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.