Culture, Fashion, Lookbook

Pakistan’s patriarchal double standards spare no one—not even Kate Middleton

A white woman wearing traditional Eastern clothes ignities praise–while Pakistani women continue to be degraded.

Pakistanis, especially Pakistani men, have always made it a point to focus on the way women dress. Seeing men once again, demonize women for their clothes makes me angry. They do it to Pakistani women, and they did it again with Kate Middleton. 

When Prince William and Kate Middleton came to visit Pakistan, I, along with everyone across the country was excited about their visit. But I was disappointed to see that the discourse surrounding them only seemed to revolve around Kate’s wardrobe. From the time that Kate stepped off the plane, pictures of her wearing a light blue traditional “Pakistani” dress started spreading on all social media platforms. 

Mostly everyone said that she looked great, which I agreed with. But such comments were entrenched in a narrative that by wearing eastern clothes, she was promoting a positive image of Pakistan.

As if a white woman wearing our national dress, shalwar kameez is all the validation that our culture needs. 

I even heard some men saying that she wore shalwar kameez better than the Pakistani girls. For these men, the Duchess was suddenly an ideal, for other women to follow. This underlines the need for women’s subordination to men and, above all, their need to control them. This means that their toxic, perverse masculinity is real.

Another essential idea at play here is of class difference—when the rich, like Kate Middleton, dress differently than normal; they’re suddenly very “humble” or “good” people. 

Let’s break this narrative down into smaller pieces and look at what’s wrong with each in turn.

There were many captions on Kate’s pictures with admiration for “respecting” our culture. While reading the comments, I saw clearly that people don’t realize their hypocrisy. If wearing certain clothes means representing culture, then why does this phenomenon only apply to Western women? Pakistani women are told that they are forgetting their culture when they wear western clothing. They are degraded. A case in point is Malala Yousafzai. A photo of Malala wearing jeans and a top at Oxford went viral. It invited hate and vitriol form Pakistanis. Many said that she was distorting culture, misrepresenting Pakistan, being too western. But when Kate wore shalwar kameez, she was suddenly the epitome of our culture, values, and tradition.

What if the British had denounced Kate because she had worn Eastern clothes in Pakistan? It would sound absurd. Just as absurd as the rest of the world sounds, when they degrade women based on their clothes.  

Women are expected to dress modestly, or traditionally. Kate certainly got more attention than Prince William, and mostly because of how great she looked in eastern attire. Why wasn’t the Prince expected to make appearances in shalwar kameez? Why did the burden to dress the Pakistani way fell on Kate’s shoulders alone? The idea is simple—Pakistan is still a largely patriarchal society and is defined by certain norms about what women should wear. The mantle of these norms falls on all women and women alone—of color or white.

This Royal visit made me realize all over again that in Pakistan a woman will always be judged by her clothes. It doesn’t matter who she is—a Duchess, a rich woman, a white woman—people will only know her by the clothes that she wears.