Jeans, hijab or whatnot — No one, including Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, should be judging women on a piece of clothing

Jeans, hijab or whatnot — No one, including Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, should be judging women on a piece of clothing

What women want is the freedom to choose what to wear. And not be judged/groped/degraded for it.
Updated 19 Sep, 2021

She wears a sleeveless top, she must be of "loose morals". She drapes a dupatta on her head, she must be "so backward". What exactly is the right attire for women in our society? No one can seem to figure it out (never mind how women themselves actually want to dress) but that doesn't seem to stop the men from having their say on the opposite sex's clothing.

The latest person to have many people up in arms is physicist and academic Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy who recently made uncalled for remarks about women in hijabs and abayas in classrooms.

He appeared on G for Gharidah on TV One on September 14 along with Dr Mariam Chugati and Dr Ayesha Razzaq to discuss the Single National Curriculum.

The conversation veered from the promotion of rote learning in the Pakistani education system to the depiction of women in the newly published SNC textbooks — that many have taken exception to.

"There are pictures and illustrations of girls and women sitting on the floor in which they are shrouded (lipti wi hain), said Dr Hoodbhoy.

"But when they [young students] see other women in bazaars or elsewhere who aren’t shrouded, they’ll think it’s wrong," he said. He called the textbooks an attempt to perpetuate gender stereotypes and said he had a lot of issues with it.

"This is an attempt at Talibanisation. Imran Khan's government is trying to make us into Afghanistan," he added.

Dr Hoodbhoy was speaking on gender stereotyping and yes, that's a pertinent issue. But taking a stand against stereotyping means being more inclusive and emphasising the importance of diversity, not singling out one group of women who dress a certain way.

Bringing up his time at Quaid-e-Azam University, where he started teaching in 1973, Dr Hoodbhoy said 47 years ago it was difficult to see a single girl in a burka. "Now, hijabs and burkas have become commonplace. It is rare to see a normal girl now," the academic said.

"And when they sit in class , shrouded in a hijab or burka, their activity, their participation in class is very poor [ghatia], to the point where you can’t tell if they’re in class or not," he said.

He added that even earlier female students "didn't ask a lot of questions" but occasionally when they did, he would happily answer the queries.

Before addressing Dr Hoodbhoy's problematic remarks, let's get one thing of the way; there's a lot yet to be explored about the SNC and this article isn't about that. Criticism by academics, including Dr Hoodbhoy, that women are allegedly given a lower status in the books should be addressed by the government and other academics.

Dr Ayesha Razzaq also raised the point that representation of women is apparently less in the curriculum and that women have been dressed in a "more stereotypical way while there is diversity for men". What she didn't do, however, was pull down the women represented in these books, i.e. the ones in hijab, burka and niqab.

Clothes don't define a women

People — usually men — often use women's clothes to make a point and judge a woman's morality and character. Whether they say women wearing less clothes than they would like makes them immodest and vulgar (fahash) or whether they believe wearing a scarf on your head somehow makes you less intellectual and outspoken than your peers — it's all the same. Men have been judging women based on their clothes for far too long.

People often equate feminism and the movement with a confused definition of liberalism. They believe that feminists are fighting for women's right to wear what they want — and slogans like mera jism meri marzi do cover different aspects of policing a woman's body — but that can only be 'skimpy' items of clothing.

No. What women want is the freedom to choose. And not be judged/groped/degraded for it.

Feminism wants that women should be able to wear what they please, be it a niqab, a hijab or none of the two. Separating women into two categories — ones who wear hijabs or niqabs and the 'normal' ones — is no different from people who cry "fahash" when they see women who aren't covered up to their satisfaction. In both cases, you're judging a woman based on what she's wearing and that's not right.

We know that the revered Dr Hoodbhoy has been around for years and must have interacted with all types of people, but to generalise based on your experiences is everything gender stereotyping stands against.

And what exactly are 'normal' women? The way society dictates a woman's 'acceptable' attire or demeanour depending on their location, their social circle, their profession and other parameters is not just laughable, it's downright insulting.

This is real life, not a dress up game.

Sartorial choices ≠ IQ range

Dear all liberals and conservatives, please don't reduce a woman's entire personality to her sartorial choices. Wearing a hijab or niqab does not affect anyone's intelligence — what you might be mistaking their reluctance for is the lack of confidence that comes from households, peers, and sometimes even teachers. We're not surprised to hear from you that women (not just the lipti wi) are more reluctant than their male counterparts to ask questions because we live in a society that prefers its women — all women, regardless of their clothing — to be demure (read quiet) than bold (read opinionated).

We would expect someone as learned as Dr Hoodbhoy to not generalise his experiences onto a whole population of women and carefully choose his words. Just like the Khalilur Rehmans of this country have their followers who hang on to their every anti-feminist word, many hold Dr Hoodbhoy in high esteem and would be influenced by his belittling of women who dress a certain way.

Wearing a scarf doesn't slash your IQ and neither does dyeing your hair blond, as stereotypes would have you believe. A person's intellect has nothing to do with the clothes they wear.

Make your very valid point about gender stereotypes and the roles imposed on women, but leave their clothes out of it. Talk about a more diverse portrayal of women without looking down on any one group. Unlike with other clothing, for some, niqab, hijab and burka hold a deep religious value — they should not serve as a prop or be caricatured (we're also looking at you, Kiran Naz, for the niqab stunt).

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this — stop judging women for what they wear. No matter what your political leanings are, leave women and their clothes alone.


Ayan Sep 19, 2021 04:27pm
Mr hoodboy was right
M. Asghar Sep 19, 2021 04:32pm
The ethics of modesty (hejâ) for everybody is the basis of a healthy society.
ahsan Sep 19, 2021 04:38pm
both for men and women choice of dress of course is a personal matter at the same time in order to keep peace it's necessary to abide by one's cultural norms and traditions which are by no means inferior to those of any other, to say the least
Khaled Sep 19, 2021 04:45pm
Whether we agree or not, clothes do matter, if it was not so, the lawn makers would not be doing such a roaring business in spring in Pakistan.
Shad Sep 19, 2021 04:49pm
Utter BS clothing is important and says a lot about the personality of a person.
Khaled Sep 19, 2021 04:49pm
There's nothing wrong with what Dr. Hoodbhoy said, he has a right to his opinion.
Mahmood Sep 19, 2021 04:52pm
Making a mountain out of a moll hill! To each his or her own. This topic has been over analyzed and discussed to death already!
bhaRAT© Sep 19, 2021 04:53pm
Correct. "My body, my choice". "Your body, your choice".
Yasin Sep 19, 2021 04:56pm
Now, hijabs and burkas have become commonplace. It is rare to see a normal girl now," Who are normal girls?
Tadka Sep 19, 2021 04:56pm
well ppl seem too confused these ur mind want or don't want conservatism
Zak Sep 19, 2021 05:06pm
Hijab is a womens choice and symbolises different meanings to different people.
Tajammal Sep 19, 2021 05:16pm
Hijab is not related to the religion in the Indian sub continent, women taking hijab in every religion there.
N4z14 Sep 19, 2021 05:37pm
but as long as we dont talk about the influence certain faith plays in preventing women from full autonomy we will never progress.
All is wel Sep 19, 2021 06:08pm
Clothes do define not only a person but also a society. It has been used as a powerful tool by religious zealots to keep poor masses subservient to their whims.
Timur Sep 19, 2021 06:13pm
Dr.Parvez Hoodbhoy is one of the most rational and sensible voice in the country
Joe Sep 19, 2021 06:14pm
Talibans are coming .
Dr Lowe, I.Q. Sep 19, 2021 06:14pm
Professor Hoodbhoy's concerns are genuine and should be taken seriously. Our educational and Religion authorities are regressing in thoughts and are taking us into theocracy and patriarchy. Since when did Imran Khan become a religious nut?
Khader Sep 19, 2021 06:21pm
First of all, can women in Pakistan wear clothing they wish to wear without being forced by a patriarchal society. That is is the basic question haunting Pakistan.
V for Vendetta Sep 19, 2021 06:22pm
Pakistan must adopt sharia.
Realistic Sep 19, 2021 06:25pm
Dr Pervez hoodbhoy should be ashmed of himself for talking against the Hijab
Venus Sep 19, 2021 06:27pm
Professor saab you are a right man wrong place,keep safe.if you are in india you would have been another Abdul kalam,whole india would be celebrating.
Thunderbird Sep 19, 2021 06:40pm
Women should be able to wear whatever they are comfortable with without the judgemental eyes of anyone , men or women. As women do not comment on men clothing , men should do the same and avoid making an issue.
Talat Farooq Sep 19, 2021 06:42pm
Well done. Dil khush Kar diya. Bravo.
Shahid Mahmood Sep 19, 2021 06:51pm
Nothing wrong with discussing dressing habits and their effects on human behavior. Everything in life is up for discussion as we live in a free world where everyone is allowed to speak his/her mind. I would oppose when someone talks about a specific individual's body or clothes but not when these things are discussed in general.
Chrís Dăn Sep 19, 2021 07:00pm
I fully support Dr. Pervaizś point of view.
Waheed Rehman, US Patriot Sep 19, 2021 07:04pm
You are absolutely correct. However, when I see a women dressed in Nicab or a brown man with a long beard walking the streets in the West, alarm bells go off in my head to duck out of their way and scurry for safety. After all it's the culture we're raised in that defines our concept of others. Raised in "Purana" Pakistan, a moderate Pakistan where Nicabs or long beards were very seldom seen, I can see how Nicabs and long beards are frightening symbols of extremism. But you can hardly call that sexism.
Hassan Sep 19, 2021 07:15pm
Hijab is not burqa. In our culture women use dupatta to cover their head. This entire middle eastern import was not there in 1960s. The choice should be of the woman and more than often it is not even though the men try to present it that way.
Ramesh Choubey Sep 19, 2021 07:19pm
Clothes don’t define women but women / men define their clothes
Agha Asad Raza Sep 19, 2021 08:49pm
I agree with Mr. Hoodboy. Please do not malign him.
Kris Sep 19, 2021 08:49pm
Please ask men to wear a hijab or a burkha. They are tempting the women too.
farid Sep 19, 2021 09:20pm
Mr Hooboy is 100 % right.
siddiq karim Sep 19, 2021 09:27pm
Totally disagree with the PM on this issue If you want to improve education increase the 2 percent education budget to 10 percent first
Askar Sep 19, 2021 09:42pm
Other nations are exploring other planets and our intellectuals are wastit time on pity things. What's you expect from a normal Joe?
Captain Sep 19, 2021 09:43pm
An ordinary woman knows very well, how to be presented and what to be worn.
M. Saeed Sep 19, 2021 10:31pm
Students up to secondary school level are required to wear prescribed uniforms. But, in universities, they become free from restrictions and an ugly competition of, often staged, affluence starts making education a secondary matter. It is the responsibility of the parents to keep strict watch on their children, to see if they are strayed from the normal course, or not. Very easy rule for the children is: "What you hide from your parents, or cannot afford to tell them truly, is drastically wrong and you intrinsically know that.''
Polaris Sep 19, 2021 11:26pm
There must be a proper uniform in Schools, Colleges, and Universities for Students and also for Teachers, Lecturers, and Professors. It is not something new as in the early days of Pakistan uniform was a must for all the above.
Raheel Sep 19, 2021 11:27pm
Hoodboy heart and mind is in USA but body remains in Pakistan.
Alla Bux Sep 20, 2021 01:55am
Whatever girls want to wear is fine. Only difficulty comes when they are FORCED to wear some all encompassing dresses in the name of culture.
pa99 Sep 20, 2021 02:23am
While I wholeheartedly support freedom of choice but not if it impacts a person's ability to learn and interact with the teacher.
Bazinger Sep 20, 2021 02:46am
@M. Asghar modesty is the basis of a basis of a healthy society? I would not classify Saudi Arabia, libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, as healthy societies
Naseer Sep 20, 2021 04:19am
@Yasin good one
Ch. K. A. Nye Sep 20, 2021 05:04am
@Ayan... Right about what?
Malik Tariq Sep 20, 2021 05:47am
It is a woman's choice to wear the hijab or not to wear it. Nobody has this right. Society can only intervene if there is obscenity and someone's privacy or dignity is violated.
Faizan Sep 20, 2021 06:13am
I stand with Dr Hoodbhoy, most women cover their heads because of social, religious, or family pressures and often they don't even realise that they are doing it under some pressure. Anyway, dear writer, though you are not wrong please don't dilute the issues being raised by such academics, it will neutralise their voices and women in this country will remain slaves to stereotypes of this nation.
Independent Thinker Sep 20, 2021 06:15am
Women should be able to wear hijab or not based on their personal preference. Not wearing the hijab is not same as being immodest.
Amir Sultan Sep 20, 2021 07:34am
Lots of Hoodbhoy fanboys in the comments XD
ss Sep 20, 2021 08:18am
@Yasin A normal girl is the one who is free of restrictions put by men on her throughout history and calling it as part of their culture or required by their faith.
Freedom Sep 20, 2021 11:03am
If only a few thousands of Professor Hoodbhoys existed in Pakistan unlike 200 millions IKs and Hafiz Saeeds.
M. Saeed Sep 20, 2021 11:21am
Students up to secondary school level are required to wear prescribed uniforms. But, in universities, they become free from restrictions and an ugly competition of, often staged, affluence starts making education a secondary matter. It is the responsibility of the parents to keep strict watch on their children, to see if they are strayed from the normal course, or not. Very easy rule for the children is: "What you hide from your parents, or cannot afford to tell them truly, is drastically wrong and you intrinsically know that.'' !!
Tenjee Sep 20, 2021 11:36am
@Askar Those same nations are generally speaking responsible the obscene Arms trade and subjugation, exploitation and killing of countless civilians. The sooner they find another planter to maraud the sooner the rest of the world can breathe either relief and might finally get a taste of freedom and self determination.
Tenjee Sep 20, 2021 11:43am
@Alla Bux social, industrial, peer group pressures affect girls in particular throughout the world. Western girls feel pressured to look like a Kardashian, Instagram has admitted their apps emphasis on physical looks is causing harm to girls self esteem. A girl going to a expensive school in unIslamabad will be peer pressure into adopting western attire to fit in with the other rich brats. Which pressure is better? The one from a parent who wants their children to live up to a high standard, or the one from a immature rich kid who just wants to feed their own notion of fun and will take joy and pleasure in your self degradation?
Tenjee Sep 20, 2021 11:44am
Who wrote this article?I demand to speak to them. You have my email .
Anonymous Sep 20, 2021 12:32pm
What we wear depends at least partially upon what our health permits. Medicine is the name of the game.
Saba Sep 20, 2021 12:57pm
What Mr. Hoodboy should have concluded from seeing more girls wearing hijabs in university is that more girls from "conservative" backgrounds are getting higher education. 47 years back, how many girls went to university? And the ones who did go were from more liberal families. Today you will find girls from all types of social classes and backgrounds in universities.
Waseem Sep 20, 2021 01:15pm
You can object on some words Dr. Hoodbhoy has said but not on the idea he is talking about. One group of people is clearly imposing stuff on girls but you are criticizing the opposite group who is trying to get some of their freedom back? Dr. Hoodbhoy was absolutely right.
Salman Khan Sep 20, 2021 03:54pm
A very balanced write-up. Prof Hoodbhoy is very competent and a highly intellectual person but certainly not infallible. Women's clothing is no measure of talent or intellect and no one should demean them.
Salman Khan Sep 20, 2021 04:00pm
This is a very balanced write-up. Prof Hoodbhoy is a highly intellectual person but certainly not infallible. No one has the right to demean a woman on the basis of her choice of clothes.
Hasan Mahmood Sep 21, 2021 06:29pm
Nowhere is he saying what women must or must not do. He is simply pointing out a fact.
Dua Sep 22, 2021 01:45pm
@Ayan Alas. This is what all I would say.