In Exit West, Nadia is definitely her own person. She moves out from her parents while unmarried, which is culturally abnormal for her. From here, it could be inferred that the role of women in Exit West could be a traditional one. The robe is “conservative and virtually all concealing” (16). Saeed thinks it to be related to Nadia’s faith. After he inquires, “If you don’t pray, why do you wear it?” (16), Nadia responds with the brusque “So men don’t f–k with me” (17).
This is one of my favorite lines in the entire book. It is made even more important through Hamid’s commitment to long, flowing prose. I know this is a character speaking, and not Hamid’s narration, but the contrast is still there. Besides, Hamid could have written the whole novel with punchy little sentences like these. Then, maybe, this line would not be more memorable. I digress. All the same, what really makes this statement work is all the meaning packed into Nadia’s words.
When Nadia expresses the desire to be liberated from male advances, it ties into the patriarchy. There is a big question, though: is she wearing this robe as someone who feels bound by such ideals, or as someone who is independent but does not want any questions asked therein? The argument for the former hinges on the idea that such a robe looks like a patriarchal construction. It swallows Nadia whole and could make her look meek and submissive. Or it may not. We know Nadia is a strong, independent woman, so perhaps she is wearing this robe to avoid all the prodding that would come with her outwardly breaking norms by, say, wearing skinny jeans and a crop-top. She is merely playing a role, does not want anything to do with anyone, and has to get on with being her own self.