This theory developed when I personally experienced the consequences of an ongoing practice at restaurants, shopping malls and a cinema in Karachi. One of my friends and I had wanted to have an ice-cream cone from one of the fast food chains in the city. However, on approaching the doors we were told that Friday, Saturday and Sunday were family days and we could not enter without our family. This was not the only time I was affected by this practice. Once I had to convince my parents to accompany me and my male friends to a Cineplex in Defence. At another time, I had to sneak into a posh local shopping mall to get my laptop fixed on a ‘family Sunday’. So what is a ‘family’? A ‘family’ in Karachi’s posh public places is defined as a female or a group containing at least one female, regardless of any relationship, blood or otherwise.
The only imaginable reason for the increase in this practice is to keep a certain section of the society away from certain places, and on certain days. The section of the society being targeted is the unaccompanied male or a group of males. But why are men without women being ostracized? That is because they are men. They are most likely to get into fights, most likely to make women and other men with women uncomfortable, most likely to ogle at women, most likely to use foul language and most likely to reduce the attractiveness of the joint. They are least likely to truly enjoy the venue, least likely to be able to afford it, least likely to appreciate its finer points and least likely to be prized customers. So it is best to keep away as many of them from these places as possible. This is obviously not my opinion, but is what the practice implicitly states. Another explanation might be class segregation, based on the opinion that a certain class of people would be less likely to conjure up women each time they went out to one of these places. The reasons for class segregation would be the same as those for ‘exclusively-male’ exclusion cited above. It certainly does not paint a pretty picture of our social attitudes and surprisingly this practice is growing rapidly.
There is obviously another twist to all this. Our society is relatively conservative and culture requires the elderly to depend on the younger population. This lack of independence within the population leads to people needing support for every step they take. Among the more conservative strata of society this translates into either the entire family going out or the entire family staying in. Common sense would dictate that, more often than not, on account of convenience all members of a family would not be willing to go on an outing and lead to a small number of family outings. As mentioned earlier our society is also relatively conservative. Men and woman are not encouraged to hang out together as friends. So if you have a female friend, and you both belong to conservative families, it is not looked upon highly if you hang out alone or in a small group of friends. So where does this leave the poor unaccompanied men who belong to more conservative backgrounds, but would like to experience the posh restaurants and cinemas? Firstly, because families do not tend to go out much as families, the women of the family are still able to go wherever and whenever, but the men are not. Secondly, men and women, in particular woman, from more conservative backgrounds cannot be seen alone with members of the opposite sex and that once again leaves the men out-to-dry.
The question comes down to the effectiveness of this whole operation and if, at all, it is worthwhile to pursue it? If the social benefit derived from it is greater than the social loss? If our society will progress by the implementation of such rules? If the clientele for whom restaurants, shopping malls and cinemas are meant are being best served? The answer to all these questions in my opinion is an emphatic ‘NO’.
One of the reasons is the distinction between classes and social and political views. Someone from the elite could be very conservative and someone from the lower-middle class could be very liberal. Specially in a society as diverse as ours we may find a lot of different concoctions of classes and views. What I am trying to say is that if an attempt is made to exclude a certain class then forget about it. Some men from the middle-class roam freely with women, while some men from the upper-class may not enjoy a great amount of female companionship.
I must confess that at times the thought of inviting female friends has only come to me because I have wanted to go to one of these exclusive places. In effect, on Sundays women’s status is the same as a ticket to gain entry to the city’s most popular shopping mall and it amazes me how the women of this city are silent on this insult. What is worse, men ogling at you because of the way you look or your status being permanently downgraded to an entry ticket? We don’t live in a segregated society and most women of the upper and upper-middle classes, which are being protected here, have enough interaction with men otherwise to be able to handle them at these places. Also, I believe it is the job of the managements at these places to make sure that no nonsense is tolerated and that trouble-makers are kicked out. They should hire security so that no incidents take place rather than block out a section of society.
We are a nation of contradictions, but there is a fine line between contradiction and hypocrisy. On the one hand we would like to be ‘modern’ and move towards Western culture and on the other we would like to stick to our old-fashioned values that contradict the very foundations of Western modernity. We can’t conveniently choose bits and pieces from a value system, not because it’s not possible, but because such values cannot exist in harmony. Being ‘modern’ is important as it marks a nation that is alive and well. We should not move away from being modern. Neither should we move away from our traditional values. Those two can co-exist as long as there is no confusion. We must decide how far we’ve gone and how far we’re willing to go with a certain value system and stick to it and try not to discriminate. In a free country nobody likes being restricted. Since there isn’t much to do for fun the male youth of the city may see all this as clusterf***.