Somewhere in a small classroom a fan twirls lethargically while the Islamiat teacher drones on in a monotone about modesty. Disinterested fourth graders tug at their stiff collars or fidget with their dupattas (scarves), the Aalima (female Islamic scholar) pauses and then launches into an analogy. “It’s like God created women with a black marker, can anyone guess why?” The girls sit up straight but nobody answers. In another town, a girl going through puberty has been told to feel ashamed of her budding breasts and widening hips, so much so that she meekly decides to stop playing outside. She looks out the window, watching petite girls her age frolic about. There’s a shared understanding that a woman’s body is the ultimate vessel of sin and in the hierarchy of sins, tempting men is pretty high up, so all you need to know while going through the part exciting part devastating physical and psychological transition is simply this; your body is dangerous now, it can ruin you because men out there are volatile beasts longing to steal a glance, get an erection and then rape you. If that doesn’t deter you then know that your family’s honour is contingent on how intact your hymen is and how shapeless a bundle you turn into after covering those lewd curves nature has erroneously endowed you with. Then there’s God with his black marker. So should you, heaven forbid, dare to be proud of your body and survive the catcalls and whistles, he’d surely cross your name out from the list of female entrants to heaven. So one moment you are playing dress up with your dolls, trying to put a dainty summer dress on your Barbie and somewhere in the recesses of your childish mind imagining yourself in one and the other, while your mother’s telling you that you cannot wear shorts anymore because you are ‘growing up.’ It’s not just your mother though. The girls at school occasionally point at you and laugh because you’re too young to be that hourglass and then let’s not forget that group of boys from across the street gawking at you until you uncomfortably tug at ends and corners, making sure you’re concealed. Going through puberty is neither easy nor simple. The transition can often be depressing for young girls who are undergoing rapid physical and emotional changes and what makes it worse is the fact that they receive close to no formal counselling. Instead, to further roughen this already harsh process, a number of expectations are pinned on these young ladies. Suddenly, they carry the weight of guarding their family’s honour and representing its value system. Firstly, during puberty, a child’s body goes through drastic changes. Your body is the first thing that is truly yours, the first thing that you own and learn to make use of. It is the foundation on which you base the rest of your personality and so it’s crucial that you own it with pride. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to be proud of your body when you know little of what’s happening to it. It’s even worse when you buy what you’re told to and start being ashamed of a fairly natural process. You’re confused, you’re terrified and you want it to stop because all you know is that it can ruin you. This internal reluctance stops you from owning this transition and your body with pride and you turn into someone who’s insecure about it. Such a cocktail of emotions is further stirred by the guilt that accompanies it and there you are! Modest, insecure, clutching a register to your chest as you walk down a street, your eyes lowered, your steps hurried. A black blur… Secondly now, there’s a clear distinction in our society. There are the good girls who cover up modestly, and there are these bold women (who are usually characterised as bad) who want their charms appreciated. Why else would they be ‘on display’, right? I cannot begin to explain how distasteful this twisted form of “Madonna-whore” complex is. It’s debasing, not only for women but for men as well. So, that woman in a hijab has to be shy, docile, and meek. She’s a ‘mullani’, she’s pious, and she wouldn’t want to speak much. You pull out chairs for her, you stop cussing in front of her. She’s just an inferior silhouette and that other girl who just walked past in a tank top, she’s out there to get stared at. She’s part of a delicious minority because she’s shameless, loud, vulgar and desperate. You whistle when she walks past and get lost in that ghost of a cleavage she’s ‘proudly’ flaunting. Go ahead and trample what’s left of dualism. Being a Pakistani woman means you have to play either on this side of the line or that. Unlike most normal human beings, you don’t have the prerogative to stand in the middle because the society thinks in binary terms. They should be able to conveniently compute which label to stick on you. As a female child, that’s the binary world you’re thrusted into all of a sudden. A world that compares covered women to wrapped ‘toffees’ fit for consumption (JJ would have me say ‘gems’) but the fact remains, what some children go through during that period and afterwards is tantamount to trauma. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, growing up gives you a lot more than just stretch marks. Perhaps it’s time we re-interpret the term ‘honour,’ stop telling our daughters that they were made with black markers and were meant to live their lives shrouded in black and start telling our sons to be tolerant and give women, all women, indiscriminately the respect that they deserve. Someone ought to tell that girl that she’s not fat, she’s not a cow or a milkmaid or whichever label they came up with this time and someone needs to tell those insolent boys that they’re the ones who are dishonouring their families, displeasing God and running a risk of going to hell. The blogger is a parliamentary debater and a student of the FAST National University in Lahore.