Thursday, July 8, 2010

Headscarves, Burqas and Panties - Oh my!

Do read the fine print in the illustration ;) (click to zoom)

I googled the word “A’abaya” randomly one day and came across a website for an Islamic boutique that specialized in designer A’abayas.......AND lingerie. WTF!

I was intrigued, to say the least…I clicked on the link to discover a world of the sluttiest underwear I’ve ever seen. It made me laugh, because I thought lingerie in an Islamic boutique would cover most of your body – like an Islamic bathing suit. A stupid assumption, because lingerie… is lingerie. It has one purpose, to come off…quick – and I suppose that these Muslim lingerie buyers like to get it on something fierce, behind closed doors. Hey – as long as it’s legit, and you’re married I guess that makes it okay! The reason it made me chuckle was 'cause these women are buying shapeless cloaks to hide their body and crotchless panties to flaunt their body at the same bloody place. An ingenious business idea – yet it somehow seems wrong that you would use religion to market lingerie. Maybe wrong is not the word I'm looking for.... but umm...odd?

As weird as that combination of products being in the same store is, there's definitely a market for it. The lingerie market is driven mostly by men (as is the a'abayah/burqa market), if it were up to women, I'm sure we'd choose comfort over butt floss!

Anyyyhoooo.......thought I'd share that fun little story, before I got to the more serious stuff.


The notion that men will be men and have an insatiable sexual appetite is widespread throughout Pakistan. Women typically cannot enjoy sex, want sex, masturbate or show any sort of interest in it. They’re baby making machines and blow up sex dolls, that also cook and clean. Perhaps the imbalance spreads from the caveman days when men’s physical power allowed them to beat us women into submission and drag us by our hair into a cave of their choosing. *shrug* it’s a theme that resonates around the globe in different intensities.

Of course, no offense guys, I dont mean YOU in particular... and there are lots of awesome men out there... but lets face it, the caveman-types that use their wives just to make children definitely still exist in ridiculous quantities.

Steve (from the last post), the self proclaimed generic white boy thinks of attractive women in colourful veils when he thinks of Pakistan. We sure have plenty of those and with that imagery he reminds me of a place our maid used to tell me about, while I was in Karachi. I spent many afternoons listening to her stories about her village in the province of Punjab. She would tell me about young girls sneaking off into fields or behind haystacks to meet a lover. I was fascinated by these tales of unauthorized sexual activity (and in a small village too!).

Apparently, this is common…there is so much sex going on it’s hard to think of these women as repressed. Some of the women are married to other men and some are unmarried girls…and everyone’s having a great time. But soon enough, the bubble bursts when you hear about these same women being forced into marriage by their parents, or being beaten by their husbands or pressured to produce a son. They do have their small moments of sexual freedom – and good for them…but generally these women are confined to a life of all kinds of repression… and oppression.

When Steve states that he doesn’t associate sexual repression with any Muslim country, it strikes me as odd and I wonder if he’s just trying to be polite…but then I read on and he explains that extreme misogyny is the culprit in his opinion, “Repression is possibly involved, but I think it has more to do with hatred of women than hatred of sex.”

What Steve says here is an incredibly powerful statement. I…..can’t get my head around it, fully. I want to agree, but it’s almost too disturbing to accept as reality. It could be and I’m sure there are plenty out there that agree. But to me, the more I think about it the more speechless I become. It’s actually hurting my head – wow, that’s really disturbing.

So, I can see the Pakistani in me coming out – I don’t want to deal with what Steve said, so let’s move on. Denial, ah – a national pastime. Our children don’t have premarital sex…Pakistani’s don’t get Aids…Our son is not gay…

Although, he mentions that he doesn’t see this extreme misogyny in Pakistan, but associates it mostly with the Taliban, and Saudi Arabia. I can see where he’s coming from, more so about the Taliban than about Saudi – because I had a perfectly beautiful childhood in Saudi Arabia. I didn’t know that crime existed; I didn’t know that poverty existed…but then again, I never knew what was going on outside my Americanized compound walls. But that’s a whole other blog in itself. This one’s about Pakistan.

I’m glad Steve mentions that there are extremist groups in Pakistan like anywhere else in the world and recognizes the repression involved in other religions as well.


I remember when my husband and I moved to Karachi from Toronto as newlyweds…we were walking around the bazaars holding hands, until we noticed all the stares we were getting. We were literally stopping dirty old men in their tracks. In fact, I remember crossing the street once while holding his hand and a woman (with her face covered) almost ran us over and drove past yelling for us to let go of each others hands. Me, being the rebellious type – I naturally didn’t want to be told by the public of Pakistan what I was or wasn’t allowed to do.

So I was quite upset when my husband (being the more rational, cautious person) said he didn’t want to stir up any trouble or get into arguments with other men because they were staring at me. I decided he was right and although I should have the right to hold his hand, it was probably easier to just let it go. The funny thing is, a lot of these guys that were stopping to stare were usually holding hands with each other. It’s quite strange, but thats a common practice amongst 'lower income' men in Pakistan. They walk around holding hands all the time, apparently. Yet they still stop to ogle women.

So what’s up with that?

Well, I can only speculate, but I think since it’s widely accepted that this is how they display their friendship for each other. They aren’t necessarily gay, although you would think so if you had a Western understanding of homosexuality. They seem incredibly absorbed in each others presence, these strange hand-holding, woman-ogling males. Sometimes you will even see the occasional ass-grab exchanged between the two men, but then you see them stopping to stare at a woman – their jaws hang open, their eyes light up and you know they are undressing her with their eyes at a rate that’s unimaginable.

They don’t have access to women, so their playful ass grabbing turns into a homosexual encounter – but only out of necessity. It’s like men in prison, when you have limited interaction with the opposite sex, you tend to satisfy your urges through other means. This is one example of how men too are sexually repressed in Pakistan. Women surely win the race, but men are in there somewhere.

James (see last post) says that sex is the single strongest drive in the healthy human being and cannot be successfully repressed – I could not agree more. When people’s natural sexuality is restricted it tends to manifest itself in other ways. A lack of sex education and a taboo surrounding any such topic results in unwanted pregnancies…which trap the poor in a vicious cycle of poverty. Such restrictions sometimes come out in the form of incest, bestiality and pedophilia… People are afraid to speak up and uneducated predators take advantage of this situation.

It cannot be repressed entirely but such extreme attempts to box it and suppress it result in an explosion of all kinds of hidden sexual activity.

James goes on to say that suppression just changes the spectrum and makes you more sensitive to the slightest trace of sexuality, where a simple coy smile becomes all the more attractive. I’m reminded of seeing women with covered faces whose eyes were particularly striking. Even girls with their hair covered, they’re actually highlighting the beauty of their face even more – because there isn’t any hair to distract you from it.

It’s like…a quick glimpse of a bare wrist can be attractive if you know you’re not supposed to see it. It’s just a heightened level of awareness…most of us are desensitized to a lot of things because we’re constantly inundated with prepackaged, airbrushed, high definition images of female sexuality. In the West, we can’t get away from it – and seeing a pair of bare breasts on TV has just lost its novelty.

Billy sums it all up when he says:

I think Pakistan is a little more repressed than other Muslim countries, namely because religion is part of their identity.

And that…is key. We are a nation formed because of our religion, and no matter how much the core of those beliefs have dissolved and degraded we continue to cling onto them in a very hypocritical manner, one that is addressed by Merve when she compares Pakistan to Turkey. Life in small villages is very different to big cities; people are divided into several separate worlds and have separate sources of repression. Some are held back by society and keeping up appearances whereas some are burdened with a lack of education, poverty, strict family policies and religious misinformation.



  1. I think Steve is right when he admits to not knowing much about Pakistan. I find it ludicrous that the repression witnessed in muslim societies can be characterized as an extreme form of misogyny. I think it is exactly what the prevalent view characterizes it to be, sexual repression borne out of sexual discomfort.

    In all my experience, it seems to be the case that the need to make women cover up in muslim societies is rooted in the discomfort felt by many men in the sexuality – innate or perceived - of women in their families. It is the discomfort of knowing that your mother, daughter, or sister could have a sexuality of their own, and the discomfort of knowing that others, especially other men, may perceive them in a sexual manner. This discomfort, I think, is what motivated the sartorial religious edicts, which, in result, further help intensify the expectations made of females, in their attire. It doesn’t seem to be the case that the husband, brother or father that expects his relative to Burqa-fy has a hatred of said relative but rather that this desire stems from a need to de-sexualize these women, and/or to conform with societal or religious obligations.

    It is strange that Steve could differentiate between the ultra-orthodox Jewish and fundamentalist Christian sects, and fundamentalist muslims. He assumed the restrictions the former two place to be a perverse obsessiveness with sexuality, where as the restrictions radical muslims place to be misogyny. I think his understanding is due to the us versus them, de-humanization of muslims that the media inadvertently propagates. Do you really think fundamentalist muslim men impose the burqa on women out of a hatred of them rather than a dislike of their sexuality. Characterizing them as ‘extreme misogynists’ suggests to me that they go home after a long days work and indulge in wife-beating, just because the said wife happens to be female. Come on!

    I really like your graphics by the way. They are funny and creative! The first one reminds of the Victorian myths regarding masturbation many Catholic kids used to be told. Those misopedists! Sorry, being facetious, but I hope you see my point about mischaracterization and I really do love your illustrations

    I do strongly agree with James and Billy about how human sexuality can’t be repressed and doing so has unintentionally harmful consequences, and how our national identity being based on religion causes difficulties.

  2. Firstly, let me say I'm thrilled to have you as a reader. It's delightful to hear from someone who has a lot to say, and says it well.

    I see what you mean exactly, because I think that was my initial reaction too... but the more i thought about it... the more i could see where Steve was coming from. At first, I saw his statement as being a harsh, unfair judgement. But he isn't talking about all Muslim countries being mysogynistic, just the radical Taliban types. And think about it, those men are insane - depriving their women of education (not always but often), basic human rights, the freedom to live life according to their own choices. Its evident in Saudi Arabia (the mysogyny) as much as I don't want to admit it, cuz thats where I grew up - its there. Women are not allowed to drive, not even in an emergency situation, they get beaten with a cane in the streets if their hair is showing, they cannot travel without the permission of a male relative (mehram)...and Afghanistan and Iran are even worse... the burqa is really the least of any woman's problem...

    All this may have started as an attempt to desexualize them, but it has certainly grown into something more, something uglier. Where women are not seen as adult humans, capable of making their own decisions - but kind of more like 'cattle'.

    I do apologise if I have offended you, but I hope you see my point. The problem is alarming :(

    And yes, the Victorian myths were certainly an inspiration for the illustration on top. So glad you're enjoying the drawings :)

  3. Thanks, but dude, I wasn't offended in the least. I am not of the religious lot. Just was freaked out by the bizarre misunderstanding of muslims.

    Agreed that women are treated very badly in Saudi- as if they were 'cattle', but this, I feel, is rooted in a sense of religious entitlement, and extreme sexism. I think the men in those cultures feel themselves much superior to women.

    I know the way the Mutaween punish people in Saudi, but this is the same society that chops of limbs for theft, and where lashings are common punishment, regardless of gender. The punishment meted out to women should be seen in the holistic context of the cruel legal system. While the need to punish women for venturing, alone, outside the house is indicative of the super-extreme sexism, the punishments, themselves, are characteristic of the country not the attitude towards women.

    Iran, of what I know of it, is definitely not worse than Saudi. Shia religiosity doesn't go nearly to the extremes that Salafis take their views. In Iran women can leave the house unaccompanied, drive,and work in nonsegregated workplaces. They do however have to wear head-scarves, which, while limiting, is nothing compared to Saudi Arabia and taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

    While I don't claim to to know everyone's motivations in Saudi or Afghanistan, I feel that the actions of men in these societies are motivated by a sense of religious entitlement and a need to keep women under their thumbs - their actions a result of the very narrow and restrictive view of a woman's role in society. The exception I take with the word misogyny is that it literally translates to, "hatred of women," while the truth actually lies in the superiority and authority over women, these men feel.

    I fear that labeling these people as misogynists will help propagate the dismissive view of them as sociopaths. They might have caveman-esque morality, but they definitely are not incurable mental-cases with an irrational hatred towards women. While calling them "extremely sexist" might seem like an understatement, labeling them misogynists would simple be untrue.

  4. Hi E!
    I'm still struggling with your blog!
    Where do these interviews come from?

  5. Heya! :) Struggling? How come? The interviews were conducted several years ago while I was in Pakistan. I tried to get as many people to talk as I could, and this is what I got. As for the non-Pakistani interviews, those come from friends and friends of friends in Canada.

    @Mackers: Like I said before, I completely see where ur coming from. And I don't claim to have the objective truth, not at all, but i do think taliban-types are sociopaths:/

    I think we'll just have to agree to disagree - since I think both of us could go on forever. You are a very good writer ;)

  6. Agreed :) I have to say though that I have heard many wild and untrue stories about muslims because of people's view of them as psychos, e.g., "Muslim men rape their own daughters if they find them dating men before marriage."

  7. Those people are obviously retards..but yes I hear that kind of crap all the time as well.. especially growing up in Saudi Arabia and then moving to Toronto for uni, lol, I heard some interesting questions. Most people just have no clue what to think other than what the media tells them to... And even though Fox News won't say Muslim men rape their daughters, barbaric behaviour is often implied. It's that whole "they're fucking terrorists, lets de-humanize them" kind of mentality. And thats really why I want to focus on something different, like Pakistani sexuality...

  8. Hi!
    You say that in Pakistani society women are pressured to produce a son by their husbands but reality is different.
    I can tell you my personal experience that in cases of no sons in a marriage Usually it is the other WOMEN of family,and not husband who mostly pressurize woman for a son.
    Now just saying that"culture is controlled by men",is simply not true.Cultures anywhere develop and change as a sum total of all its parts,And it is never totally stagnate or even definable in a restricted sense of the word.
    Now Pakistan is bordered by 2"non Muslim"countries.Yet preference for sons is prevalent in those cultures in a greater degree.
    Specially look what happens in some Indian states like Punjab and Huryna where they kill off pregnancy if they happen to know that it will be a girl through Ultrasound.
    Similarly China,s one child policy automatically has produced skewed sex ratios.
    What i mean to say is that saying that such attitude is because of religion or misogyny is really a easy substitute for thought,and not sufficient.
    Women being forced into marriage by their parents,
    Now it IS a serious problem but ALWAYS remember one thing.That for every women being forced to marry against her wishes,there is every likelihood that the man she is being marrying to is also not really asked much either,If U think that even all men are actually asked before doing their engagements here?Well u r Wrong.
    Many are still not asked specially in rural areas,that maybe changing a little in recent times but still at a slow rate somewhat.
    And BTW who are the people responsible setting up all those "rishtas" ?
    Almost always women of the family.Infact elder men of the house usually are quite powerless in all these important life
    decisions,and if they even try to interfere,they are mostly simply booted out of whole process by the women declaring them "zan zannana" or "womanly" and whatnot.
    "Women being beaten by their husbands"is a big problem in this society ,but focusing only on Male/Female violence in society is missing the bigger picture.violence in general is a massive problem at all levels here.Now make no mistake about it Without even remotely downplaying such cruel acts,Male/Male violence is actually even more frequent and severe than M/f one here.
    "Women typically cannot enjoy sex, want sex, masturbate or show any sort of interest in it"
    So who are all those "wicked" men are having their unlimited and full of pleasure sex with?
    And about your "women not enjoying sex" part in the same post' How do you know? haha.
    Sample you talked to were obviously small in number and belonging to a particular socioeconomic class.Not representative.
    Now the real gem "Men’s physical power allowed them to beat us women into submission and drag us by our hair into a cave of their choosing".
    Methinks you could have easily used Slightly less of hyperbola here. Because if humanity was really such in earlier days then it simply could not exist!
    And Saudi Arabia is not so bad for women because you had a "perfectly beautiful childhood"there!
    Now I don,t know whether to laugh or cry here,because women are not even allowed to drive there!
    If that is O.K according to you then Pakistan must be paradise for women!huh.
    Because If there is one country on earth which does most systematic discrimination against women,it is surely Saudi Arabia.
    It again shows how often judgments are clouded just by personal experiences and not on any logic or conclusive data.
    And by the way Most of those "hands holding guys"u saw here,would actually be quite surprised to know u consider them gays just for doing such a trivial act.Yeah such acts are acceptable here.But so what?
    Infact it is only in some western countries alone who have totally perverted the concept of perfectly non sexual same-sex friendships,Whereas in other parts of the world i think it still ain't so.

  9. first off, what an amazing blog you have. every post is great, but the images are like of historical importance. i know i've said this before, but once more is the least it deserves.

    as for the conversation, i am very intrigued by this distinction between misogyny vs repressed sexuality. it feels very difficult to have a non-knee jerk reaction to this, and its very tricky to reduce either point to its essentials, otherwise people like the gentleman above can pick a lot of pedantic holes.

    perhaps its not an either-or distinction, and each facet informs the other as it keeps getting reified over time.

  10. first off, what an amazing blog you have. every post is great, but the images are like of historical importance. i know i've said this before, but once more is the least it deserves.

    as for the conversation, i am very intrigued by this distinction between misogyny vs repressed sexuality. it feels very difficult to have a non-knee jerk reaction to this, and its very tricky to reduce either point to its essentials, otherwise people like the gentleman above can pick a lot of pedantic holes.

    perhaps its not an either-or distinction, and each facet informs the other as it keeps getting reified over time.