The Telegraph, the niqab and pseudo-feminism in action

Last week the Telegraph had a white, male journalist telling “pro-choice feminists” that they should be “more appalled than anyone by the sex-selection abortion story”. This week there’s a different one letting us know that “It is not necessary to be a militant feminist to understand that the niqab is deeply demeaning of women”. Thanks guys! Any other Rules of Feminism you’d like to pass on? I’m hoping this will become a weekly feature, leading up to the formal appointment of Boris Johnson and Toby Young as the UK’s Lead Feminists, always on hand to advise women what to wear, what to do with their bodies, what does and doesn’t constitute misogyny etc. Otherwise, how will we know?

As a movement, feminism might be flawed, but there’s nothing I hate more than Telegraph pseudo-feminism. At least when feminists are self-critical – or engaging in cat fights, as our male feminist superiors no doubt see it – the goal in sight remains a better feminism. With Telegraph or Tory feminism (I’m not sure what to really call it, as it’s restricted to neither one newspaper nor one political party) what we’re getting is feminist rhetoric as a means to anti-feminists ends. It’s manipulative, reactionary crap and no one who believes in equality should feel pressured into buying it.

It’s not that, the moment these issues arise, actual feminists don’t see the supposed chink in the armour. We know sex-selective abortion can be motivated by misogyny. Whatever our personal preferences, we know that women should have the right to show their faces in public (or not) if they wish to. These things are a matter of context, motivation and choice. You don’t stop women being told what to do by telling them what to do. Nor do you get to use “but I’m being feminist!” as a fig leaf next time you want to indulge in a little anti-choice or racist rhetoric.

Writing on the niqab, Theodore Dalrymple pretends to be highlighting sexual double standards:

No man covers himself up in this way; and not infrequently a young woman covered in this form of dress is to be seen accompanied by a young man in full international slum costume, which is not exactly a sign of a commitment to a puritanical way of life. Indeed, such young Muslim men are often to be seen fully participating in the Sodom and Gomorrah that is Saturday night in the centre of Birmingham, with not a Muslim woman in sight.

So Muslim men are hypocrites “in international slum costume” who hang out with non-Muslim women who (by the Sodom and Gomorrah reference) fully deserve a bit of slut-shaming. Unfortunately, Dalrymple doesn’t tell us what Muslim men and both Muslim and non-Muslim women should wear. Perhaps another male non-Muslim journalist will enlighten us further on in the series.

Of course, it’s not just men who play at feminism in this way. Writing in the Guardian last year, Conservative MPs Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom came up with the novel proposal that “Conservatives make better feminists”:

Give a woman a Labour prime minister and she can live on welfare – just. Give a woman a Conservative prime minister and we will increase opportunities for her to get jobs, for children to get a good education, for hardworking families to improve their lives, for young women to get apprenticeships and for entrepreneurial women to start businesses. Conservative feminism is about boosting women to their full potential. We are optimistic and ambitious for women. Labour’s policy towards women is still about the state protecting them. They don’t believe women can achieve for themselves. What patronising rubbish.

So, in essence, not supporting women who are anything other than Apprentice “career woman” stereotypes is what feminism should be about. It doesn’t matter that race, culture, class, family structure etc. all interact with the discrimination that women face because they’re women. It’s pseudo-feminism in the name of striver vs skiver bullying. If anything’s patronising, it’s the expectation that other feminists will buy this.

We’ve seen this all before. Remember when invading Iraq was all about feminism? Why should it surprise us when certain people only mention feminism in an effort to promote their own racist, classist, anti-feminist agenda? The truth is, it shouldn’t, but it should really piss us off. So thank you, the Telegraph, for reminding us yet again just why we should be angry. I’ll expect more rage-inducing “feminism” next week.

POSTSCRIPT Since writing this I’ve started to worry that the phrase “pseudo-feminism” sounds terribly like saying actual feminism is never racist, classist, anti-choice etc. – which I don’t think is true. I think we all bring our prejudices to the table, whatever our intentions. But I do think the dynamic is different with what the Telegraph does (not necessarily less bad, but different). Anyhow, they are sods. And I’m sorry I forgot to mention Dan Hodges in all this, too.


7 thoughts on “The Telegraph, the niqab and pseudo-feminism in action

  1. I do remember when invading Afghanistan was all about the wimmenz. I even remember raging conservative articles denouncing feminists for not caring enough about Afghan women, as though it hadn’t been feminists and human rights activists who’d documented their plight in the first place. And I also remember how silent the war machine fell about the dreadful plight of women pretty soon after the invasion.

  2. ‘Give a woman a Conservative prime minister and we will increase opportunities for her to get jobs’… err I’m afraid not Rudd and Leadsom. You both seem to have a bad case of wishful thinking going on there. More women were made redundant during 2011 in the first round of banker failure cuts than men (Hi, over here! *waves*), and there are less women than male millionaires in the current government, less than when the coalition first slid into power.

    Feminism to me means society moving towards social justice and equality for all. The Conservatives seem to violate this time and time again, from demonising poor and disabled people in society (ATOS and bedroom tax) or selling off national assets so that basic social needs cannot be met (NHS, energy and communications, housing, transport). Indeed Thatcher said there was no such thing as society. Conservative feminists? well if you say so but for me…nah, sorry the term is too much of an oxymoron.

    1. I find Rudd and Leadsom’s argument so shameless. Feminism does not mean “respecting” women so much you expect each individual to deal with her own experiences of inequality alone. That’s just pandering to inequality.
      And I really hate the whole “we had Thatcher therefore we’ve done more for women than any other party” thing. I think representation does matter but seriously, do they think it makes everyone forget the bigger picture?

  3. The whole niqab commentary, reminds me of an 18th century anti-feminist man ranting, about how men should keep their women ugly in order to keep them in the place. His name escapes me now. I know it is highly un-pc for me to say that and view the niqab that way, however, I do feel that women wear it because they lack the spiritual freedom to do otherwise.

    Also, I don’t think men should dictate to women what feminism is and what we should believe in. Feminism is failing because women are failing to unite and stop fighting for the attention of men. Majority of women are too busy living in the mirror of the mainstream media, that tells them to be gossipy, mean bitches to each other, and get the richest man possible,

    1. I don’t think an obligation or even a pressure to hide from view is a positive or even neutral thing for women. Far from representing modesty, if anything it over-sexualises in a non-consensual way. But the Telegraph is not interested in protecting women from a wide range of negative beliefs about women’s sexual identity. It’s just bullying a particular group, regardless of whether individuals have free choice about what they wear or not (however tricky it is to define free choice in how we present ourselves to the world – I don’t think it’s easy for anyone).
      As for what you think of as feminism’s problems – I have a more positive view of women than that. Indeed, I think having faith in women as human beings is a prerequisite before you start preaching about how they’re doing feminism wrong.

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