety Officer” hat on – which I’ve had to Don often enough over the years.
      There is a long and unhappy history of bad mixes of clothing and water. I recall (approximately ) a 1990s study of coroners reports from the 1600s indicated 10% or more of deaths being due to heavy (woolen) clothes and falling into water -whether while getting water for the house, washing clothes, or whatever. While fabric was certainly an issue (wool can soak 2-3 times its own weight in water), the restriction of the garment, by its design was also an issue. Many reports described the person in the water floundering and getting tripped up by their own clothing
      Having done my own floundering, “cold shock” and all the associated thrashing around, along with underwater gymnastics in getting through the windows of (simulated) aircraft crashes on water, these newer designs do appear to be designed with these issues in mind. To pour petrol onto a different conflagration, it’s like designing a safety catch for a gun. The whole idea may be insane, but you still want to get the details right.

      1. It could be Robert Howard’s Red SonYa of Rogatino, a character from the Renaissance, and a tad less likely to be Red SonJa, a recycled composite of two Howard medieval characters now reset in prehistoric times. She was created by post-Howard Roy Thomas, authorized by the Howard estate to continue the “Conan the Barbarian” stories. Her other source character is “Dark Agnes de Chastillon” from 16th century France.

        (There actually is no Red SonIa!)

        The film was pretty bad, one of the last films by Richard Fleischer who peaked with his 1950s action-adventure movies, and was the son of Max Fleischer, the creator of Popeye and Betty Boop.

        The film oddly says it is based on the character created by Robert E. Howard, which is technically not true for the reasons stated above.

    1. Difference – the woman on the left puts this on if she feels like it. The woman on the right is faceless and has to wear it outside the home all the time (and probably in as well) and is likely to face really dire consequences or at least very severe strains with her family, if she resists. Her movement is restricted, she is made invisible for mate guarding purposes, and i understand at home is still expected to dress up, makeup, hairdo, nice clothes for the husband when he comes home

      1. In my travels and from what I read prostitution and porn are every bit as prolific in most muslim countries as in the West.

  13. It is deplorable to find Westerners aiding and abetting retrograde cultural practices such as women covering themselves up, whatever the origin of those practices (Islam is surely the most vociferous and notable but not the sole culprit – women of various cultures and religions, including Christians, in numerous areas across Eurasia and Africa, cover themselves. But this line of ‘halal’ swimsuits constitutes an even greater culturally chauvinistic insult because I’ve learned about such sports and swimming garb that has been devised by women in those very cultures, which, at least I can understand, though wish they had the true freedom, not only to swim or run or play ball unencumbered by ridiculous clothing. I regard this not so much as a gesture of multicultural accommodationism, but rather as a cynical attempt to exploit and cash in on female oppression in the name of ‘cultural sensitivity’ and multicult* outreach. It is also an example of pathological altruism. It makes for an interesting and educational diversion to go online and peruse the offerings of stores that sell women’s Islamic clothing – it runs the gamut. I have a burka that I purchased decades ago at a hippie import store. I used to wear it sometimes as a practical joke, but I was stunned at just how invisible I became (but for the one guy who bumped into a pole when he saw me walking across the UC campus, this in the late 1970s). I once wore it to a social function given by the Near Eastern Studies Dept at UC, where I was a student at the time. I’d walk up to people I knew, say hello, in English, in my own familiar voice, and they acted as if I simply was not there, even though I was the most prominent object in the room. Everyone there ignored me. It was so unnerving – quite a lesson.
    In this vein of cultural accomotationism, I recently heard an interview with a British health care worker who spoke about the medical community scrambling to find ways to put an end to the practice of clitoridectomies in immigrant communities, so along with education, they seek to bring it into the domain of licensed medical professionals in order to eliminate ‘back alley’ operations performed by traditional practitioners within the communities that practice this barbarity, who have no medical training and use unsterile instruments in unsanitary conditions. They offer instead to perform some sort of symbolic clitoridectomy, I think a nick or something like that. I deplore even a symbolic nick, and would like to end the practice once and for all, but it’s a very complicated matter and I guess a nick is better than nothing, or no thing – in this case meaning no clitoris at all, psychological damage and perhaps even more extensive, life-threatening damage.

  14. This is just the latest in a succession of M&S clothing style blunders. The company has tried selling “trendy” clothing to middle aged customers, selling cheap clothing to customers wanting quality and generally screwing up its own customer base.
    M&S is on its way down due to its bad management and with this gimmicky idea pandering to a creepy minority it seems it has not far to go before it falls out of the clothing retail market altogether.

  15. Side point–not to dispute the conclusion, but to question the validity of the argument : “Here’s a simple test: if you are promoting clothing that looks like it predates everything in the last century and at least half of the century before that, you are promoting the opposite of progress.”

    That assumes that the changes in clothing over historic periods of time somehow represent some form of continuum of ‘progress’. Other than the technology of making clothing, this is not necessarily so. Indeed there are those who legitimately argue that clothing and fashion has been going downhill for the last century.

    1. So, steampunk Victorian fashion is right out then? That’s going to upset quite a lot of left-leaning people.

      I kid. I get your point. 🙂

  16. As Dr Brooke Magnanti wrote

    I sometimes wonder why my alma mater , Aberdeen, doesn’t make more of their professional association with this intelligent and informative zoologist. “What’s that, Lassie? She was a prostitute too?”
    Well, if the Senatus is deluded enough to think that she was the first, or last, of their students (male or female; undergrad, or postgrad) to exchange sex for money, then they are certainly wrong. And I cannot believe that they don’t know it.

  17. Grania:

    Very well-argued, and equally well-written. The rest of the paragraph beginning at “When retailers in Western Europe…” is especially nice. I was going to post it to Jerry’s Wikiquote page, but then saw that you had written it. Since you don’t have a Wikiquote page 🙁 I posted it to the page on “Misogyny”. I hope you approve.

  18. Well now, if ya gotta wear a sack, these appear about as styly as can be managed. I think they’ve got the Bond-girl ninja look quite well.

    If they marketed a tracksuit version (minus the hood), it’d be a distinct improvement on the overtight tracksuits favoured by slightly overweight exercisers.

    (Not that this is relevant to whether people should be forced to cover up, which they shouldn’t.)

    In contrast, fashion at the moment seems to be in favour of extremely long legs and incredibly short shorts, judging by some of the young women I see around. (I’m not complaining!) In my malicious moments I like to think of the mental grief it must inflict on fundy Muslims (in fact fundies of all sorts) who are required to disapprove and feel guilty if they look. Tough titties, guys.


  19. I found the transition from bathing suits to swimming suits to tanga’s and now G-strings one of the stronger illustrations of global warming :).
    Are these people at M&S climate change denialists?

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