The first crime we have committed is that we are – at this advanced age – still single. Quintessentially patriarchal, the average Pakistani (man or woman) looks at us with suspicious concern. If we have had the (mis)fortune to embrace and escape matrimony in the past, they wonder what exactly we did that led to the divorce. For those not clued in to Pakistani culture, a divorced woman though not precisely a social pariah (as she was in the past) is just shy of social acceptability. She may (or may not) be welcome at most doorsteps, however she will perennially remain a subject of gossip and her role in her marital disaster will forever be speculated upon.
On the other hand, if (like yours truly) we are still single, society will wonder why. Our sexual preferences will be a cause of concern (because despite their porn preferences, the average Pakistani male does not appreciate lesbians) and our ‘reputation’ will be consistently (re)evaluated. Some people will decide that in our marriage lies social-salvation-for-all and they will chase us around with potential rishtas (each more ridiculous than the last) until we finally give in and thereby remove ourselves from this demographic forever.
Some of us are sexually active, others are not. Despite our personal attitudes towards sex, we’re all branded as shameless sluts. A majority are not relationship-averse. Like our non-Pakistani counterparts, we’ve dated (and dumped) men in our past. Naturally, past relationships signify that we're 'impure' and therefore open to advances from whatever crawls out from the gutters. Lecherous men haunt our doorstep hoping they’ll get lucky and suspicious aunties peer out their window wondering ‘who’ we’ll let in the door (now). Either way, the world at large is agog as to what we’re up to, and with whom, and how many times we ‘did-it’ last night. Despite their overt disapproval, any one of the self-sanctimonious, hypocritical men we-come-across-on-a-frustratingly-regular-basis would happily get into bed with us. However, they will not ask us out on a date. They will not want a relationship. Hell most of them don’t even want a conversation which does not involve sex at the end of the sentence.
And if men are bad, women are even worse. For most women not part of this demographic we’re clearly morally corrupt and used to living a dangerously ‘fast’ lifestyle. If we should happen to live on our own (as some of us do) our sins have just been compounded many-times-over. Most mothers will look at us a hundred times before approving us for their ‘precious’. Perhaps the fear is that if we’re in a position to make comparisons we’ll be able to point out how inept sonny is in, err, certain departments. Regardless, mommies want the best for their children and clearly, we’re not it. While mothers keep their darlings away from us, wives wonder if we’re potential marriage breakers. Because hubby naturally wants variety (spice of life, you know) and since we’re so desperate to get some the monkey you married is going to look utterly fabulous to us.
Most of us have established careers. However, as the principle for a government training college told me the other day, most ‘shareefana’ women don’t venture out of their house to work. Those who do are usually ones whose parents are ‘liberal’ (he says the word as if it’s profanity of the worst sort) or who have the ‘self-confidence’ (another backhanded insult) to handle themselves in the workplace. I smile a beatific at him and wonder if he even realizes how he has insulted the working woman in front of him and then realize that he represents a larger chunk of Pakistani population than I do. Once labeled a non-shareef product of a too-liberal environment it stands to reason that I’d also be considered fair-game for the men I come across at work. Co-workers and clients hit on my demographic, completely unconcerned with little things like the concept of sexual harassment. If their advances are declined, these same men are prone to some very vicious (and potentially career-damaging) rumor-mongering.
Perhaps they acquire their gender-training from the government staff college with the misogynistic principle.