Cultural Construction of Gender

In Swat there are only two categories of gender: male and female. They are complementary and are ranked hierarchically, with males considered superior while females are believed to be naturally inferior. Men command public life; women are relegated to the lesser world of the compound and children.

Gender is clearly marked in clothing, hairstyle, and demeanor. While both sexes wear the standard long shirt and baggy trousers, only women wear bright colors, contrasting shirt and top, and floral patterns; in contrast, men wear plain outfits of matching drab colors (though some bright blues are considered to be masculine). For special occasions, women wear necklaces, earrings, noserings, and bracelets, while acceptable male jewelry consists of an austere wristwatch. Men always have short hair and most wear typical Pathan wool hats, which some young blades decorate with a flower. Both young men and young women may wear kohl to accentuate their eyes. Women also decorate their palms with henna. Men drape woolen blankets across their shoulders and over their hats in cool and rainy weather, while women always wear white shawls, which they use to cover their shoulders and long hair. In the village, poorer women wear their shawls when they walk about the street or are in the fields, but women of any social standing never leave their compounds without donning a burqa—a voluminous all-over covering of black cloth which renders them completely anonymous. Even in the compound women only let their shawls down to reveal their hair when in the presence of very close relatives, such as their own children or siblings.

Women who must go out in public scrupulously avoid encountering men. If a man and woman do happen to meet on the pathway, she will step aside and look down. Men and women do not look at each other or speak to each other in public, and amongst themselves men never refer to another man's female relatives, except euphemistically to ask about "the house." When in the presence of men of one's own family, women should exhibit sharm (shame), and remain quiet and deferent.

Stereotypical male images of female beauty are inspired by local love poetry, which follows the familiar Persian pattern, apostrophizing long black hair, eyes like stars, milky white skin, and so on. Corpulence (which is rare) is also much desired in a woman. Female images of the ideal man are not so well articulated, since there is no female love poetry, and little possibility for women to have any choice in marriage partners. But it is clear that women favor men who are strong, honorable, and commanding.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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