Speaker’s Corner: The White (Wo)man’s Burden: Unclothing the Muslim woman, by Fatima Rajina

By Myriam Francois|April 4, 2016|Speaker's Corner|2 comments

The White (Wo)man’s Burden: Unclothing the Muslim woman

by Fatima Rajina

Take up the White Man’s burden, Ye dare not stoop to less—
  Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
  The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The White Man’s Burden’

This piece is in response to Allison Pearson’s article titled: ‘The M&S burkinis for Muslim women shows Britain is letting sexism sneak in under the radar’. Take a long breath after reading that. The title itself is so insidious that it warrants the need to re-evaluate how sexism is conceptualised. Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t think M&S is particularly concerned with values, much like Dolce and Gabbana and their recent abaya collection, but the greed for profit and sudden realisation of a massive gap in the market, is what prompted this line of clothing. The fact that this could potentially reach out to over a billion people is every brand’s dream.

Pearson’s suggestion that this burkini ‘harks back to the burdensome ladies’ bathing costume of Victorian times, which was the enemy of both swimming and pleasure’ is undermining, and essentially erasing, the role of choice here. She is insinuating that Muslim women are stuck in time and are, somehow, incapable of making a decision on what type of swimwear they’d like to invest in. This is where Pearson, our saviour, comes in to encourage our ‘religious development’ because we don’t understand what it means to wear a bikini and feel the wind brushing against our skin for we are ashamed of our bodies.

The problem with Pearson’s argument is that she tries to link it to body-shaming. This is a fallible argument and strips a Muslim woman of choice. In fact, it strips any woman who wants to wear the burkini of choice, assuming those who wear it are ashamed or guilty of their body’s exposure to the world. The ability to choose what to wear when visiting a beach or the local swimming pool should extend to Muslim women also. Such spaces should not be confined to those perceived to be wearing the ‘right’ swimming costume but also include Muslim women, who can feel at ease and simultaneously practice modesty befitting their religious requirements.


‘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.’ Why is it the thin end of the wedge? Are British Muslim women not included in this nation Pearson holds so dearly? Let’s make profit out over there but why bring it to our civilised nation as ‘the burkini says, loud and clear, “I must not be a source of temptation. It is my fault if a man lusts after me or rapes me.”’ Let’s get that message to Nigella Lawson, who chose the burkini over a swimsuit because ‘Saatchi likes his women pale’. This claim is not only ludicrous but Pearson, unnecessarily, is centring a man’s gaze in this discussion when it is completely irrelevant. Next time you wish to write a piece on Muslim women do consider asking a few about how they feel instead of making it all about you.

So, Ms. Allison Pearson, your very ‘dear Marks’n’Sparks, well-loved purveyor of undies to British womanhood’ is far more concerned with profits than ‘introducing’ values so ‘alien’ to your beloved country. The burkini is, in fact, as feminist as it gets since it doesn’t alienate women but caters to the needs of women who would otherwise be excluded from beach and swimming pool spaces. Perhaps what Pearson’s idea of ‘our’ values is the ad below:


Here are some of the responses I received on Twitter when I posed the question why Muslim wear the burkini on Twitter:



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About Myriam Francois

This is the official blog for the SOAS-CIS. It aims to encourage scholars to debate and engage with the wider public on the basis of their research and will foster discussions about mainly UK and also European Integration discourse as relates to Islam and British Muslims. We tweet @SoasCis

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