Cover up and close your legs, ladies, or we’ll all be blown to pieces!

// 13 January 2010

In an Independent piece that must have turned Daily Fail darlings Melanie Philips, Jan Moir and Richard Littlejohn green with moral panic-filled envy, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues that the “wanton” clothing and sexually promiscuous behaviour of Britain’s female yoof is fuelling Islamic extremism in young Muslim men. The evidence? Poor Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a plane over Christmas, couldn’t cope with all that flesh:

At university he apparently cut himself off, tried to hold on to Islamic Puritanism in a country of no shame, no restraint. Millions of Britons of all backgrounds are alarmed by the dissipation and debauchery that now defines Britain.

That’s millions, folks, millions.

For Umar Farouk and many other Muslim men like him, living in such a landscape is literally intolerable. He confesses that he does try to lower his gaze in front of females, wonders if he should get married because he is getting too aroused. You could make a movie, a Taxi Driver for our times, about just such an anti-hero, the hormonal male who is expected to live a life of total abstinence in the middle of licentiousness.

Can any one else detect the distinct stench of a rape apologist argument there? He just couldn’t help himself! Only this time women are to blame for attempted mass murder.

Alibhai-Brown argues that the burkha is no solution to this apparent crisis – she will ‘condemn it to the end of her days’ and refuses to accept that women would choose to cover up for any reason other than cultural brainwashing – yet she employs the same language and arguments of impurity often used by its proponents to condemn young women:

The saintly Muslim female has desexualised herself, protects herself in the polluted land she lives in full of mad, bad and dangerous sinners.


Non-Muslims are as concerned about social nihilism, and increasingly so. A list was sent home to the parents of girls at a middle-class school in London last week sternly reminding non-uniformed sixth-formers that there were still rules of decorum to follow. A list followed of garments henceforth disallowed: no tops that show the midriff or cleavage, no tight mini-skirts, no underwear showing, no clothes with holes in them, etc, etc.

Do parents and their teenagers think such wanton wear is OK for school? In an alarmingly short time, the nation has gone from Fifties uprightness to public striptease, even in schools.

When someone’s equating a bared midriff and holey clothes with social nihilism I think we can safely say it’s not the kids with their pants sticking out the top of their jeans that have lost the plot. And weren’t miniskirts all the rage fifty years ago?

The author does voice some valid concerns about the pressures placed on young women to be sexually attractive and available; this comment is spot-on:

The word that comes up all the time is “choice”, but one has to ask what choice is there, really, when a pushy popular culture tells females as young as eight that they are creatures of the flesh which they must tame and give over to the public gaze and touch. To me, that choice is engineered…

However, Alibhai-Brown makes the tired error of using this observation to explain away all young women’s supposedly debauched behaviour as a symptom of their victimhood: having sex with multiple partners, wearing “fuck-me” clothes and binge drinking is all a form of “self-degradation” based on a delusional notion of “emancipation”. Many of us have another word for it: fun. There’s a difference between a 13-year-old trying to win male approval and popularity among her peers by sending naked photos of herself in porn star positions to a boy at school and an adult woman getting pissed and having a damn good time sleeping with a hot stranger on a Friday night.

So here’s the crack: whether you wear a burkha or a bikini, you’re a victim and a man-teaser (pious virgin or slutty temptress, take your pick), and before long those poor dudes are just gonna explode. Thanks for that, Yasmin.

Comments From You

Elmo // Posted 13 January 2010 at 6:21 pm

Laura! I’m appalled and offended! You completly failed to mention Quentin Letts in your list of Daily Fail lovelies!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 13 January 2010 at 6:21 pm

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t – so the article penned by Melanie Philips, Jan Moir, Richard Littlejohn and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown tells women.

Not a hint or word directed at men because apparently their misogynistic attitudes towards women cannot even be mentioned, let alone critiqued.

Littlejohn is a misogynist and extremely right-wing, Melanie Philips is a pseudo feminist and the remainder are neo-liberals.

In the age of individualism apparently it is always women responsible for curbing male pseudo uncontrollable sexuality, never that men must be held accountable for their misogynistic and women-hating attitudes. Likewise no mention must be made of how our male-dominant society and male-dominant popular culture has co-opted feminism and sold it back to women as pseudo female empowerment. Popular culture promotes the myth that women/girls must enact ‘hotness/sexyness’ because meeting male approval is the only reason women/girls exist.

But of course these claims are double-edged and considering the fact women/girls experience immense societal/peer/male pressue to conform to patriarchal claims, woe betide any woman/girl who is subjected to male sexual violence, male contempt or male ridicule because women/girls will be blamed whilst the men continue to enjoy reducing women/girls to dehumanised sexualised commodities.

Where are the feminist voices challenging male-centered claims because male-dominant media refuses to publish real feminist critiques and instead promotes pseudo feminists such as Melanie Philips and that bastion of pseudo male rights – Richard Littlejohn.

Don’t believe the lies – because male-dominant culture is determined to keep women/girls subordinated to men. Not forgetting that males continue to dominate institutions, including politics, popular culture, music, film and the arts.

Anne Onne // Posted 13 January 2010 at 6:34 pm

If he couldn’t stand to see women, he could have joined a commune that decreased his contact with women. Although this may be true about this person, I don’t doubt that the paper chose to read into this rather a lot, and I don’t appreciate their supporting such a view by justifying why indeed we should all be judging women (!) if they do something we don’t like.

Women’s autonomy to do things you don’t like is NOT an excuse for terrorist activity, domestic violence, murder or any other crime. Women are not objects to be owned and controlled, they do not have to do what pleases men or other women. The problems of the world are not the fault of women. They weren’t at L’ecole Polytechnique in Canada, and they aren’t here, or anywhere else.

Also, exoticism of Muslim women much? Muslim women aren’t ‘saintly’, they have their own reasons for dressing as they do (which, by the way, varies between ‘Western’ clothing, even bikinis, and the full veil, you see Muslim women aren’t a homogeneous mass!). They are trying to live in patriarchies, perhaps even this one, just as we are, but there is a lot more to any woman’s coping mechanisms than being saintly in a ‘polluted land’.

This is why I hate most comments about my clothes, no matter what I wear. You wear something remotely ‘sexy’? Instantly everyone assumes you’re doing it to impress men, though it depends on whether they see it as a good or a bad thing. Wear something less revealing, then you’re either dowdy or hailed for being a modest, religious woman, because of course your hemline is what makes you superior. No, my clothing choice is not a definite indicator of my faith or not, nor is it a definite indicator of my relationship status, self esteem or lack thereof, intelligence or anything else. If you have to, just say it looks nice, don’t lecture me for half an hour over how much better (or worse) that makes me than ‘other’ women.

polly // Posted 13 January 2010 at 6:38 pm

There are 2.4 million muslims in Britain. How do the other 2,399,999 manage without blowing anyone up?

Sad, though because she was once a decent journalist I seem to remember.

Darla // Posted 13 January 2010 at 7:05 pm

I hate every time I hear people and politicians moan about the state of Britain’s debauchery as the main problem, booze and promiscuity – what they often mean is ‘the state of women’. Our country is being let down by us women and politics and religion needs to step in, apparently, to put that leash from the 50s back on.

We’re not here to be controlled or used to represent the poor state of things. Maybe we drink because of a culture that strongly hates and blames us no matter what we do. To dull a very real pain, and female depression which has been linked by numerous experts to a culture actively vindictive towards women.

Mary // Posted 13 January 2010 at 7:23 pm

“There’s a difference between a 13-year-old trying to win male approval and popularity among her peers by sending naked photos of herself in porn star positions to a boy at school and an adult woman getting pissed and having a damn good time sleeping with a hot stranger on a Friday night.”

Here here! This is exactly how I see it. People are saying the latter is a bad thing when men have been doing it since the dawn of time.

Victoria // Posted 13 January 2010 at 7:24 pm

“The word that comes up all the time is “choice”, but one has to ask what choice is there, really, when a pushy popular culture tells females as young as eight that they are creatures of the flesh which they must tame and give over to the public gaze and touch. To me, that choice is engineered just as it is for veiled women. Both are victims of societal pressures that mould and compel certain decisions. They are perhaps twins born of the same womb.” Sorry girls, but this is true. We are not freer than muslim women. And you know what, women are VICTIMS of the Patriarchy, we live in a world full of victims. Sorry if this is not ‘fun’, sometimes we just need to be honest.

Jess // Posted 13 January 2010 at 7:51 pm

I certainly won’t be covering up just because Yasmin Alibhai-Brown thinks I should!

gadgetgal // Posted 13 January 2010 at 7:56 pm

I think this is making me even more upset than usual today because of the rape trial that just collapsed because the prosecutor refused to present any evidence after the victim’s online group sex fantasies were presented in court – I’m so sick of women being blamed for other people’s actions, and it really brought it to the forefront of my mind that if I was raped I probably wouldn’t get a conviction because of my past sexual history.

And I know it’s a sexist thing to say but I’m tolerating this diatribe even less today because it’s come from the pen of a woman – we all have enough to fight against without people who I would hope would be more sympathetic turning around and putting the boot in. Again, I realise how sexist that sounds, whether she’s male or female she’s still way off base, but it still niggles that little bit more.

Really genuinely angry and upset now – angry at yet another excuse being presented to blame all women for all the ills of the world, and upset because of how it ends up hurting us.

Laura // Posted 13 January 2010 at 8:09 pm

@ Victoria,

I agree that we are all victims of the patriarchy to some extent, but the article doesn’t allow any room for women to make their own decisions, to be anything but out and out victims. Muslim women may genuinely chose to wear a veil of some kind for their own reasons and (muslim and other) women may genuinely choose to binge drink, have casual sex and wear revealing clothing for a variety of reasons. (Personally, I think the revealing clothing thing is less of a choice because the vast majority of fashionable women’s clothes are designed to sexualise us, so looking nice/good = revealing flesh.)

Also, please remember that The F Word is a space for all women – Muslim women are not a separate category from ‘us’, as implied in the statement ‘we are not freer than Muslim women’.

Kath // Posted 13 January 2010 at 8:19 pm

Agree with most of the commentary and comments but just wanted to say, Anne Onne, that as a Muslim woman I’m pretty sure Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is aware that Muslim women are not a homogeneous mass and the ‘saintly Muslim female’ sentence was almost certainly tongue-in-cheek.

Laura // Posted 13 January 2010 at 8:39 pm

having sex with multiple partners, wearing “fuck-me” clothes and binge drinking is all a form of “self-degradation” based on a delusional notion of “emancipation”. Many of us have another word for it: fun.

Without wanting to spoil the “fun” of those who wish to engage in it I do think it’s worth noting that there can be some rather less “fun” side effects of this kind of behaviour. Obviously each individual can assess the risks for themselves, but I think it’s worth pointing out that they do exist.

According to a recent Government report

“ten million adults in England regularly drink more than government guidelines and that the cost to the NHS of alcohol misuse is more than £2.7 billion a year. It also claimed that alcohol misuse in England is costing £25 billion a year in policing, lost work hours and so on, with 811,000 alcohol-related admissions to hospitals each year.” (The Times.

In addition, a recent

“NHS National Services Scotland study said those aged under 25 made up just 13% of the population. But they accounted for 72% of chlamydia cases, 59% of genital warts and 61% of gonorrhoea.” ()

According to NHS Wales

“Genital chlamydial infection is currently the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnosed in GUM clinics in the United Kingdom.

The number of uncomplicated chlamydia diagnoses in genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics has risen steadily since the mid-1990s and in the United Kingdom, rose by 4% (109,418 to 113,783) between 2005 and 2006, a rise of less than 1% in females but 8% in males. […] In the UK as a whole during 2006, the highest rates are in 16-19 year old females (1326/100,000) and 20-24 year old females (1122/100,000).

Young people are an important risk group for acquiring an STI. Research shows that young people are more likely to have higher numbers of sexual partners, use barrier contraception inconsistently and are more likely to become reinfected after being diagnosed with and treated for an initial STI.”

Anna // Posted 13 January 2010 at 9:51 pm

I’ve managed to get heinously drunk on hundreds of occasions and sleep with a rather large number of both men and women. Maybe twice a year I even wear a short skirt.

I do, of course, take full responsibility for any and all terrorist atrocities.

Karen Vaughan // Posted 13 January 2010 at 11:17 pm

So does that mean I can go terrorise all the strip joints/casinos/motor shows and other rich white man zones because I can’t cope with the way a lot of men choose to treat women (which I really cant at the moment because my depression wont leave me alone). Does it? No? Thought not but thats what happens when you reverse the argument made by the journalist. Everything is a womens fault apparently, when actually the love of money is the root of all evil. I do not choose to wear revealing clothing out, I’m allergic to alcohol so I can’t drink and I don’t go for one night stands but just because I either don’t or can’t participate in these activities doesn’t give me or anyone else the right to police others who do. I think the terrorist has been made to feel guilty about feeling aroused by over-zealousness with religion and has made the choice, consciously or otherwise, to blame other people. Also,it cant just be women that he is angry with surely, has the journalist just cherry picked a part of his statement that suits her views? What a fucked-up world we live in, I was offered gender re-assignment years ago because of how badly confused and troubled I was. Beginning to wish I’d taken it…

JenniferRuth // Posted 14 January 2010 at 9:12 am

Well, it’s easier to fall back on the tried and tested method of blaming women for terrible events than it is to comprehensively search and question the reasons as to why some people feel that extremism is the answer. It certainly requires less work and as a bonus you can demonise a whole other group of people. Hurrah!

And as Polly said:

There are 2.4 million muslims in Britain. How do the other 2,399,999 manage without blowing anyone up?

Elmo // Posted 14 January 2010 at 11:18 am

Lets not be unfair guys, remember Alibhai-Brown has met every single Muslim women in the country, as well as most of them abroad, she is quite within her right to refer to them as one big blobby mass of headscarves and virginity.

Lara // Posted 14 January 2010 at 12:31 pm

“I’ve managed to get heinously drunk on hundreds of occasions and sleep with a rather large number of both men and women. Maybe twice a year I even wear a short skirt. I do, of course, take full responsibility for any and all terrorist atrocities.”

LOL. Brilliant. I’m pretty sure there’s some argument that pre-Peter Jordan is solely responsible for 7/7.

cycleboy // Posted 14 January 2010 at 1:23 pm

The excuse the recent terrorist gave (and let’s be absolutely clear about this, it IS an excuse) and comments by judges et. al. about women ‘asking for it’ offend me.

They offend my intelligence and impugn my self-control because what they are in essence saying is that we men are the mere slaves of our hormones. Although we may display some self-control, there is a limit beyond which we simply cannot control ourselves.

Lord, give me strength. The sooner society/parents (whoever) refuse to accept the male excuse that they couldn’t control themselves, the better it will be for all of us. I hate the fact that every woman (whom I don’t already know) feels compelled to view me with suspicion until experience allows her to lower her guard.

What depresses me is that so few men feel offended by this assumption.

Raluca // Posted 17 January 2010 at 6:40 pm

I am pleased to find this blog as I am from Romania and I must say that anti-feminist discourse is something common here, if not a generalised attitude. I am sick of hearing the same lines on how women who were raped are guilty for dressing up too provocative or for going out late in dangerous places. The problem is not why these places are dangerous or why certain men simply decide to abuse a woman for wearing a mini-skirt and tempting them. Of course, we, the women, are guilty for not being home at that hour, for not dreaming of the white strong male,with the big fancy appartment and with a succesful carreer. Why don’t we stick to the role society has imposed us, because we cannot do anything else but cook,wash and stay within the lines of obedient wives? It would be interesting for you to observe the mass media discourse in Romania, the attitude of politicians and the generalised opinions on women, homosexuals and lesbians. Not being heterosexual seems to be a great problem here, even in the so-called intelectual environments like colleges. It is sad to hear even from teachers that women shouldn’t study philosophy or that their attitude is tipical for a frustrated woman.

Cazz Blase // Posted 19 January 2010 at 9:24 pm

From this weeks Private Eye, Letter From Lagos, from Our Own Correspondent:

“In Nigeria nothing thrives so much as incompetence and mediocrity. So it was fitting that 23-year old Islamist Abdulfarouk Umar Adbulmutallab got it wrong. Thankfully for the nearly 300 people on the plane from Amsterdam to Detroit, however, he only managed to set fire to himself.

We are used to Nigerian drug smugglers, illegal immigrants and prostitutes making it harder for the rest of us; but such chancers do at least normally have an admirable profit motive. As vice-president Goodluck Johnson pointed out, our bomber will only add to the “unnecessary harassments and scrutiny” that travelling with a Nigerian passport brings.

Here, where a tiny elite enjoy unimaginable riches while 100m struggle to survive each day, this young man, with his privileged overseas education, seemed to be living the dream. His family has a fortune measured in hundreds of millions and houses on several continents. We wonder how Abdulmattalab can have been so selfish? Why could he not be satisfied with a few absurdly fast cars, a stable of polo ponies and the occasional snort of coke?

The answer, of course, cannot be found in our own idyll: he must have been radicalised overseas. It’s not that we don’t have a few extremists of our own. But these we discuss as misguided and unrepresentative cultists. We can usually count on our security forces to put down any stirrings with the loss of not more than a few hundred or so of our unnumbered poor. A couple of dozen Islamic sect members were killed in a northern town within days of Abdulmattalab’s failed bombing, but that got few headlines here, let alone outside Nigeria.”

There is more, but I thought this would be the bit of interest to F-Word readers…

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