Dressed to Impress?

Sawtalniswa

So it was this really picture-perfect day at AUB a few weeks ago. You know, the sky was blue and there was a breeze and the students were all bustling about and even the cats weren’t that obnoxious.

As I walked past the Medical Gate, I overheard a conversation that went, roughly, like this:

“Oh my god, do you know how smart you’d have to be to study Medicine at AUB?”

“I know. He’d have to be, like, kteer zaki.”

Question 1: The sex of the conversationalists? Yes, female.

Question 2: The approximate age of our women conversationalists: Yes, early 20s.

Question 3: What were our young women wearing? Yes, four-inch heels. Yes, shorts that are, well, really short. Yes, there was cleavage on display.

Question 4: What were our over-dressed young women majoring in? I didn’t ask. Nor did I find out if they volunteer, are members of one of the academic clubs on campus, or like to read.

Question 5: Did I assume that they’re merely spending four years and lots of daddy’s money husband hunting? Yes I did, and shame on me.

But why? Why do these women assume that medical students are men – and practically demi-gods of intelligence? And why then dress like they’re going clubbing? How much social pressure do they face daily to look a certain way? What sort of expectations were they raised with? What counts as “success” or self-realization for them?

It’s absolutely nothing new that much of society still rewards women for looking a certain way. That jobs, degrees, social positions and, yes, husbands all too often get handed out according to her looks and not her capabilities. We all know that, regardless of her capabilities, she’ll have to work twice as hard as any man for a reduced salary. And that Lebanon has a very well educated female population that is incredibly under-represented in positions of authority (including the workforce, government positions, political leadership, etc). Oh, and lest we forget, we all know that due to Lebanon’s constant brain drain, the male-female ratio is uneven, and that Lebanese women are all too often urged to marry and procreate fairly quickly lest there be no more men left.

So then, I guess the real question isn’t “why,” as much as it’s “what next?” How do we create spaces and opportunities that reward women’s capacities, that offer them the choice of how they want to look, behave, think, explore, challenge – or not, as the case may be. What motivates a woman to fight these expectations and social pressures? How can we support women to wear what they want to wear, when then want, how they want, because they want to wear it? And, more importantly, what needs to happen so that women believe they are just as “kteer zaki” as any man?

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