The Male Gaze

An elderly Muslim man, his elderly wife and his adult youngest daughter (YD) goes downstairs to wait for his oldest daughter (OD) and son-in-law to fetch them for dinner. As they reach the void deck, they find that the car has yet to arrive.

YD notices two ladies who are either in their late teens or early twenties seated at the table at the void deck. (They could also be in their late twenties; the lighting is too dim and she cannot tell for sure.) She averts her eyes as it’s rude to stare and it is none of her business how they dress. She focuses on looking in the direction of the passenger pick up point. ‘Please, oh God,’ she prays in her head, ‘please let my father remain silent and not embarrass me in public. It’s none of his business too how they dress.’

She steers the conversation to asking where they are going for dinner. Her mother, seemingly oblivious to the ladies behind her, says she’s not sure – OD says it’s a surprise. YD, not missing a beat, responds: Oh, because the dinner’s for Mother’s Day, is it? Her mother gives a non committal ‘uhuh’ as she starts fishing in her handbag to look for her handphone to call OD.

The trio waits another minute or three before OD’s car arrives with her husband in the driver’s seat.  YD lets out a mind’s sigh of relief and she thanks God that either her father’s eyesight has deteriorated to the point that he does not notice the ladies due to the dim lighting, hence his silence, or that her father has mellowed down considerably with age (he used to embarrass her in public by using his booming loud voice and self-righteous tone to admonish and correct random strangers when he perceives that they are acting or dresssed inappropriately).

Little does she realise that her relief was premature. Within minutes of getting into the car, her father speaks up:

Just now our void deck became a changing room.

‘Oh dear,’ YD’s heart sinks. ‘He hasn’t changed it seems.’

Her mother responds with a “Huh? What are you talking about?”

Her father:

Didn’t you notice those girls sitting at the void deck?

Her mother, a little indignant, says “We (I) did not really notice them.”

“Simple: just don’t look,” YD mutters, not quite under her breath, consciously trying to keep her tone neutral rather than dripping with resentment. She had entirely averted her eyes after the first look, and was blissfully unaware of what was going on at the void deck table, and it would not benefit her in any way to know.

OD, clueless to what took place prior to the conversations, asks, “What do you mean changing room?”

The old man:

They were changing clothes at the void deck… But they were wearing something underneath of course.

Awkward silence in the car ensues. What was there to say, anyway? It’s not like they were doing anything illegal. It is none of anybody’s business, unless someone else were changing their clothes for them without their consent. The old man’s words hang within the confined space , suffocating mature conversation and reasonable thought.

At this point, YD is reminded of a verse from the Quran directed to men, commanding them to ‘lower their gazes’. She wishes she had had them at the tip of her tongue – if not the verse itself, at least the reference to the chapter name and verse number. She also wishes she were not such an expressive person – she knows, if she had spoken up, it would be hard for her to control the tone of her voice, and the only thing others would hear would be her agitation, sarcasm, and insolence, rather than the truth in her words.

In the end, the old man’s words just dissipated, flicked off like an insignificant piece of dirt, as someone spoke up about something else.

2 thoughts on “The Male Gaze

  1. 24:30, just before the one that everyone likes to quote about women’s dress, including some of your commenters (24:31). The best way to remember is that Allah first told men to lower their gaze, and then God gave guidelines on how women should dress because men are clearly terrible at doing this.

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