Colour Code For Woman Only!

Bhawana Pokhrel

Binaries play a big role in constructing hegemonic or hierarchical codes. Of late my focus has been on colour. There are so many colours in nature, in human life too. All human beings like to enjoy them irrespective of their age and time. It is true that there may be some psychological motivation to use or wear colours as per ones’ moods and situations such as simply using bright colour when jovial and dark when serious or dull while contemplative. However, it startles me to think over the very colour conspiracy in Nepalese society in relation to women.

From which source this practice came into being is not of my interest for religion or culture cannot be devoid of ideological biases. Times and spaces have been evident for this statement. I wonder who set these colour rules and why women still follow them. Who made them follow it?

The colour conspiracy begins from the very birth. Always some flowery stuff is recommended when a baby girl is born. On the contrary some ‘sober’ colours -‘not flowery’, ‘not-woman’s’ colours for a baby boy.  Hence, the conceptualisation of a male colour depends on the concept of the colour which is ‘not female’. Later it gets naturalised that we do not even bother to question but follow without any kind of resistance.

There may be some space for individuality irrespective of the sexes. As the children grow they develop their own like/dislike of colours. However, the society through institutions which coerce the colours starts intrusion through its establishments. If a boy chooses pink, red, maroon or purple or blue, he may be derogated for dearth of his manliness. Similarly, if a girl chooses so-called sober colours such as white, cream, ash or peach, she may be frowned upon for/against her femininity.

As puberty peels, children are more forced to stereotypical colour codes. With menstruation the colour red gets various mythical misconceptions. Many myths are created of the woman’s blood and biology. It’s linked with purity/impurity, profanity/piousness, weakness/strength, defeat/victory etc.

The strongest institution of colour conspiracy is marriage. When it comes to marriage, be it love or arranged, the bride is to be clad in red. Whereas there is no any colour specific for the groom.  My mind multiplies questions when I stop and stare at this point. One can ask why only red, what red? Yes, all red attire and some more…bangles and beads, tika and sindur, lipstick. Why so much of extra accessories? Does marriage conceive a woman or a woman who marries a dummy to be decked in all those and be demonstrated? And why are we following it without questions? If not why does a finger ring suffice for a male in the name of marriage make over and so much of fettering festoons for women? Once worn forever you are into the trap! The colour red that we enjoy so much at wedding day becomes a code for people to identify us instantly with unmarried and the widows. But have we ever questioned here, what are the signs that a married man wear equivalent to bangles, beads, tika and sindur? We may argue, red is the colour of life and joy. If so, why should she have to be obedient to shun it later?

The colour she is supposed to be relishing in married life is supposed to take a retreat along with the demise of her spouse. At and after his death she will have to wear white symbolically ‘keep pure’ code. It is ok, both of the sexes do it for mourning. However, it entails a colour ban only for the women. Love and devotion for the departed may or may not be in the soft corner of her heart, but the colour prohibition piles up problems in her life/status. Red and shades of red are prohibited. If she dares to wear red, it will raise a question to honesty and humility or it will determine a debauchery on the part of the woman who does it. Giving into the stereotype would impair her self- integrity. What will be your choice then? Or what should be hers?

Anyway, the colour conspiracy is very cunningly devised to detect women’s biological, social and psychological states or phases without a question so that the counterparts is be able to regulate their behaviour as per that, if not by mercy, domination.

Way ahead

Can we deconstruct this colour code imposed on women? Simply, either by not dressing up stereotypically at functions like marriage or by not giving them up the way we are till now supposed to for two reasons – first, love and understanding is to be celebrated, it is  not something only when together so let’s celebrate it in his absence too. Next, if it’s not love and understanding then freedom is no less dear!

I wish all of us carve a question in our mind, why should only a widow wear no red and why not the widower?! Do we (both  sexes) have courage to crawl out of this conspiracy? Obviously,  binaries play a big role in constructing hegemonic or hierarchical codes as well as dismantling them. 

(Pokhrel is a lecturer at Prithvi Narayan Shah Campus, Pokhara)




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