Family day: ‘Staring male’ species not allowed — unless with a female …

Published: October 23, 2013

Why is this not a problem outside Aashiyana where hundreds of women are having their hands henna’d regardless of being ogled at by thousands of cheap guys? PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

This Eid, I ordered my kurta from an outlet in Park Towers and I was meant to pick it up after alterations on chand raat. When I got there, I was stopped at the gate and told quite rudely by the security guard that,

“Today is a family day”

He put his arm in front of me to block me from entering.

“What do you mean? I can’t go inside?,” I questioned, to which he responded

“No. You have to come with your family. Single men are not allowed inside today.”

I even showed him the receipt for my kurta in an attempt to substantiate my reason for wanting to go inside. I still wasn’t allowed to enter. Panicking at the realisation that I may have nothing to wear on Eid, I started asking strangers to help me. Eventually after an hour of cajoling outsiders, a Good Samaritan helped me get in with their family. This obviously defeated the whole purpose of the rule and got me thinking of the logic behind such a restriction.

In Pakistan, it seems as though family day doesn’t really mean coming with your ‘family’ or anyone related to you per se. It means coming with female company, be it a friend, a girlfriend and so on. Obviously, nobody cares about whether you are entering with a blood relative or not. What they care about is that as a single guy, you are accompanied by a female.

This incident reminded me of all the places I’ve been refused service due to it being for “families only”, starting all the way back in my teens. When I was much younger, I wanted to go to a store called ‘Teens and Kids’ but I was stopped at the door with a similar statement that “guys aren’t allowed inside; it’s for families only.”

My friend playfully responded to this saying,

“So what? We’re two brothers… We aren’t considered a family?”

The man seemed taken aback by that response. However, needless to say, we weren’t allowed in. I didn’t quite understand it. How harmful could two teens inside a shop called “Teens and Kids” be? Moreover, I was puzzled as to the purpose of this shop that was, for teens and kids, but refused to allow teenagers in because they were male? I guess the board should have read “Girl teens and girl kids” – that would have made more sense.

This absurd rule, unfortunately, doesn’t extend to just shopping malls and outlet stores in particular. In fact, once I was at Boat Basin and my friends and I were made to sit outside in the agonising summer heat despite the fact that there was an air-conditioned ‘Family Room’ which was completely empty at the moment. We argued but we weren’t allowed in.

Later, a group of young girls sauntered in and took their ‘rightful’ place in the pleasant room. The waiter didn’t really answer when I asked,

“So how many families are those?”

Even Port Grand – a decidedly chic and modern place – has the ‘family day’ rule. I’m not even going to discuss the hypermarkets or cinemas in Pakistan where boys are not allowed, because, hey, they are boys!

So what is it really about single guys that make all these families feel so threatened?

I asked someone who responded by saying,

“It’s nice that they don’t allow single men inside malls. There are many boys who come here just to stare at women inside and it’s good that we can shop in peace when they aren’t allowed inside.”

Taken aback by this observation, I couldn’t help but wonder what the single guy should do in situations like these.  If a man doesn’t have a sister or girlfriend and doesn’t want to bother his mother, cousins or female friends, then what option does he have left?

What if someone’s family isn’t even in the city? How is a single man, who has moved to the city for work, supposed to cope with all this rigidity? And what about the man who just wants to shop alone?

Having travelled a lot, I have never experienced anything even remotely similar to this senseless discrimination anywhere else. It makes me wonder what sort of damaging message we are conveying here: “single men can’t behave themselves unless they are with a female.” Ridiculous indeed!

In a country where having a girl friend or female friends is looked down upon and considered taboo by many, it is confusing to see the opposite being promoted here. Why the hypocrisy? If malls and cinemas want to protect women – which they should – then a better security system where CCTV cameras monitor with precision and guards protect women from getting harassed are a better policy then the absurd ‘family day’.

On a closing note, I wonder why the same ‘staring male’ species isn’t problem outside Aashiana, on chaand raat, when hundreds of women queue to apply henna to their hands?

Zaven Ahmed

Zaven Ahmed

Works as a financial auditor in the UAE. He loves travelling and is passionate about music.

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