Skip to main content

Lisa Downing, Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality in the Department of Modern Languages and convenor of the cross-University Sexuality and Gender Studies Research Network, has commented on the controversial case of Shamima Begum, the British Muslim teenager who left the UK to join ISIS in 2015 and is now seeking return to the country with her newborn baby.

Lisa’s recent article for the Birmingham Perspective discussed how Begum’s transgression of cultural sex stereotypes (Begum is not likeable, conciliatory or apologetic, as we expect women to be), in combination with an excess of emotionalism in place of reason in contemporary public discourse, have led to treatment of this young woman that exceeds the measures meted out to young men in similar circumstances – and that is potentially in breach of international law. The article has sparked considerable attention and debate on social media.

The article is part of Lisa’s ongoing research project on ‘(s)extremism’. The concept of ‘(s)extremism’ describes the set of cultural understandings brought to bear on women who express ‘extreme’ views or who commit acts of (political/ ideological) violence. This project involves theoretical writing, practice-based work, including an ongoing engagement with the artist Navine G. Khan-Dossos, and collaborative work with mental health professionals who are charged with implementing the Prevent Strategy.