Sex segregation? At a wedding? What century are you writing this from, Nayab?
I understand any possible incredulity at the concept. In fact, a few weeks ago, I would have been completely against the idea as well. But that is not the case anymore – and all it took was one innocent conversation on a Tuesday afternoon to get me to this place of indecision.
I come from a country, and a culture, that is no stranger to this tradition.
In Pakistan, it is actually common practice.
Sometimes there is a partition set up in the middle, and other times an aisle between separate seating areas is sufficient. But despite witnessing this kind of wedding for most of my life, I approached my sister with indignation about the topic, “It’s a wedding! I don’t get it! What is so goddamned immoral about sitting at a wedding with the opposite gender? It isn’t like we’re trying to jump each other’s bones! What’s the harm?”
I was livid at that moment.
[bctt tweet=”It is common practice in Pakistan to have sex-segregated weddings.” username=”wearethetempest”]
But what my sister said next made me think twice, “You’ve never felt uncomfortable being ogled at one of these shindigs? Didn’t you notice that no one does it when all the men are on the other side, and there’s a gap where you can leave your worries?”
To this, I had nothing to snap back with. I couldn’t because it was the truth. But I still had my questions, like why does a woman’s comfort have to be synonymous with distance from men? Why was it portrayed as such a helpless thing in my society, the inability of a man to keep his eyes to himself?
Once, I asked a boy about it.
He asked me, in return, “If you were to come across, uh, the Sistine Chapel, let’s say, would you be able to help looking?”
It was evident from the look on his face that he was expecting me to be flattered by the comparison. And I almost wish that it was that easy. But it’s not; a woman is not an object, nor a work of art such as Michelangelo’s magnificent work, and she is not shaped or adorned for a voyeuristic male gaze.
Despite the compliment reference, this reason did not, and does not, sit well with me.
But it wasn’t time to think about it, for my sister was far from done with me.
“What about the women who cover their heads and faces because of religion, and want to look beautiful?” she fired my way, “Don’t they deserve to get to do their hair and leave it open, and to wear lipstick instead of just eye-makeup? It’s not fair to limit them to their beliefs.”
Again, I was shocked into silence. Sheepishly, all I could really do was shrug because the point she made hit home for me. I understood what she meant, even though I wasn’t happy about it.
[bctt tweet=”I understood what she meant, even though I wasn’t happy about it.” username=”wearethetempest”]
In the midst of my indignation, I forgot to take into account that feminism looks different for everyone because of their cultural differences. Different women have different values and I can’t disregard that because of my own beliefs.
I so badly wanted to be right that I lost sight of something I believe in; to my very core.
I can’t say that I am completely convinced that sex-segregated weddings are something that I agree with, or that it is something I would ever choose for my own wedding. Nevertheless, I also can’t say that I feel right judging anyone who opts for it.
And despite my uncertainty about the concept of sex-segregation at a wedding, I strongly feel that we need to have more open conversations about it.