Kim Kardashian's curves aren't to blame for our problems

Young girls admiring Kardashian's unskinny form isn't going to bring Western Civilisation tumbling down

If you had to pick one image that summed up all that’s currently wrong with Western Civilisation, what would it show? Greek families begging on the streets? Guantanamo? The thousands of victims of child abuse that await protection?

Or an undulating Kim Kardashian in her practised, projectile T-and-A pose?

According to the very learned Dr Helen Wright, former President of the Girls’ School Association, our moral pillars are crumbling under the voluptuous threat of Ms Kardashian: "The descent of Western civilisation can practically be read into [her] every curve". And here was I worrying about unemployment (around one in 10 are jobless in the eurozone alone) and whether the new Greek government will say "yamas!" to meeting debt repayments. 

Wright’s speech to the Institute of Development Professionals in Education makes the obvious but reasonable point that girls are growing up to value aesthetics over intellect due to a dearth of decent role models and society’s (or rather the market’s) overvaluing of female beauty – which if you take a look at history, Dr Wright, you’ll see is nothing new, whatever your fears about premature sexualisation may lead you to believe otherwise.

Kim Kardashian mentioned in the Daily Mail

Kardashian featured on the Daily Mail website

But for a supposedly clever woman, Wright’s hyperbole reveals a facile and paranoically conservative analysis. I mean, is a knicker-flashing Kim really responsible for social deprivation, or child poverty? Is Western Civilisation’s biggest problem really that women waste too much time worrying about their cellulite? And if we flibbertigibbets were all in drab, convently garb, would that rid our minds of frivolous thoughts, and mean that we’d be free of childcare conundrums or sexual harassment or any of the other things that stop us from reaching the professional echelons, come adulthood?

Quoted in The Times yesterday (£), Wright dissects a Zoo cover image of Kim that has so discombobulated her thus: "Officially the hottest woman in the world? Really? Is this what we want our young people to aim for? Is this what success should mean?"

Well, I hate to say it but I’m partial to a bit of Kardashi-bum admiration myself (only in the two-minute breaks I take between tweeting bunk, re-reading Foucault and overeating oatcakes, mind). Which doesn’t mean I consider her successful. Nor a moral role model (I don’t know her, I couldn’t possibly know anything about her personal values). Just that I quite admire her refreshingly un-skinny form.

Wright needs to calm down with the wash-their-faces-in-carbolic-soap maternalism. Piece of advice for you Dr Wright: I went to a girls’ school, and far better than worrying about the nefarious influence of Kardashian and her ilk, is for overly-concerned teachers like yourself to give pupils some more important topics to think about in the first place, as mine did.  You know, like hyperinflation in 1920s Germany. Or the fall of the Soviet Union. Or what happens when puritanical societies use women’s bodies as a moral battleground.

The Bum That Brought Us Social Meltdown, however, probably doesn’t need to be on that syllabus.

Kim Kardashian in Las Vegas in June 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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There are two sides to the Muslim segregation story

White families must also be prepared to have Muslim neighbours. 

Dame Louise Casey finally published her review on social integration in Britain. Although it mentions all communities, there is a clear focus on Muslim communities. However, the issues she raises - religious conservatism, segregation in some areas and Muslim women experiencing inequalities -  are not new. In this case, they have been placed in one report and discussed in the context of hindering integration. If we are truly committed to addressing these issues, though, we have a duty of care to discuss the findings with nuance, not take them out of context, as some tabloids have already done.

The review, for example, highlights that in some areas Muslims make up 85 per cent of the local population. This should not be interpreted to mean that Muslims are choosing to isolate themselves and not integrate. For a start, the review makes it clear that there are also certain areas in Britain that are predominantly Sikh, Hindu or Jewish.

Secondly, when migrants arrive in the UK, it is not unreasonable for them to gravitate towards people from similar cultural and faith backgrounds.  Later, they may choose to remain in these same areas due to convenience, such as being able to buy their own food, accessing their place of worship or being near elderly relatives.

However, very little, if any, attention is given to the role played by white families in creating segregated communities. These families moved out of such areas after the arrival of ethnic minorities. This isn't necessarily due to racism, but because such families are able to afford to move up the housing ladder. And when they do move, perhaps they feel more comfortable living with people of a similar background to themselves. Again, this is understandable, but it highlights that segregation is a two-way street. Such a phenomenon cannot be prevented or reversed unless white families are also willing to have Muslim neighbours. Is the government also prepared to have these difficult conversations?

Casey also mentions inequalities that are holding some Muslim women back, inequalities driven by misogyny, cultural abuses, not being able to speak English and the high numbers of Muslim women who are economically inactive. It’s true that the English language is a strong enabler of integration. It can help women engage better with their children, have access to services and the jobs market, and be better informed about their rights.

Nevertheless, we should remember that first-generation Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who could not speak English, have proved perfectly able to bring up children now employed in a vast range of professions including politics, medicine, and the law. The cultural abuses mentioned in the review such as forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation, are already being tackled by government. It would be more valuable to see the government challenge the hate crimes and discrimination regularly faced by Muslim women when trying to access public services and the jobs market. 

The review recommends an "Oath of Integration with British Values and Society" for immigrants on arrival. This raises the perennial question of what "British Values" are. The Casey review uses the list from the government’s counter-extremism strategy. In reality, the vast majority of individuals, regardless of faith or ethnic background, would agree to sign up to them.  The key challenge for any integration strategy is to persuade all groups to practice these values every day, rather than just getting immigrants to read them out once. 

Shaista Gohir is the chair of Muslim Women's Network UK, and Sophie Garner is the general secretary and a barrister.