Our dual morality disorder

Published: May 18, 2012

Where does our morality begin and end? It is alright to see a women clad in skimpy clothes on TV, but not in front of you?

I was standing on a main road in Islamabad when I saw a big billboard depicting a woman provocatively posing in a nightgown. There, standing right below the billboard, hidden behind a face veil, was a woman who seemed to be a completely different specimen to the model above.

Written on this billboard, in bold, was the word ‘Hidden.’ This might have been a brand name – I really don’t know what it stood for. However, to me it highlighted the hidden dual-morality disorder of the virtual and real world that is currently sweeping through our society.

Let me explain what I mean by this statement.

By the word ‘virtual’, I mean the world that exists for us in the form of TV, the internet, and of course mobile phones. Although not tangible, this world is binding us to it for longer periods of time with every passing day. TV, which was a rare commodity 40 years ago, is now the basic part of every household. Many people spend hours upon hours losing themselves in the world of dramas and movies. Similarly, talking on the phone or surfing the net for hours on end in not unusual in times of today.

In a way, thus, people are simultaneously living in two worlds – the virtual one and the non-virtual one, both of which have extremely different measures of morality.

Consider these examples:

Hacking and using pirated software is not considered a crime by many of us, but doesn’t this actually equate to stealing in the real world?

Moreover, if an intimate scene takes place in a movie, it is perfectly normal. However, if you catch someone in real-life publicly displaying such intimacy, it is not tolerated.

Again, many in our society ban their children from dating, but seem to be indifferent to it with it if it happens on Facebook or over a mobile phone conversation.

Can you see the double standard here?

Indian and English movies continue to provide the bulk of entertainment for our masses, and watching women in skimpy clothes has become a norm. In a way we can say that we have become ‘desensitised’ to such things. However, the question that really comes to mind is, have we become sensitised to such things in real life as well?

I came to test this proposition recently.

While going through a busy market place in Islamabad, considered by some as one of the main ‘hubs’ of Pakistani modernity, a woman passed by in tight jeans and a sleeveless top.

All of a sudden she became the centrepiece of all male attention.

In fact, one or two men even started talking loudly about her, elaborating in detail their greatest fantasies. Meanwhile, on a nearby TV screen, a woman clad in much scantier clothes was dancing, yet she failed to grab their attention as they seemed to have been ‘sensitised’ to it.

What does this really show?

Are we in actuality living in two separate worlds at the same time?

It’s perfectly normal to see these scenes on TV, but not in front of you?

And what about mobile phones? Traditionally, we have been a society which has prohibited free inter-mingling of opposite genders. However, today mobile phone flirting is one of the most widespread activities in Pakistan.

Recently, I met a happily married man with two children, who was texting and flirting with four different women at the same time!

If these same conversations would have taken place face to face, they would have been strongly condemned. However, on the phone, it seems, they are perfectly acceptable.

Last of all, the internet.

In recent times, the internet has attracted a lot of publicity, with PTA banning all questionable sites, and international ratings showing that Pakistan’s increased viewership of porn dubs the country as ‘pornistan’. Facebook and Twitter have become a convenient hub for live interaction with people of the opposite gender and those with different nationalities.

Porn sites provide entertainment to many people, among them are youths as well as married men and women. Children caught indulging themselves in these acts are scolded heavily, but what happens if they are caught going to a brothel? In our middle-class morality, such things have been condoned as the ‘boys will be boys’ syndrome; however, an interesting proposition comes forth when a girl is found watching such things. At this point people get riled up enough to question her morality, ethics and so on.

So where does our morality begin and end?

Are we in the right when we criticise a man who gapes at a woman in skimpy clothes?

Should we question a girl texting with a boy her family does not know about?

Should we admonish an adolescent boy or a girl watching intimate content on the internet?

How exactly do we socially define morality?

Traditionally, talking about sex is taboo in our society, and yet we bear one of the largest populations in the world; food for thought, isn’t it?

Are we actually ready to recognise these double standards in Pakistan or will we stay addicted to this dual-morality disorder forever?

Read more by Rafeel here.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of the article incorrectly implied that ‘we have become sensitised’. The error has now been rectified. 


Rafeel Wasif

A social worker and an educationist, Rafeel is working as a research associate with South Asian Forum for Education (SAFED). He completed his education from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • MK

    spot on.Recommend

  • Mj

    An interesting and thought provoking article. Hoping that it’ll spur intellectual discourse, instead of usual admonishments and lamentations over changing mores of society.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    A confusing article.

    Live events always catch one’s attention more than what takes place on a TV screen. It’s the same reason why a music video of Atif Aslam on TV won’t seem as impressive as a live performance. You would gladly pay to attend a concert, when you can watch the same concert on TV for free! Are these “double-standards” too?

    The author may believe he’s stumbled onto a significant anthropological find, but this is just how things are. It’s a known fact that the laws of the virtual word are not always the same as those of the real world. I beat random pedestrians with a baseball bat in Grand Theft Auto, but never in real life. That doesn’t mean I have a dual morality disorder.Recommend

  • leila rage

    @Author: well written and thought-provoking, but just wait till the extreme ghairat brigade starts commenting with stuff like ‘Morality is defined by the Quran’. What they dont realise is that YES morality is defined in Islam but every one understands this definition in different ways:
    Person 1: Morality=burqa, and do whatever you want (secretly meeting boys, watching erotica etc) but stay covered
    person 2: Morality= burqa and being a good & righteous person
    person 3: morality=hijab and not talking to boys but being a malicious gossiper (or vice versa)
    person 4: morality=hijab and being an upright & honest person
    person 5: morality= doing good deeds
    person 6: morality=dressing ‘decently’ and doing good.Recommend

  • Bee

    Well…u have pointed out a v.serious issue. There is a heaven n hell difference between Modernism n Vulgarity.None of us really follow the religion, do we? We all have our own set of rules as far as morality is concerned. We have got our own definitions of Right n Wrong.Whoever goes off the track justifies his/her actions in one way or another for instance
    Girl who is wearing sleeveless or stuff would say…Hey im wearing clothes,m not stripping.
    Girl/Boy who is making cheesy conversation on phone or internet would say…its just a chat, im not doing it actually. no big deal!
    So thts how we pat our conscience by telling ourselves tht we r not going beyond limits!
    Frankly speaking i don see tht Banning would help. People always find out alternative ways…n its gone far beyond the point of fixation!Recommend

  • Zaid Baloch

    Agreed with the author. nice piece of writing.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    You are talking of a very important topic. You have put it well.

    I wonder if the concept of segregation of the sexes is to blame. I recently found out that most of the educational institutions in Pakistan practice segregation. This way a female becomes an object, rather than a person.

    In India, in the city that I live, parents do not prefer segregation and want their kids to know the other sex.

    It would be interesting to know how segregation is affecting Pakistan’s society, that before Partition was open, plural(by the standards of those times). Recommend

  • Reader

    I think you meant “desensitized” when you said “sensitized” ?Recommend

  • Hala

    this is indeed a very interesting and thought provoking article
    but i think you mean desensitised instead of sensitised
    sensitised means to cause (someone or something) to respond to certain stimuli; make sensitive
    desensitised means that you so used to the stimuli that they don’t bother you or you don’t even notice them Recommend

  • http://Islamabad Mangoman

    A women with naqab cannot eat mango in public :( Recommend

  • Shadytr33

    Nice article or blog or somthn. Here’s the thing, the things that we watch on tv, they are considered as a fantasy. A belief that as long as its happening out there, and not with us, its ok. But when that fantasy collides with our reality, it creates an awkward response. But here’s the thing. When we see someone else indulging in our fantasy, we get a sudden moral boost from somewhere to speak against it. But when that fantasy is happening to our selves, that morality is no where to be seen.Recommend

  • Jarrar

    “Khatam ho jaye Nishan gunah ka iss Jahan say
    K Ehsas ho k koi dekh rha hai ”
    Very good article brother. Really appreciate you.
    I ask a very simple to myself (and do ask this to yourself too),
    When any such vulgar thing comes in front of us, real life or in electronic media, and most of us just try their best to take it as a normal thing until and unless there is your mother and father sitting with you (this is also now a rare thing), Just realize for a second,
    Do you continue with this If Holy Prophet (saww) had been there at the same place sitting with you? Do you think he would like you after that? I do not know we, the Muslims, accept that Allah is present everywhere, but willing forget this when an opportunity for a sin comes up.. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome us, we are the ones who claim to be Muslims, the Ummah of Muhammad (saww). Recommend

  • Noma

    A very thought provoking article !!! Totally agree wi the author!!Recommend

  • Big Rizvi

    Such is the problem with these two faced people! You never know which face to slap? Who are we to judge Veena Malik when we ourselves are the biggest consumers of porn? Religon is brought into everything here in Pakistan, this country was made for the minorities, not JUST Muslims. In fact there are more Muslims living in India than in Pakistan, does anybody know that?Recommend

  • R.A

    Poor woman atleast she can
    eat water melon.

  • Saima

    Who wants to eat mangoes in public.

    And yes morality is defined by religion. There I said it.
    Religion and religious knowledge would save y’all from a lot of confusion. Recommend

  • Imad Uddin

    @leila rage:
    great discrimination leila! I wish ALL people learn to see so clearly. Just a wish…Recommend

  • shehryar

    @leila rage:
    for God sake do not try to justify your confused thoughts by criticizing ghairat brigade , it isn’t working here , seriously Recommend

  • Ayesha Pervez

    A guy writing about womens issues…a pleasant surprise :)Recommend

  • Ali Ahmed

    have you submitted this article using a browser that you bought with money?Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    So is this to suggest women who are covering shouldn’t even pass by the provocative billboard ? The myopic vision for the author seems to dominating the blog and thing relating to sexual satisfaction are at the epicenter. The morality which the author is so concerned about germinates from rationality not exaggeration. If a women is covering herself so be it or if not so why should anyone care. Its the consequences of the risk she bares in covering or not. What we can do is to stop being so judgmental. Now difference can only be made if some one shouts at the lustful commentator. Its a pity to see men of the society so frustrated to taunt at the skin show then to gaze down. We can all have our own moral definition when it comes to women but only only obligation which is respect. Recommend

  • Parvez

    You have ended by asking a question and I think the answer is yes we will remain addicted to this dual morality disorder, as you call it, unless we decide to seek a ‘ middle of the road ‘ policy and balance both extremes, but I do not see this happening anytime soon.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    it is a free world … let it be a free society … let people choose what they want … u cannot enforce religion … you will make more rebels … let it be a matter of choice … I see more covered women now in this age of internet porn and freedom as were two decades back …
    as far as mango eating is concerned it depends how it has to be eaten under the burqaa !!!! and thats entirely another subject depending on various factors like marital status etc etc ….Recommend

  • http://asaddurrani.wordpress.com Asad

    This is society, it develops like thisRecommend

  • Utkarsh

    @leila rage:
    Person 7: Do whatever you want and dress however you want as long as you don’t harm anyone apart form yourself.Recommend

  • Someone

    The issue revolves around a piece of fabric; a cotton yarn. Can anyone see the frivolity in this?Recommend

  • http://www.slowburnpublications.wordpress.com magda allani

    There’s an old word for ‘dual morality disorder’: HYPOCRISY!!

    And it’s an old human ailment – the difference between what people pretend to be in order to fit in and win approval and what they truly believe.

    It’s ok to explore different worlds and ways of being through various media – it’s an expression of thirst for life and a way of sampling what it might feel like to live another.

    But it’s not ok to have an underdeveloped personal conscience – here you get displays of virtue used as a cloak for altogether darker impulses and motives and it’s always dangerous when that cloak slips off or its wearer’s peer group are not around…

    Magda AllaniRecommend

  • Bilal

    the ‘islamic’ republic of pakistan. representing hyporcrisy and intolerance since 1947Recommend

  • Vigilant

    A different article and…..we are living a hypocritical lifeRecommend

  • Dr Abdullah

    What a ridiculous article..At least u should have used some sensible analogies to prove your point..Cant u find any difference between reality and something seen on TV? According to your argument since u can watch a bollywood movie having intimate scenes in cinema with ur family,u can also kiss ur girlfriend and make out with her infront of ur family in ur real life… Recommend

  • nany

    I totally agree and appreciate the author for bringing up such an issue. I guess, “dual standards/ double standards” is not only the problem of Pakistan it is the problem of the entire Islamic world or the muslim countries.

    Would recommend books (if anyone interested) “THE TROUBLE WITH ISLAM TODAY” by Irshad Nanji; “STANDING ALONE” by Asra Q. Nomanji.

    Unfortunately the first book (i heard) was banned in Pakistan because the author touches upon many untouched issues presenting a holistic picture of the kind of double standards we have.

    Again, great job by the author!Recommend

  • salman

    Pakistani society wasn’t always segregated and abnormal. there was a time when we were good people. Now we’re fanaticsRecommend

  • Parvez

    @salman: A little harsh but I would agree. Suggest read article by NFP in todays (Sunday 20th) DAWN paper Images section titled ‘ More pious, not better ‘. He has done justice to this topic. Recommend

  • wingless angel

    Thumbs up.! It’s so true…Recommend

  • derpton

    Everything you described had been adopted from western culture, however, you failed to mention that in that very western culture, there are ‘parental controls’, ‘ratings’ and ‘viewer discretion’ declarations that people can follow to avoid any distasteful experience.

    In a nut shell, Its our own hypocrisy at works here.Recommend

  • S. A

    My dear friend, my respect for the magnitude of your observation skills is matched only by my pity for your inability to properly apply them. I shall first quote what I seem to find is sheer short shortsightedness on your part.
    Ok, first of all, the billboard: Do you think the BILLBOARDS which are a product of an advertising agency’s idea or a marketing manager’s idea are the most ideal representative of the masses? No. The virtual world of Pakistan is dominated by those with an internet connection, should I quote the statistics of internet access?
    “By the word ‘virtual’, I mean the world that exists for us in the form of TV, the internet, and of course mobile phones.

    In a way, thus, people are simultaneously living in two worlds – the virtual one and the non-virtual one, both of which have extremely different measures of morality”

    Seriously? My friend. Limiting the virtual to this would, if not literally then at least in essence of this article, pose a severe question on your ability to coax an argument. Before internet and before TV, there were written erotic manuscripts and images. They constituted the ‘virtual’ once. And in the very beginning, our simple imagination was what constituted virtual, in context of two aspects of morality.

    In other words, our morality will only exist as long as the norms of our society apply. Be it here in Pakistan, or be it even Netherlands. Which ultimately questions the very existence of morality. To quote Thomas Hobbes, man is in a constant state of wilderness and it is up to a central authority to bring order as a Leviathan. All these cases of morality and immorality you mentioned are not separate because of virtual or real, but due to the simple deterrence created by norms. No duality in this, most people simply are scared rather than moral.

    Speaking on a more practical level, religion is a very important behavioral driver in Pakistan. Islam clearly forbids any act of affection between a man and woman out of wedlock. No wonder children are banned from dating. But again, as Facebook and Skype provide you a privacy to escape from the ‘norms aka religion deterrence’ I mentioned earlier, interaction (and much more) happens. Again, my earlier argument outlines how.

    Thirdly, and this is for pornography, with all due respect, you have to be ignorant, dumb and oblivious to say that a duality of morality occurs. There is a difference of SKY AND EARTH between watching porn and going to a brothel. I dont think I even need to illustrate that. Jokingly, might I add, porn can never give you an STD ;)

    To conclude, morality mostly stems from deterrence and norms, in their absence it is gone. There is not duality to it. There are some moral people who abstain from EVERYTHING and there are immoral people who do everything; in absolute absence or presence of those norms. It would have been much better had you written a piece on duality of standards. Why are park dates cracked down upon while mujras in kothis and bungalows keep taking place.

    I mean no disrespect. Recommend

  • W

    The writer quoted:

    “Traditionally, talking about sex is taboo in our society, and yet we bear one of the largest populations in the world; food for thought, isn’t it?”

    I dont see any connection between talking about sex and having large populations. Its a private affair and talking about it in public or public display is rightly a taboo.Recommend

  • W


    NFP never makes sense..Recommend