Every time I watched a movie in Cinema, I came across this ad of tobacco which ends on the line “Smoking is injurious to health”. Like everyone else, I believed it to be true but I often questioned myself that “why did they always show men smoking in the ad and not women?” Or “Is smoking gender specific?”. I did not dare ask this question from my parents because some things do not have a room for discussion in brown culture, especially coming from a girl. I grew up happy yet in curiosity until I found my answers.
A few years back my elder brother was caught smoking. He was not caught barehanded but my mother sensed that he smoked. His clothes, high school bag, and even car had smoke smell on. He would literally bath in perfumes and body sprays before entering the house but my mother couldn’t be fooled. She would often ask him to admit it but he never did. My parents would scold him every now and then and sometimes calmly lecture him to quit it before it is too late. They would mention to him of every other relative who was addicted to smoking and deteriorated his health. My father being a doctor would put forward all the possible consequences my brother might have to face if he continued doing it. My parents were more concerned that my brother might get into drugs because it all starts with social smoking in adults.
On the other hand, I was still afraid to ask the questions I had because girls don’t have anything to do with drugs or cigarettes in brown Muslim families. This continued for several years until my brother moved to a different city for his college. Well, even then whenever he came back home my mother would constantly ask him to admit that he smokes with a smirk on her face and he would deny as usual. She was worried about his health; she would mention how his lips have turned dark and often joke that one day they will have his picture on cigarette pack because of how much he smokes (God forbid). This soft scolding had become a routine at home now.
What put me in confusion was how smoking could only be injurious to health if I was a man but it would put my character and moral values questionable if I was a woman.
Years later when I was to join college and shift to another city, I was handed over a list of DO’s and DON’T’s. A big list that probably every adult gets I assume once in their life. One of the DON’T’s had me in confusion and shock ever since. It was not something unusual because I was aware of it already but this time it was pictured in a way that my mind couldn’t absorb it for several years. It said that I should never even touch a cigarette, smoking it far beyond my reach. I initially thought that since my brother smokes and has put my parents in a constant state of tension because of his health so they might be a little too cautious for their daughter too. Little did I know that there were things more important than my health. I was lectured in a very concerned and alarming way that girls who smoke have a questioned-character. They are considered vulgar and bold. They don’t fit into the “ideal daughter” label. Their respect is on stake and society questions their upbringing because smoking is culturally not acceptable for women. They told me that my degree would be worthless if I have a bad character and my moral values weren’t on society’s standard. This bad character came from breaking society’s norms set by some “UNKNOWN”. The list reminded me of every possible consequence and shame my parents would go through if their daughter was seen smoking in public.
I was afraid but fully aware of my parent’s concern and I understood it, after all, they want is best and nothing less for their children. What put me in confusion was how smoking could only be injurious to health if I was a man but it would put my character and moral values questionable if I was a woman. I wasn’t told that I shouldn’t smoke because my health would be at risk as it was for my brother and this very thing left me forever wondering. What I didn’t understand was how nobody ever came to my parents to tell them they should be ashamed of their son because he smokes but would question their upbringing if their daughter was seen smoking. With this prejudiced comparison If not much I at least found the answer to the questions, I would often ask myself and not ask my parents because I think they would never have given me a justified answer.
This is the story of every girl. Even actress like Mahira Khan had to face an intolerable moral policing from desi brigades. In our society everything is gendered, smoking is the biggest one, unfortunately.
I really appreciate you coming out to present your perspective using “I”. Many people/families in our society are intolerant and mind sharing personal scenarios online and try suppressing them from writing on sensitive issues of our society.