Stumbling upon a blog post titled “How can I complain about men staring at me when I’m not wearing my dupatta?” I somewhat knew what I was going to read upon clicking. It wasn’t because I am a clairvoyant, but because such narratives have been so tirelessly peddled in our society, one can see them coming from a mile away.
The author of the blog asserts that “dupattas are an inevitable part of our cultural dress code” and women who choose not to wear dupattas are doing it “due to peer pressure or misguided desire of being called progressive”. Like many other guardians of our culture out there, she requested women not to abandon their dupattas or else they would be promoting a foreign culture at the cost of their own.
It is not just dupattas, women have been judged for stepping outside their homes and for having their own opinions for so long that even women have started to blame themselves for daring to act upon these fundamental human needs. And when our ‘scientists’ are not busy getting cars running on water, they are researching on how women’s attires can prompt earthquakes. Such researches are amply cited on the loudspeakers at our local mosques. I still wonder what causes quakes on Mars though, humans haven’t even moved there yet.
We are so often told to respect and hold onto our culture like it is some invariable entity. But it is not culture that yields societies, but the other way around. Cultures transform and are redefined as societies evolve. You cannot tell a woman to stick to wearing a dupatta in the name of culture for the same reasons you cannot tell a man to stick to wrapping a dhoti around his waist like men from the Indus Valley Civilization used to. Had humans stuck to what they used to wear in the name of culture or medieval mythologies, we’d all be walking around with leaves around our naughty bits and nothing like our cultural dresses today would have had the chance to exist.
As for people who are insistent on defining culture as a static and invariable way of living, you might not like acknowledging it, but places like Heera Mandi remain as startling fragments of our culture and so do practices like honor killings. The latter, however, is a horrid cultural trend still persisting in various parts of Pakistan and it rightly deserves our condemnation. Gladly, culture is not a stagnant code of life that must be respected at all costs and I hope that ours evolves for better.
Besides the cultural association of proscribing jeans and favoring dupattas, there are clichéd notions of victim blaming that hold women responsible for being stared at or harassed by men. Although it must not come as a surprise in a male dominated society, but it is disappointing to see well educated people failing to see the fallacies that lie within such arguments. If you think a woman who does not wear a dupatta has lost any right to complain about sexual harassment, because after all she was the one asking for it, I hope you also have very good explanations for child abuse and sexual harassment of boys. The situation of victim blaming has gotten so worse in our society, that upon reading the news of necrophilia cases, I fear that somebody might blame the dead bodies of the girls buried deep into the ground to be provocative or not buried deep enough.
People who hold and perpetuate such abominable opinions often neglect the plight of women who resort to wearing burqas due to peer pressure or for avoiding prying eyes and worse – harassment. I am yet to meet a woman in Pakistan who has managed to avoid such instances of intimidation by men in public spheres by wearing dupattas or even burqas. Having lived in cities like Quetta, it no longer surprises me to see men ogling entirely covered women as if, in their imaginations, they’re trying to solve mysteries of what lies behind the thick dark cloaks that were somehow supposed to make them look the other way.
We are outraged when a country bans women from wearing burqas, but we’re completely fine with certain attires being enforced upon them in our own country. In the end, aren’t we both doing the same thing – taking away the liberty of women to choose what they want to wear?
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