Burkini ban: The liberal and conservative outlook

Telegraph Burkini Banner

On the way out of a local supermarket this evening I noticed a banner across the top of the Telegraph declaring “Burkinis? We have to fight them on the beaches” alongside the picture of a middle aged, white, blonde-haired woman. Hoping against hope that this wasn’t a blue-on-blue misogynistic tirade to set my blood boiling I flicked through to the full article.

It was.

While I don’t encourage driving web traffic to the Telegraph, you may wish to familiarise yourself with the article before continuing. It isn’t long.

I can imagine the editor of the Telegraph seeing this article arrive in his inbox and knowing immediately to run it proudly and provocatively on the front page.

*sinister cackle and hand rubbing* yessssss that’s right women, continue to police each other over trivial matters like dress and leave us men to control everything important in the world! Mwa ha ha ha ha a ha ha ha ha!


But seriously readers, do not be fooled by Mrs Pearson’s assertions that she is the ‘true liberal’ here. Pose to her this simple test: If she were writing in the Telegraph 100 years ago, would she be writing “I found myself gazing at the little girls and wondering how long. How long before they had to put away their pretty bikinis and their Caramac tummies”?

No, she would be writing “It is a travesty and an illustration of the total moral corruption of Great British culture that young women these days consider it acceptable to show their bare thighs and shoulders when bathing by the seaside. Women must protect their modesty and that of men by remaining in smart, traditional full length beachwear which they shall change into within a cubicle”.

Mermaids at Brighton
“Mermaids at Brighton” by William Heath   c. 1829
Bathing Belles 1919
Bathing women staying modest at Southend-on-Sea in August 1919

Cat Smith MP, on the other hand, an actual liberal, would still be saying that “It is absolutely offensive when men with guns start policing what women should and shouldn’t wear”.

Here is the essence of the conservative attitude, exemplified in Pearson: Choose a completely arbitrary point in place and time, declare it the pinnacle of human culture, and kill anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Above all they value control and order. Sounds like a fundamentalist Muslim doesn’t it? That’s because their outlook is the same.


A liberal, by contrast, holds their views on society tenuously and continually reevaluates in what sense they apply to contemporary contexts. Above all they value individual freedom. While personal choices are inevitably bound up in cultural, social, genetic and many many other factors, it is ultimately the freedom and responsibility of the individual to change their circumstance and realise fully their own path. The task the liberal sets themself, then is to create and maintain the conditions most conducive to this self-actualization.

The “rights men and women died for”, as Pearson writes, is not the right to wear a particular dress at a particular place – presented like this it becomes clear that far from being a right, according to Pearson this is in fact a duty – but rather the right to choose freely what you wear.

You may believe that misogynistic men forced these women to wear burkinis, and if proven so I encourage you to question those men about their actions, potentially pursue them legally, and support the women to exercise their freedom of dress. Your current sermon, however, is simply a white, upper class woman declaring her personal views as ‘British culture’ and then insisting violence must be used to enforce it upon all people. Pardon me, all women.

Women can also be misogynists

And this is the crux of the problem. Whoever heard of banning turbans, or making men shave long beards, or banning the thawb, or banning men with Nazi tattoos from displaying them? No-one, of course, they’re men and they’re controlling every little important thing in the world while you’re spending all your time and energy criticising other women. You, Allison Pearson are a bigger misogynist than any man I ever met.

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