A woman covered with a dupatta, unlike the covered lollipop, will never be covered enough

Published: October 14, 2017
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There are few places where a woman can be seen without her handy best friend, the dupatta. PHOTO: PINTEREST

As I strolled out of Emporium Mall the other day and waited for my car, a street urchin approached me. Assuming she was going to ask for some money, I pretended not to see her, but then she did something shockingly out of the ordinary – she adjusted the dupatta on my chest, draping it in a manner so that my entire chest was now covered by a sheet of cloth.

Baaji, kitni pyari ho (you’re so pretty)but it doesn’t look good na”, she said, pointing to the men standing nearby. “All the brothers are looking at you. Look even I have my dupatta on properly.”

I gave her a hard look; she could not have been more than nine-years-old but had already mastered the art of concealing herself at the ‘right’ places in our lecherous world. Unfortunately, the so-called “brothers” still hadn’t learnt to observe parda (cover) with their eyes.

Staring is a national past time in Pakistan, and apart from posh places with metal detectors and a team of security guards to protect us, there are a few places where a woman can be seen without her handy best friend, the dupatta.

Our relationship with the fabric begins at the onset of puberty; grandmothers and aunts are quick to remind us to sit properly and cover ourselves fully in the presence of male cousins and even our own brothers. I resisted the dupatta for a long time – even the sash of my school uniform was bothersome, never staying in one place. Yet, my ever-changing body was a threat to society, even when I just 11-years-old.

The elderly ladies of the khandaan (family) would often rebuke me for running around or dancing wildly during weddings with my friends, saying,

“Doesn’t look nice, beta.

It was soon after comments like these that I picked up on their hint that not only was my bosom beautiful, it was also nothing short of an atom bomb for others. Openly, Pakistanis despise female breasts, but are nonetheless beyond obsessed with them in private. A little show of cleavage by the maid while she sweeps the floor and the male tongue starts salivating.

Breasts are an integral part of a woman’s body and are essentially there so that they can act as a source of nutrition for future offspring. At no point in their development phase are young girls encouraged to take pride in their silhouette – instead, our physical assets become a source of discomfort and shame for us, and sometimes for the entire family.

Young men, on the other hand, receive no similar pep-talk regarding acceptable social behaviour. Their puberty-induction rituals consist mainly of being mocked for sporting a pencil-thin moustache or the sudden change in their voice. A sabak (lesson) on sexual and predatory behaviour is nowhere to be found as the aunts and grandmothers decide to lecture the girls instead because,

Woh toh larka hai.”

 (He is a boy.)

Recently, this week, security personnel at a privileged business school of Karachi stopped a faculty member on account of her not following the dress code. Her attire, in case you’re wondering, consisted of jeans, a loose white shirt and a scarf around her neck and chest. Her post went viral on social media, ultimately resulting in the security guard getting fired. However, this one man is just symptomatic of a greater problem – the problem of having a dress code, the problem of telling woman what to wear and what not to wear to begin with. A modestly covered woman is still not sufficient; society has to take it a step further and decided that despite being covered, we are never covered enough.

The dupatta is a beautiful garment, a part of our national dress and at times even an extension of our personality. However, reducing the dupatta to an apparatus against aggressive male sexuality is nothing to be proud of. With time, women have exchanged their dupatta for a full-blown chadar or naqaab but a sense of insecurity still prevails – no one is safe from the disconcerting desi male gaze. Clearly the size of our dupatta is not a measure of our character but rather that of the men surrounding us.

A social media post once went viral where two lollipops were pictured side by side – one of them was covered with a wrapper while the other was uncovered, hence attracting a swarm of flies. The caption on the post merely said “Which one would you choose?” This “deep” comparison was meant to insinuate that an uncovered woman will attract unwanted male attention, ruining her forever. On the other hand, the covered woman will be safe, since men are known to never attack or rape women who are fully dressed. Furthermore, the post further reinforces the general perception that men prefer “untouched” girls and not morally “loose” girls.

Well the joke is on the metaphor, for a covered woman, unlike the covered lollipop, will never be covered enough. Society would cover the already wrapped lollipop to disguise its shape, and then put in in a Tupperware container to further keep the flies away – but perhaps even then it would not be covered enough to not tempt any flies.

Today, one feels forced to grab a dupatta while answering the door, going to the nearest convenience store or just getting out of the car to buy fruits from a makeshift stall. From teenage boys to men with greyed hair, almost everyone talks to a woman’s chest rather than locking eyes with her during a conversation. And with women with big butts being in Vogue, soon we may need a dupatta to cover our behinds as well, just for a greater sense of security.

A butta, anyone?

Maria Sartaj

Maria Sartaj

The author is a freelance columnist. She holds a degree in Cultural Studies and is passionate about social observation. She tweets at @MariaSartaj

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

  • ab

    you have to become men to understand that why men cannot lower the gaze as The men biggest weakness is a women. simple.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Putting this attitude down to religion etc is in my view misguided thinking……ours is a patriarchal society and this is pure and simple bullying by the male to feel superior…..the remedy is for the female is to ‘ stand her ground ‘ but this has to be a collective effort by like minded women and it’s the hard solution. I say this because I know many women have accepted the norms set by men and are either afraid or have convinced themselves that going out with ones head / body uncovered with a dupatta is wrong……its the easy way out.Recommend

  • Adnan Qamar

    Firstly, yes the problem in the vast majority of cases are men who expect their women to dress modestly but fail to understand that they too have a responsibility. Men in Pakistan (and maybe the whole of South Asia) have a staring problem.

    That being said, I believe it is better if a woman dresses modestly – hijab/dupatta/long shirts/abaya. I respect a woman’s right to wear what she wants but honestly, I disagree with people who blame the hijab for not being ‘protective’ enough simply because they don’t want to use it. Most of these people are simply looking for an excuse to not wear it. A woman dressed modestly is much more likely to be respected; this is why pious women – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh are modestly dressed all over the world. Although yes, this is no where close to being perfectly effective and men’s staring problem needs to be addressed more than women’s choice of clothes.

    Exposing skin DOES provoke the wrong kinds of thoughts – this is a FACT and not an opinion. Even the girls in Bollywood’s item songs will concur. So if you don’t want to use hijab out of personal preference, please don’t BUT please stop ‘shaming’ the women who do choose to wear the hijab out of modesty. There is no shame in not wearing it if you don’t want to wear it. You should not feel compelled to justify not wearing a hijab.Recommend

  • Wareesha Ahmed

    do they pay you anything for writing?Recommend

  • Utsav Sharma

    so feminazis have arrived in pakistan too…intrestingRecommend

  • Memona

    This article is right on point. I couldn’t agree more with you.Recommend

  • Mirza Aasauf Baig

    Veil is respect for a Women.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Flies = Muslim Men. Unwrapped Candy – non-Muslim women. Isnt that is Islam? Isnt Niqab/Burqa used to know which woman is Muslim or not?Recommend

  • Abdul

    baseless Logics.
    everyone rather Men or women do what they have to do , not because of other & everyone should follow thier limits define by their faith.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The question however remins is, how much attention the author wants to raise by her posture knowing well that anything not normal in the family or community she lives in will draw attention sometimes more than one wishes. The norms in a society are established over a time period through the process of evolution, Self preservation, neither men nor the religion having the decisive factors.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    By faith you mean the religion ? The religion does notes not define limits but the law of the land does which does consider the local cultures and traditional norms. In all evantualities ‘No’ must be taken on face value.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Merium Paul

    every word every sentence was beautifully delivered. Couldn’t agree more.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    It is not that simple! Men who cannot lower their gaze requre education and those who regard women their biggest weakness can be treated by medics. The hollywood predator is now in the hospital, a bit late but still has the chance to control his behaviour towards women. Donald Trump is on finistride to control his movements.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • gp65

    She did not shame the women who wear hijab. She is simply saying that blame the victim mentality : blaming the woman for not being covered when she is subject of leching and sexual harassment is wrong.Recommend

  • gp65

    Feminazi? Really? Nazis sentenced 6 million jews to the gas chamber? Who exactly have the feminazis killed or harmed? Why is it that some men compare women speaking up for themselves with Nazis? It reflects on those men who use this term rather than the women they are trying to shame.Recommend

  • gp65

    Spot on.Recommend

  • gp65

    Well then, men have to overcome their weakness by exercising their character. Not put the burden on women.Recommend

  • gp65

    It is certainly not the case that the pious women are more respected among Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Furthermore, piety is not just a function of clothing but of actions. Women dressed appropriately for the occasion will not be noticed – so on a Goa beach or a disco, a woman in swim wear or western wear will not be noticed but a woman in ghoonghat will. In a temple or gurudwara or church on the other hand, it would be appropriate to have more modest clothing.Recommend

  • ab

    No Einstein that’s not how the world operates. there is evil and good. How a evil person exercise his character. I want to know that? even the law cannot made him do so because if he sees no one is looking he will do his evil. so how will we curb him? Woman with proper Hijab is as vulnerable (if walking alone), but the signal is weak to the evil person, but if the woman if without duppata the signal become very strong. so stop putting all the blame on men.Recommend

  • Utsav Sharma

    google the word feminazi Recommend

  • Nargis Kamal

    Are you then saying that men simply by virtue of being men cannot control their gaze and find themselves in a position where where they must stare (no other choice as that’s how they are programmed), and are therefore, evil?Recommend

  • ab

    Seriously,the problem is that if you are a feminist then we cannot have a healthy logical talk. case closed. if you are normal human being then things are different. please don’t take offense, if you are a normal human being. by the way you can see the oxford dictionary for the meaning of evil.Recommend

  • shakir ansari

    Maria Sartaj, I agree with your point of view. But it is not limited in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. i have seen a BBC program video where anchorperson touched breast in online program. In UK there were huge uproar on social media. The main issue is thinking, when society will observe not to harass,abuse,taunt, flirt and undue sexuality. And begin to respect people regardless in differentiating gender, class.Recommend

  • xxSomeonexxx

    When in rome do as the romans do. Why dress in revealing western attire or dress in skin tight clothes and complain of looks you receive? If you are so emancipated go to the west and stand at street corner in a mini skirt and fishnet stockings then come and tell us whether you were checked out or not. The behaviour of a segment of male population is the same all around the world the only difference is the level of sensitivity to what excites them.Recommend

  • xxSomeonexxx

    Islam doesn’t distinguish between Muslim and non Muslim women when it comes to according honor to them. Men are told to lower their gaze and not cast a second look.Recommend

  • vinsin

    So why rape rates are not high among tribal cultures or nudist etc? If men are not responsible for raping women then who are? Duppata?

    Laws are for punishment not to reduce the crime.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Talk about yourself not, you dont have any authority to represent all men. So why some men practice celibacy? Why all men are not going and raping women, all the time?Recommend