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IKEA's "clear position concerning gender equality".
October 1, 2012 4:25 AM   Subscribe

IKEA "airbrushes" women from its catalogue in Saudi Arabia. Scandinavian newspapers have noticed something missing in IKEA's catalog Saudi Arabia: women.
posted by three blind mice (161 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a pretty impressive Photoshop job (see the reflections in the red cabinet). I wonder if it's a composite photo.
posted by Leon at 4:28 AM on October 1, 2012


Maybe someone's Photoshopping women into the catalogues everywhere else....
posted by chavenet at 4:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [18 favorites]


If they haven't done this by just sharpie-ing beards onto all of the ladies I am going to be very disappointed
posted by ominous_paws at 4:34 AM on October 1, 2012 [26 favorites]


There's a difference between respecting another culture's differences and assisting them in the perpetuation of their problematic beliefs.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:44 AM on October 1, 2012 [73 favorites]


Yes, but if they didn't do that then they might make a certain small percentage less money.

You can see the bind they're in.
posted by DU at 4:51 AM on October 1, 2012 [63 favorites]


Well said, Pope Guilty. Hell, I'm all for respecting cultural differences, and I know not everyone around the world is going to see things the way I do, and want the kind of world that I want, and all that, but... you know? FUCK this second-class citizen status of women in countries like Saudi Arabia. It's so blatantly and over the top wrong and backward, that it's just got to change.

And if IKEA is blaming their sub-contractor advertisers or whatever, fuck them, too. They're fucking SWEDISH, for chrissakes, they're supposed to be *progressive* about this shit. Pull your goddam stores OUT of countries that don't let women drive or vote, and relegate them to sub-human status. That's right, you smug-ass IKEA motherfuckers, I'm talking to YOU.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:54 AM on October 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


Plus, the toilet seat I bought from you broke, almost immediately, so fuck you for that, too.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 AM on October 1, 2012 [24 favorites]


For further reading here is the IKEA catalog from Sweden and here is the catalog from Saudi Arabia.
posted by three blind mice at 5:01 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a difference between respecting another culture's differences and assisting them in the perpetuation of their problematic beliefs.

Yes, but the money you earn from both buys the same thing....
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:04 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


On some of these- the ones where all the people, not just the women, are missing- it seems like maybe these are two different photos, not photoshops- that is, that they take a picture of the empty set before putting people in it. I'd detail the impressive sleuthing and eye for detail that led to this important conclusion, but I'm already boring even myself here.
posted by longtime_lurker at 5:05 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


I thought it particularly insulting that on top of turning the model home women invisible (or into men), they have completely erased the female designer on the "meet the designers" spread. So the men who created the furniture presented in the catalog are welcome, but not the woman. Nice.
posted by harujion at 5:05 AM on October 1, 2012 [50 favorites]


Tempest in a teacup. In the majority of these photographs -- at least the ones in the link I followed -- the changes involved the complete removal of people. One picture showed a woman in her nightclothes in the non-SA version, who was conspicuously removed later, but for the most part they simply eliminated everyone.
posted by ellF at 5:06 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pull your goddam stores OUT of countries that don't let women drive or vote, and relegate them to sub-human status.

Maybe they could also pull them out of countries that routinely torture and murder, but then they would lose access to the valuable American and British markets. I mean, fuck Saudi Arabia, sure but let's keep our own glass houses in mind before we wind up our stone throwing arms.
posted by atrazine at 5:06 AM on October 1, 2012 [48 favorites]


That catalogue tbm just posted does have women in it. Nevertheless I am willing to never set foot in another IKEA store. Praise be.
posted by biffa at 5:06 AM on October 1, 2012


Fuck "respecting cultural differences". Pretending that half the people in the world is subhuman and should be invisible is not "problematic", it's ridiculous, and there's no reason it should be respected. It should be criticized and mocked, loudly and constantly, and if Saudi Arabia and other nations/cultures/political parties don't like it, they can grow the hell up.
posted by Legomancer at 5:09 AM on October 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


I guess they just wanted to save money on photo session with Saudi models in all the required garb. Impressive, as far as fuckups go. Oh, and they turned a girl into a guy in one shot! (picture 6 and 7 in the third link)
posted by hat_eater at 5:11 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


First they got rid of the potatoes in the IKEA Glasgow restaurant and replaced them with chips and I said nothing. Then the IKEA supermarket got rid of its Scandinavian candy and replaced it with own brand stuff and I stayed quiet.

I think it's time I start shouting.
posted by kariebookish at 5:13 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is this "airbrush" you speak of? Is it a new mechanism with which to clean the wireless?
posted by Tube at 5:14 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know if they'd have to remove stores from countries. Just run your stores in a humane way and if that gets you thrown out of the country, so be it.
posted by DU at 5:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought it particularly insulting that on top of turning the model home women invisible (or into men), they have completely erased the female designer on the "meet the designers" spread. So the men who created the furniture presented in the catalog are welcome, but not the woman. Nice.

This seems particularly unacceptable to me. I can sort of see the logic behind removing photos of women (or even all photos of people, say) from the furniture photos, just like you might remove photos of naked people from a catalog meant for the mainstream US market. But removing the female designers is a particularly nasty kind of self-abasement, and goes well past what is (arguably) necessary to be able to effectively sell products in that market.
posted by Forktine at 5:28 AM on October 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


This may be one of the reasons Ikea is moving away from actually photographing their product; instead they're starting to use CG renders in catalogues. They can comp together lots of different combinations to appeal to specific markets. Drop in different genders, races, ages, outfits, etc, all simply rendered to match (or shot on green).
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:29 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


so, does this mean women are Allah?
posted by liza at 5:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Maybe they could also pull them out of countries that routinely torture and murder, but then they would lose access to the valuable American and British markets.

They'd probably have to leave the Swedish market as well, seeing as the Swedish government has been complicit in "extrajudicial renditions" or whatever the lawyers are calling it.

Look, I know in the grand scheme no government's hands are clean, but you're comparing a country that systematically oppresses 50% of its population with another that's doing something bad with dozens, maybe hundreds. It's not equivalent.
posted by indubitable at 5:32 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Two things:

1) We should never expect corporations to do the right thing in place of the thing that will increase their sales. Shareholders kill them for it. Morality is not rewarded in capitalism unless it's marketable.

2) We should still get totally enraged with capitalism as a whole or individuals within it when corporations fail to live up to ideals and principles that our/a subset of society has worked towards.

I am an economist who is gravely concerned about capitalism's inability to adapt; to growing evidence of climate change, changing morals, changing labour standards, etc. To me, a functional economic system needs to be adaptable, robust, and include great levels of innovation which allow for wide-spread change in the fact of political and social movement.

The reason I feel this way is because an economic system which is at odds with the society it operates in is bound to be inefficient (i.e., we stifle growth by restricting activities, rather than those activities being weeded out by innovative practices) and eventually lead to a collapse.

Now, what happens is corporations change to suit whatever country they exist in (like removing women from ads in Saudi Arabia), but with countries who thrive on low labour standards, low wages, low environmental standards...they have a place to continue to create huge economies of scale using archaic practices and don't have to force the issue. Having 200 countries with hard borders allows for all kinds of working at the margins of issues without actually fixing them.

IKEA may change their ads in face of pressure from their consumers, but ultimately it won't be a moral move so much as a financial one. That, to me, is why consumers need to be vigilant with their dollars and, with the best of the knowledge and ability they have today, change the system that way.

It's the only way to really inject true morality into a system that disincentivizes it.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:33 AM on October 1, 2012 [23 favorites]


That catalogue tbm just posted does have women in it. Nevertheless I am willing to never set foot in another IKEA store. Praise be.

I just went through and didn't spot any adults who were unambiguously women. There are two girls under 10. (Is there are girl in the bathroom photo they took the woman out of? I skipped past that one pretty quickly.) There are two adults whose gender is kind of ambiguous. One is the woman they photoshopped the earrings off of in the hopes she'd be read as a man. To me, though, it looks like she's wearing boots and that makes her read to me as a woman, earrings or not. The other is a short-haired person lying on a bed, but shot from a weird angle. Because I was assigning genders to every person in the catalog, I paused long enough to decide this person was a woman, but (assuming I'm right) I kind of think it's a picture of a woman they're hoping people will read as a picture of a man.
posted by hoyland at 5:34 AM on October 1, 2012


At the IKEA staff meeting:

Guys, we have three alternatives:

A. Let's keep the catalogue the way it is, and the Saudis won't mind.

B. Let's keep it the way it is, and the Saudis will get mad, but we'll look like kings and people in Europe and North America (we most of our shops are) will support us.

C. Let's change it in favor of Saudi Arabia's extreme and primitive look of women, and keep our fingers crossed that the rest of the damn world doesn't hear about it...it's not like people go there anyway.

Obviously letter C, dummies!
posted by Tarumba at 5:34 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


In the majority of these photographs -- at least the ones in the link I followed -- the changes involved the complete removal of people.
All the pictures where an adult woman was visibly present (except one) have been either made woman-free by erasing the woman or turning her into a man) or replaced by a people-free or woman-free version of the image. There's even one scene where two women (p. 314 in the Swedish version) have been replaced by one man (p. 328 in the Saudi version) and even the tiny, blurry woman in the background is gone. The only female survivor in the Saudi catalog is seen from behind and cropped (p. 328). It's the Saudi version of the porn-picture-without-the-porn meme.
posted by elgilito at 5:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the women's rights struggle is now focused on the ability to appear in IKEA catalogs, I guess the progress on reproductive freedom and safety from domestic abuse is further along than I thought.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Censorship in Iranian versions of American movies Is there anything computers can't do?
posted by fungible at 5:39 AM on October 1, 2012


Oh for the love of all things good in this world, Egg Shen, people can be upset about more than one damn thing at a time. Thinking this is bad doesn't mean no one is paying attention to any other issues!
posted by titus n. owl at 5:40 AM on October 1, 2012 [47 favorites]


It looks as though Ikea cares more about money than women.
posted by circa68 at 5:42 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the women's rights struggle is now focused on the ability to appear in IKEA catalogs, I guess the progress on reproductive freedom and safety from domestic abuse is further along than I thought.

Not necessarily. It only means that people can think about more than one or two problems at the same time. Isn't the human brain a wonderful thing?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:43 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having been to Middle Eastern countries where western magazines are sold but any "inappropriate" photos of women (showing any flesh I guess or in revealing clothing, although where I went was not as censor-mad as Saudi Arabia) are heavily censored by someone going over them with a thick black marker, I imagine that Ikea thought "well if we just use our regular brochure then the censors will make it look ugly with their black markers, so might as well produce a censor-friendly version that won't be defaced".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:49 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is like that episode of The Simpsons where they're envisioning a better Springfield and broken-down fixtures are replaced with nice ones, and a homeless person is replaced with a clean garbage can.
posted by Sleeper at 5:50 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


people can be upset about more than one damn thing at a time

Speak for yourself. Maybe Egg Shen has a single-track mind and spends life like it's a particularly boring version of Memento.
posted by aramaic at 5:51 AM on October 1, 2012


It's amazing and wonderful how the rights of muslim women have become the number 1 priority of white american men. Forget the U.S. (ERA anyone, anyone?) or Europe, we will not rest until muslim women have exactly the same rights as muslim men!
posted by ennui.bz at 5:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


As much as I hate IKEA, I can't find any fault with them making the decision to alter their catalogues so as not to offend believers of the major religion in Saudi Arabia. Picturing women like this in a catalogue would offend the majority of people that read it in Saudi Arabia.

I find extremely distasteful the idea that IKEA should either not operate in Saudi Arabia as a result of peoples religious beliefs and more still the idea that they should print their catalogue the same as in western countries in a misguided attempt to 'educate' the people of Saudi Arabia.

You may have a problem with some of the practices of Islam but IKEA has done nothing wrong here.
posted by kiskar at 5:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


people can be upset about more than one damn thing at a time

And this strikes me as a silly thing to get upset about. Hence the comparison with things that it would not be silly to get upset about.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:54 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kiskar, they erased one of their own designers from a picture because she is a woman.

With you logic, we should also support genital mutilation when in Somalia, because it's a traditional religious practice and it would be the respectful thing to do.

Erasing women from a catalogue that presents you "the ideal world" is telling us exactly that: we don't mind doing business with a country whose ideal world excludes women except when they have our babies (boys preferred).
posted by Tarumba at 6:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


flapjax at midnite: "They're fucking SWEDISH"
IKEA is a Dutch company today, owned by a holding company based in Luxembourg which is in turn controlled by a corporation in Liechtenstein. The only Swedish thing about IKEA is the colours on the logo.
posted by brokkr at 6:05 AM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


Thanks for educating me on those points, brokkr.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:09 AM on October 1, 2012


But the Dutch are supposed to be fucking progressive TOO!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:10 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Picturing women like this in a catalogue would offend the majority of people that read it in Saudi Arabia.

If you had've had an ad of an inter-racial couple before the 1960's in the U.S., it would've offended a lot of people too. We call the people who pushed those boundaries, in hindsight, heroes now.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:13 AM on October 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


I had no idea that teenage Saudi boys would use the IKEA catalogue the same way I used my mother's 'Flare' fashion magazine. But perversion will always find a way, I suppose.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:14 AM on October 1, 2012


If the women's rights struggle is now focused on the ability to appear in IKEA catalogs, I guess the progress on reproductive freedom and safety from domestic abuse is further along than I thought.

Once upon a time, black people couldn't use the whites-only facilities. If they wanted a drink of water or a cup of coffee, blacks had to go to the blacks-only places. Sometimes getting justice depends in part on silly little things like making sure everyone is allowed to use the same water fountain or sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee at the same counter.
posted by pracowity at 6:15 AM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


I find extremely distasteful the idea that IKEA should either not operate in Saudi Arabia as a result of peoples religious beliefs and more still the idea that they should print their catalogue the same as in western countries in a misguided attempt to 'educate' the people of Saudi Arabia.

I find it extremely distasteful that something as pathetically simple-minded, irrational, primitive and almost universally destructive as "religious beliefs" should have such sway that half the world's population is seen as unfit to appear in print. But hey, I guess they're just my beliefs, man.
posted by Jimbob at 6:15 AM on October 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


Enough already from us Americans.

This is how wars start, how terrorism raises its ugly head over and over again : leave those people alone. We have become blinded by our desire to undo every fucking "wrong" on earth, at a mind blowing price.

Yesterday marked the 2000th American death in Afghanistan. Too much blood had been already spilt. These things are all connected. We need to mind our own.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:16 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, I have a friend who's a Jehovah's Witness. I disagree with a lot of her beliefs, but on the subject of blood transfusions, it's not just an ethical thing, she pretty clearly finds it completely revolting. We've had discussions about why I don't think it's an accurate reading of the Bible. That's beside the point. She's disgusted by the idea. Even if I think she's being very poorly served by her faith and that it could be a danger to her, I am not going to bring up this particular subject at, say, mealtimes. It would be rude and unkind and it would not help her.

I doubt that the major customers here are men. I think it's entirely reasonable, however you feel about these practices, to send catalogs to them that don't have people in them. Not that depict women in situations that should be considered objectionable; just that don't have people. It's a respectful gesture. With respectful gestures, you get the ability to open up more communication at times that are more appropriate.

Nobody's actually being harmed by a catalog. There's a huge gulf of difference between "not being offensive", i.e., being polite, and "actively harming someone". When you're raised in a culture with drastically different values, it's not just the oppressing class who's going to be offended. Those people could probably use a certain amount of being challenged. The average recipient of the catalog is more likely to just feel really uncomfortable with its depiction of people in settings that they currently regard as being too intimate to be shown publicly. Not that I don't totally believe in free speech if you're personally set on being offensive, but it's hardly a good business practice.

I mean, yes, people have to push boundaries to get change to happen, but we are aware, right, that most of these boundaries were pushed by individuals, to start with? Not by marketing materials?
posted by gracedissolved at 6:16 AM on October 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


The art director in me would be completely disgusted by this if he was awake and sober. Why didn't they just shoot one set of photos with women and one without, ti would have cut down on production time and cut, while still satisfying the client? Maybe next time.

Otherwise, eh. There are larger issues in terms of women's right and this just seems like a newspaper needing to fill space and get a few more hints on its website.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:20 AM on October 1, 2012


They should have kept the catalog intact and make the religious censors page through every issue of the catalog to paste their black stickers over every glimpse of a forbidden female form.
posted by etherist at 6:24 AM on October 1, 2012


[Comment deleted; let's skip the ironic sexist insults, please. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 6:25 AM on October 1, 2012


Tarumba:

Actually, they didn't erase one of their own designers from a picture because she is a woman, they erased a picture of one of their designers because she was dressed in a way that would cause offense to the majority of people who would read it. I am having a hard time thinking of something else that they could have done that wouldn't cause offense to their readers.

I think that you are oversimplifying a very complex issue, as shown by your appeal to the issue of FGM as an extreme that could never be agreed with. As it happens that is also a very complex issue and there is a lot of literature on it, with many current researchers actually defending the practice of FGM as a rite of passage for women in Islamic communities. To elaborate on this further would probably derail the thread so I'll stop there.

The only reason there are no women in that IKEA catalogue is because IKEA didn't care enough to take photographs of women wearing hijabs or veils.

If you had've had an ad of an inter-racial couple before the 1960's in the U.S., it would've offended a lot of people too. We call the people who pushed those boundaries, in hindsight, heroes now.

There is a difference between pushing for equal rights within one's own culture and trying to force it on another culture. The difference is that the latter does not work and is both offensive and arrogant.
posted by kiskar at 6:26 AM on October 1, 2012 [13 favorites]


Fuck "respecting cultural differences".

You say "fuck respecting cultural differences", I say neocolonialism. First, it's an internal affair of another country. Second, Ikea's a corporation, and has very little control. It has no embassy in Saudi Arabia, and it has no army or police to defend it's stores. Third, going around swinging a big stick in another country, even if you feel it's the right thing, is the WORST thing you can do to get that other country to adopt your values. Don't get me wrong, it's great for publicity, but don't fool yourself into thinking that it's going to make any change. More often than not, these actions are taken because a company wants to reinforce it's values to it's own base. Think Chick-fil-A over gay marriage or Chinese protest over the Diaoyu islands.

Sure, South Africa was forced to end apartheid with embargos. But, it was a coordinated effort among multiple countries. It was slowly pressure cooked into happening over a period of years, not just borne out of the rash actions of a labyrinthine big box that sells paper lamps and meatballs.
posted by FJT at 6:27 AM on October 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


There are larger issues in terms of women's right...

As was mentioned upthread, people are (hey!) able to think about various issues at the same time, and (hey!) realize that while some are certainly more important than others, matters of lesser (perceived) importance are still worth considering and discussing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


WON'T ANYONE THINK OF THE WHITE WOMEN IN CATALOGUES AND THEIR TOTAL LACK OF VISIBILITY?

I really fail to see how any perceived deficit of Swedish women in Saudi catalogues could have any bearing anything other than the almost artful way it pushes the buttons of western cultural imperialists.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:32 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sometimes getting justice depends in part on silly little things like making sure everyone is allowed to use the same water fountain or sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee at the same counter.

I'm afraid that you have misunderstood the purpose of the IKEA corporation.

They sell furniture.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:33 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


There is a difference between pushing for equal rights within one's own culture and trying to force it on another culture. The difference is that the latter does not work and is both offensive and arrogant.

"One's own culture" is fast becoming the world. But especially so when it involves commerce between one *culture* and another, as this matter does. This is exactly the point where cultures meet, and I don't think it's at all inappropriate to consider and discuss this particular inter-cultural dynamic. This is a western corporation doing business in Saudi Arabia, not a Saudi Arabian company doing business in Saudi Arabia. It therefore involves "our" culture as well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's almost as though a multi-billion-dollar corporation run and founded by a Nazi is not the best place to turn for moral leadership.
posted by enn at 6:40 AM on October 1, 2012


Turning women into furniture is nothing new.
posted by dr_dank at 6:41 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, that settles it. Criticizing oppression and persecution elsewhere in the world is "neocolonialism" and "cultural imperialism." I mean, if Saudi Arabian women wanted rights, I'm sure they'd speak up on their own.

And now that I've learned about "cultural imperialism," I can see all too well that immigrants who attempt to practice their culture outside their homeland are simply "cultural infiltrators" or "cultural terrorists," if you will. Culture is sacred and should never be changed. Or, wait, does that only apply to those arrogant first-world capitalist-imperialist aggressors?
posted by Behemoth at 6:44 AM on October 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


and I don't think it's at all inappropriate to consider and discuss this particular inter-cultural dynamic

Wait. Just earlier upthread you said to "pull their goddamn stores out of the country!!". And, might I add, you said "fuck them". That's not discussing. That's what I believe kiskar was responding to. That was definitely what I was responding to.
posted by FJT at 6:45 AM on October 1, 2012


Turning women into furniture is nothing new.

I think you might have your analogy to what is going on in this instance backwards.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:45 AM on October 1, 2012


Blasdelb - what does the race or nationality of the women scrubbed from the catalog have to do with anything?
posted by BobbyVan at 6:45 AM on October 1, 2012


This is a western corporation doing business in Saudi Arabia

When IKEA starts selling them F-15s, let me know.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:46 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


pracowity writes: Sometimes getting justice depends in part on silly little things like making sure everyone is allowed to use the same water fountain or sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee at the same counter.

Egg Shen responds: I'm afraid that you have misunderstood the purpose of the IKEA corporation.

The Woolworth's that didn't allow black customers to sit at their lunch counters was likewise not purposed with creating racial equality in America. They were purposed with selling hamburgers and milk shakes. Nonetheless, the lunch counter at Woolworth's was where the battle was fought, because Woolworth's was carrying out the policies deemed desirable and necessary by the racist state. IKEA may well be where the battle is fought today.

They sell furniture.

Which I wasn't buying anyway because it's largely crap, but which I am most definitely not buying any more because of their active support of a disgustingly sexist oligarchic regime.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:46 AM on October 1, 2012 [17 favorites]


When IKEA starts selling them F-15s, let me know.

As you might imagine, I am against that as well.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:49 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


flapjax at midnite: "their active support of a disgustingly sexist oligarchic regime."
Here I thought the Saudis were our allies in the ME.
posted by brokkr at 6:51 AM on October 1, 2012


Any product that enters the US market is completely overhauled to suit the likes and dislikes of the US public, from the packaging to the marketing material to the products themselves. Brown people become white people, slender guys turn into barrelchested Chuck Norrison's, all sex is removed or infantilized, everything is modified to affirm and fit the gladiatorial exoskeleton of invulnerability that Americans like to brandish. That doesn't excuse or justify this, but if it helps raise awareness of the nature and impact of censure in the US it can't be all bad.
posted by deo rei at 6:55 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here I thought the Saudis were our allies in the ME.

Designated as such by the US government, sure. However, in my world, the word "our" most definitely includes "me" (as in, flapjax at midnite) and I in no way consider the Saudi government any kind of "ally".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:56 AM on October 1, 2012


Good lord people, it was the franchisee, Ghassan Ahmed Al Sulaiman Development Company that altered the basic catalogue to suit Saudi mores. They own and operate all three Ikeas in Saudi Arabia. Ikea franchises out almost all of its stores in this fashion.

So while it's an ugly thing they did, it's the franchisee, not some nameless Dutch or Swedish board, that's at fault here. I am looking for a response from Ikea that this is not right.
posted by Mercaptan at 6:57 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's like the missing women represent the missing parts that are inevitably the last pieces needed to finish the fucking furniture and now I have to make another fucking trip to get a replacement part if this goddamn chest of drawers is ever going to be any fucking use.
posted by Elmore at 6:57 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


brokkr: The only Swedish thing about IKEA is the colours on the logo.

That's not quite right--IKEA was founded by Ingvar Kamprad, who is Swedish, and his family still owns most of the business. While it's true that the franchises are owned by a company in Liechtenstein, this is just a part of their complicated legal structure, which mostly serves to obscure ownership and help them avoid paying taxes. At the top of that structure is Ingvar and his family foundation, and they're as Swedish as the Swedish meatballs IKEA serves in their stores.
posted by crookedneighbor at 7:06 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


If folk don't like what goes on in Saudi Arabia, then please think about lowering how much oil (and gas) you use. Even if your oil doesn't come from Saudi Arabia, you're supporting higher prices in the markets, and ultimately an awful regime. Getting angry at IKEA is the wrong thing to be doing.
posted by Jehan at 7:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Culture is sacred and should never be changed. Or, wait, does that only apply to those arrogant first-world capitalist-imperialist aggressors?

Behemoth, I'm sure your brand of tactless internet sarcasm that creates strawmen of others viewpoints will get ALL those vile oppressors in the Middle East to see the error of their ways, give women full rights, and have them all become peaceful Western-style secular democracies. So, please continue.
posted by FJT at 7:15 AM on October 1, 2012


This is making me realize just how culturally relativist the translation/localization industry can be. Some localization professional was asked to make this catalogue "fit" with Saudi Arabian expectations. This is so "normal" that I have even heard the CEO of a small language services company compare some glaring mistake in a website translation to a hypothetical situation in which photos of "a shiny white girl" talking to a group of men in a factory as if she were their supervisor appeared on a website destined for Saudi Arabia. And I have to admit I bit my tongue on that one because, well, that's kind of what we're expected to do in this industry: our job is simply to make things understandable and relatable to people in a certain locale. But of course, that's almost always going to rub me the wrong way in this kind of situation, the same way I might refuse to manage a translation project for weapons or pyramid schemes -- but those things get translated, images get localized in this fashion, and there are plenty of people out there looking to make money without necessarily taking the time to ask themselves if what they're doing is ethical or not because frankly it doesn't occur to them that translation/localization could pose ethical issues.
posted by Mooseli at 7:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, on this note a company I do not work for definitely did not get asked by a Russian publisher to photoshop all the black babies in a children's book white, for a Russian co-edition.

(the company I do not work for refused, for the record)
posted by ominous_paws at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Perhaps paradoxically, I usually think of the IKEA catalog as a pretty progressive document for the lengths it goes to depicting men taking care of children at rough parity with women.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:26 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, people are able to think about various things at the same time. As we are all too often reminded on the blue. That doesn't not make this small beer. I doubt anyone here is much of a fan of Saudi Arabia's culture of misogyny, but I severely doubt that that battle is going to won over the issue of being able to appear in marketing material next to flat pack furniture.

It's not a case of being able to think about several things at the same time, it is one of focusing on the ones that actually have some significance.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:28 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, fuck a bunch of "women are the sex class and even seeing their clothed bodies makes it so that men can't function, plus this line of reasoning is a convenient stick to beat women with, plus god things". On the other hand:

1. We know for a fact that historically Western concern for the rights of non-Western women has been used to prop up racism and imperialism - whether that's "civilizing" India or bombing Afghanistan or attacking men of color here in the US. Historically, very little attention has been paid to what the women in question actually want - what would make their lives better, what they think the best way to fix sexism is. So we Western people need to embark on this kind of discourse with a lot of caution, paying attention to our own limitations and complicity.

2. We know from history that external solutions are both a bad idea and tend to get co-opted by powerful external interests - Green Revolution, IMF loans, certain 'microloan' programs. We know that the people who need to lead are the people affected by a situation. I think Saudi Arabia runs on sexism (and racism against migrant workers) but the solutions to those problems have to be proposed by Saudi Arabian women themselves and led by Saudi Arabian women themselves. This isn't a moral principle - it's just doing what works. There is no "and the West steps in to propose and enforce a perfect, disinterested solution which makes everyone happy and everything better". That is not on the table.

3. I am deeply uncomfortable with discourses that place me, a white Westerner, as the moral and political superior of non-Western and/or non-white people. This whole thing could be written as "We are the rational, intellectual, non-sexist authorities who can evaluate and judge these sexist people who should immediately do what we want." I am not a gracious lady kindly handing out enlightenment to my immiserated sisters. I think that it's only possible to talk about this stuff from a position of complicity, humility and realness, which is seldom how things work.

So my point is, like, what are the various things that women in Saudi Arabia want? What do they want first? There are probably women who think that this ban on women in advertising and most media is terrible - how do they think it should be addressed? As a political actor in the West, do I advance women's rights more by opposing US imperialism?

Also, how can I make this kind of thing not about me emotionally? There are many instances when misogyny is directed at me and affects me emotionally and materially. This isn't one of them. How can I avoid the common "if I were zapped into the body of a Saudi Arabian woman I would feel [X] so that's how Saudi Arabian women feel" way of thinking about this type of problem?

How can we talk about this stuff in a way that's, like, human and not just flailing?

I happened across this quote via Requires Hate's review of The House of Discarded Dreams and it keeps coming back to me:

One of the things she had learned from her mother was that one did not disparage one’s people or culture in front of the outsiders. It’s different for them, her mother said. They don’t know what it’s like, they have no sympathy, no kinship. They look and they criticize, they look for cracks, they look for proof of something they are already thinking in their hearts – that we are worse than them, that we should not be allowed to govern ourselves. So you argue and you don’t show weakness. And you don’t ever, ever agree with them if they speak poorly of your people. What if they are right, Vimbai had asked then. They are never right, her mother answered. They may appear to be right because of the words they use, but their hearts are wrong. To be right, you need to know, to understand, to have a kinship of spirit.

Our political thought is an ecology - if our words grow out of bad ideas and limited understanding, they won't work. If we flail around about the Middle East and sexism or seek Orientalist knowledge in order to master others, our words and ideas won't work, even if they sound anti-sexist.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [34 favorites]


If folk don't like what goes on in Saudi Arabia, then please think about lowering how much oil (and gas) you use. Even if your oil doesn't come from Saudi Arabia, you're supporting higher prices in the markets, and ultimately an awful regime. Getting angry at IKEA is the wrong thing to be doing.

As someone who hasn't owned or driven an automobile in 16 years, and who goes almost everywhere, all the time, by public transit, I can safely say, I think, that I am one of the people who has considerably lowered the amount of oil and gas that I use.

Even if this weren't the case, however, I would still reserve the right to get angry at IKEA, and absolutely disagree that that would be "the wrong thing to be doing."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:30 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The Woolworth's that didn't allow black customers to sit at their lunch counters was likewise not purposed with creating racial equality in America. They were purposed with selling hamburgers and milk shakes. Nonetheless, the lunch counter at Woolworth's was where the battle was fought, because Woolworth's was carrying out the policies deemed desirable and necessary by the racist state. IKEA may well be where the battle is fought today."

Woolworths practiced real discrimination against real people, whereas here an IKEA franchisee took IKEA materials and adapted it to the cultural mores of the region. A Saudi company that contracts with a Swedish one removing women dressed in a way that is locally sexualized from a furniture catalog is no more a human rights issue than other European companies removing women with bare breasts from the adds that they intend to run in the United States.

"Well, that settles it. Criticizing oppression and persecution elsewhere in the world is "neocolonialism" and "cultural imperialism.""

While there certainly are very large issues with human rights and misogyny in Saudi Arabia, I'm still having trouble seeing how this imagined right of Saudi households to get spam in the mail with images of Swedish women has anything to do with persecution.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:34 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Oh, I just want to add that it is very easy to get worked up over injustices that seem new and strange and startling while letting pass the ones that are routine and familiar, even if those are worse. Like, is it worse to airbrush women out of Saudi Arabian media or to airbrush the existing women in media into boneless doe-eyed sex puppets, as happens here? Which one do we have more control over in the West? Which one can we propose effective solutions to?)
posted by Frowner at 7:36 AM on October 1, 2012 [19 favorites]


Last week I happened across The View while channel flipping and they had Gabby Douglas on with a backdrop of her doing a mid air splits leap on the balance beam (Totally safe for work). They blurred out her crotch like it was Japanese porn or something. I thought something was wrong with my eyes like they had dried out or I had a floater or something.

Apparently it is different photoshop strokes for different folks.
posted by srboisvert at 7:47 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Replace "women" with "Black people" and no one would think this was culturally acceptable or a subject we enlightened Western folks shouldn't discuss. And expecting Arabic women to have fully developed ideas of what freedoms they want dismisses the culture they grew up in...it's a frightening prospect on several levels and many women, if asked, would say they don't want to vote or drive. Because they don't know the alternative or are afraid of the endless battles that will occur in their own homes if allowed the rights but are restrained from exercising said rights because of the extreme male dominated households that won't magically go away should those rights be bestowed.
posted by Kokopuff at 7:52 AM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


Last week I happened across The View while channel flipping and they had Gabby Douglas on with a backdrop of her doing a mid air splits leap on the balance beam (Totally safe for work). They blurred out her crotch like it was Japanese porn or something

That is very interesting. Definitely the way I'd frame sexuality in USian media is "extreme explicitness and misogyny in 'entertainment' and advertising, but incredibly puritanism and prudery in anything official...all working together to give the message that sexuality is plastic and commodified and must be heavily policed." Same shit, different part of the world, I guess.
posted by Frowner at 7:52 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


When IKEA starts selling them F-15s, let me know.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to build one of those using only an allen wrench?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2012 [21 favorites]


Wait a minute -- you mean catalogs are tailored to the sensibilities of their intended audience? I thought they just snapped candid photos of whatever random racially/sexually diverse passersby happened to enter the frame!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Replace "women" with "Black people" and no one would think this was culturally acceptable or a subject we enlightened Western folks shouldn't discuss. And expecting Arabic women to have fully developed ideas of what freedoms they want dismisses the culture they grew up in...it's a frightening prospect on several levels and many women, if asked, would say they don't want to vote or drive. Because they don't know the alternative or are afraid of the endless battles that will occur in their own homes if allowed the rights but are restrained from exercising said rights because of the extreme male dominated households that won't magically go away should those rights be bestowed.

I mean, I agree - when people are oppressed it's difficult to imagine non-oppression. History is full of sad and painful stories about the transition from oppressive regimes and situations. Some people have individually sweet deals under oppressive situations; some people are rationally afraid of change; some people just want to make their peace with their own situations; some people have been so damaged by oppression that they can't be anything but damaged. Absolutely. That's been true in every liberation movement that I have ever read about, and it's certainly true in GLBTQ stuff that I've been part of. It's certainly true in my heart - that's where my own internalized homophobia comes in.

But the point is, the only choice that works is when people fight for their own liberation on their own terms, when liberation struggles are led by the people who need the liberating and only supported by others. Regardless of how you feel about the West or privileged folks of whatever stripe, we know from history that paternalistic social change imposed from without fucks things up.

If there's a call from Middle Eastern women whose politics I generally support to boycott Ikea, absolutely I will boycott Ikea. I'm just saying that if one is concerned about misogyny in the Middle East, one way to stay on track (instead of getting derailed into killing people with drones until utopia is achieved or whatever) is to listen carefully to what the affected people tell you about their lives and needs.
posted by Frowner at 8:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Like, is it worse to airbrush women out of Saudi Arabian media or to airbrush the existing women in media into boneless doe-eyed sex puppets, as happens here?

Is this a trick question? I think the vast, vast majority of people would argue that obliterating half of the population from the media is worse than airbrushing skin imperfections, yes.
posted by dsfan at 8:02 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kokopuff, if you want to see the way that women are treated in Saudi Arabia change you'll need to convince your elected representatives that the current situation is not acceptable. That's not going to happen because -> oil. It fucking sucks, but there's the nub of the problem. IKEA deserves a shellacking over this, but no amount of scorn on a Scandinavian furniture producer is going to produce meaningful change in the Kingdom.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:05 AM on October 1, 2012


Is this a trick question? I think the vast, vast majority of people would argue that obliterating half of the population from the media is worse than airbrushing skin imperfections, yes.
posted by dsfan at 8:02 AM on October 1 [1 favorite +] [!]

If only that was all they did. Airbrush skin imperfections.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


As somebody who has lived in Saudi Arabia for the last three years (albeit, on a large University compound, but with plenty of access and time spent outside of it), I can say that the principal anger should be aimed at the company IKEA's Saudi franchise hired to make the catalogue "Saudi-appropriate", because they took the modifications way farther than they needed to.

Take a ride some time on Saudi Airlines, and you'll find that many scenes from the in-flight entertainment are censored (although, inconsistently), by Special Effects companies in Dubai. Any exposure of cleavage, midriffs, etc., is considered inappropriate and is usually blurred. They never remove women from scenes, but they will sometimes remove entire scenes and references to adulterous relations, turning several romantic comedies into confusing who-dunnit mysteries. The web is similarly censored, but only against pornographic content. Everything else is open. Movie theaters are non-existent, but satellite tv and movie downloads are pervasive. This is a young society that is simply ignoring or working around many of the rules of the old guard, instead of trying to reform them.

In other words, there is a censorship balance in Saudi (and the Gulf in general), and there is a lot of effort spent trying to make it reasonable and acceptable to all parties. I don't spend time worrying about the mercurial censorship that happens in the Gulf. I worry about the rights of the migrant workers, the fact that Saudi women still can't drive, and the country's education system. An overzealous censor working for a home furnishing store's catalogue is not the hill to fight the battle for women's rights on.
posted by onalark at 8:09 AM on October 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


One interesting thing is that it's only for the Saudi catalog. IKEA shoppers from UAE and Koweit get the same catalog pictures as everyone else, including all the horribly titillating ones. As onalark says above, this could be the work of an overzealous censor rather than something systemic.
posted by elgilito at 8:17 AM on October 1, 2012


In today's episode of Battle of Liberal Social Values we pit cultural toleration against gender equality!

Does Metafilter love women or cross cultural sensitivity more?

Bob I'm really excited to see today's matchup. I am expecting to see some real cognitive dissonance out there.

Look for our veterans of America's culture wars to side firmly with women on this one.

The real question will be how the posters that have taken cultural anthropology classes will handle this. Their training will be telling them not to impose their cultural values, but they just might buckle under the peer pressure and come out swinging against oppression.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:18 AM on October 1, 2012 [22 favorites]



You know, if "obliterating half of the population from the media" had any meaningful relationship to a furniture catalog made without locally sexualized images, I think we'd all be inclined to agree with you.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:21 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What kills me about this is that it's obvious from the photoshopping that they were working with two sets of photographs -- one with models, and one without. Simply using the set without models (regardless of gender) for the whole catalogue would have cost less and been relatively uncontroversial.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:25 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


if one is concerned about misogyny in the Middle East, one way to stay on track... is to listen carefully to what the affected people tell you about their lives and needs

Are you sure American liberals mandating the content of IKEA catalogs aren't the answer?
posted by Egg Shen at 8:27 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


American liberals

Heh.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:31 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


What kills me about this is that it's obvious from the photoshopping that they were working with two sets of photographs -- one with models, and one without. Simply using the set without models (regardless of gender) for the whole catalogue would have cost less and been relatively uncontroversial.

A hundred bucks says someone making the catalog saw a choice between trying to cover up and draw fake clothes on a bunch of women’s pictures, knowing it would look half assed and take a lot of time, or just use the different photographs and take the women out. You know, so they could get paid and spend some time with the family.
posted by bongo_x at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2012


Is this a trick question? I think the vast, vast majority of people would argue that obliterating half of the population from the media is worse than airbrushing skin imperfections, yes.

I'm pretty sure that she was not referring to 'airbrushing skin imperfections', but if that's all that you think is possibly unrealistic or problematic about the portrayal of women in western media, you might want to start by reading up on the area before dismissing stuff as 'trick questions'.
posted by jacalata at 8:48 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is a difference between pushing for equal rights within one's own culture and trying to force it on another culture. The difference is that the latter does not work and is both offensive and arrogant.

What the shit, dude. Equal rights are never offensive and arrogant, full stop, and you are wrong not only on the internets but in life.
posted by elizardbits at 8:50 AM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


Good lord people, it was the franchisee, Ghassan Ahmed Al Sulaiman Development Company that altered the basic catalogue to suit Saudi mores.

This may not be the case - statements in the press indicate that the catalogue was made for, not by, the subsidiary.
Ikea Group, one of the many branches in the company’s complicated corporate structure, said it had produced the catalogue for a Saudi franchisee outside the group. [emphasis added]
I am looking for a response from Ikea that this is not right.

The two statements being circulated in the press are:
“We are now reviewing our routines to safeguard a correct content presentation from a values point-of-view in the different versions of the IKEA Catalogue worldwide”
and
"We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values."
These are probably from the same press release, but the whole thing doesn't appear to be online.
posted by zamboni at 8:59 AM on October 1, 2012


I'm pretty sure that she was not referring to 'airbrushing skin imperfections', but if that's all that you think is possibly unrealistic or problematic about the portrayal of women in western media, you might want to start by reading up on the area before dismissing stuff as 'trick questions'.

This was the exact quote I was responding to:
Like, is it worse to airbrush women out of Saudi Arabian media or to airbrush the existing women in media into boneless doe-eyed sex puppets, as happens here?
So, no, I don't think this is all that is possibly problematic about women in Western media, any more than the placement of women in magazines is all that is problematic about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. The explicit question Frowner asked about was between the two 'airbrushings.'

If someone says 'is X worse than Y? Who knows!' and others think 'yes, X is worse than Y,' it is not compelling to then turn around and argue 'if only it stopped with Y!'
posted by dsfan at 9:00 AM on October 1, 2012


WON'T ANYONE THINK OF THE WHITE WOMEN IN CATALOGUES AND THEIR TOTAL LACK OF VISIBILITY?

Oh, well, honestly I was really bothered by the black woman whose image was altered in the hopes she would be read as male. That annoys me because black women in the West are already treated as less than women. I also wonder how that model would feel about being viewed as manly, and not in any fashion-forward edgy androgynous way, but manly in a way that renders her invisible. They didn't have to do that, it bothers me that they did, that's all.
posted by Danila at 9:00 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Equal rights are never offensive and arrogant


However, forcing them on a group may be. Saying that if the group whose rights are reduced can't possibly like and agree with the status quo and must be forced to be "liberated" may be a bit offensive and arrogant. Claiming that the oppressed party is too brainwashed or scared or just too tired to fight for equal rights can be considered a bit arrogant.

Of course just because something is offensive and arrogant doesn't necessarily make it something that is not worthy.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:01 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It looks as though Ikea cares more about money than women.

Indeed. Pretty deplorable. Just like many of the companies that manufacture our computers and other devices that allow us to connect to and post our thoughts to the Internet care more about money than human rights and respectful use of labour.

Just like many of the companies that manufacture the clothes that we wear care more about money than human rights.

Just like many of the products we use are manufactured by companies that care about profit over human rights and lobby governments democratic and otherwise to create laws and situations that allow them to make even more at the cost of the poor. Not to mention the public transportation we might use, cars we might use, oil for our bicycles, that may come from companies that have business with very oppressive regimes.

It really is quite sad that we have to wake up and be complicit in all of this. Blood diamonds is a common term, blood products should be.

That catalogue tbm just posted does have women in it. Nevertheless I am willing to never set foot in another IKEA store. Praise be.

It would be great if we had the resources to stand up against the myriad of the horrible things we are complicit in but the system itself ensures that such resources go to those who are perpetuating these things. It will be difficult. I know I won't be able to free myself from this tangled web. Good on those who can.
posted by juiceCake at 9:02 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


was made for, not by, the subsidiary.

s/subsidiary/franchisee
posted by zamboni at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2012


Look, I know in the grand scheme no government's hands are clean, but you're comparing a country that systematically oppresses 50% of its population with another that's doing something bad with dozens, maybe hundreds. It's not equivalent.

Use gay marriage instead. I mean it's still 50% to 10% of the population but aggregate number of people affected is greater in the US than SA because of the population differences.

They should have kept the catalog intact and make the religious censors page through every issue of the catalog to paste their black stickers over every glimpse of a forbidden female form.

Is that what would have happened or would the censors just toss the offending catalogues into the industrial shredder. After all that's what happens to material considered obscene here.

what does the race or nationality of the women scrubbed from the catalog have to do with anything?

Well even without the edits the catalogue isn't exactly representive of either the local ethnic distribution or of the global distribution. The narrowly focused concern is interesting.
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2012


That's it -- from this day forward I will never set foot in an IKEA ever again!


In Saudi Arabia.
posted by mazola at 9:18 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


IKEA may change their ads in face of pressure from their consumers, but ultimately it won't be a moral move so much as a financial one. That, to me, is why consumers need to be vigilant with their dollars and, with the best of the knowledge and ability they have today, change the system that way.

I agree in principle, but how do you suppose we influence the pre-consumer markets that make so many of the sourcing and other kinds of decisions that limit our choices on the consumer markets? The only solution I've been able to come up with is better government policy to regulate those preconsumer markets. Because in many cases, things that consumers might want are already precluded by realities of producer's markets that impose barriers to entry for any would-be producers hoping to do business in a truly different, innovative or public-interest minded way. The commodities markets treat all pre-consumer market goods as fungible by definition. It seems to me that makes it hard if not impossible for end-consumers to exert any kind of meaningful influence over how those producer's markets work.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2012


Play "Find the African-American Woman" in SkyMall magazine on your next flight. It'll eat up a good hour or so.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


The culture and heritage of the land where I grew up was slavery, until until a bloody war forced it to end. My ancestors used to say that no one from the North could appreciate their culture and its institutions. Then it was Jim Crow, and my parents and grandparents used to say that outsiders couldn't understand, and that their religion and traditions needed respecting. Yankees just weren't qualified, and were still pushing the evils they started in reconstruction. They were wrong, and anyone defending the denial of basic human rights to others on the basis of culture and heritage, anywhere is similarly wrong.
posted by tyllwin at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


You people are silly. Anyway, they can't seem to keep the women out of Ikea in KSA.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2012


basic human rights

Ctrl+F for "IKEA"
posted by Egg Shen at 9:24 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Saudi Arabia's got 99 problems.
posted by Foosnark at 9:26 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ctrl+F for "IKEA"

Well, of course not, Egg Shen. But we have people here who are essentially advocating that the status of women's rights in general in Saudi Arabia is none of our business, because we're not qualified to pass judgement on their culture.
posted by tyllwin at 9:29 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frowner, that review by Hate is excellent. I think that's what I was having a hard time articulating, especially on a Monday. I'm a 1.5 generation immigrant that grew up in US, born in Taiwan. Every time something related to China is brought up in a conversation, I find myself holding a contrary position. When people are dissing China, I try to explain the situation and provide context, in hopes of at least injecting a bit of nuance in their black and white viewpoint of the country. When I talk to my dad, who is keen on China and disses the US, I find myself bringing in more points about the bad in China.

I find that by trying to make sense of my experience and learning from these three different places (Taiwan, China and US), it makes me take a less cavalier attitude with perceived rights and wrongs of other cultures and countries.

"One's own culture" is fast becoming the world. But especially so when it involves commerce between one *culture* and another, as this matter does.

Fair enough. I was reflecting on what you said, and also Frowner's thoughts above, and also my own thoughts on China. There's a misconception that the Westernization is globalization. For example, the Tibetan unrest that happened in 2008 resulted in protests during the Olympic Torch Relay. You'll notice in the clip that there were both pro-Tibetan and pro-Chinese protesters. Which probably came as a surprise, since my bet is both sides thought they were entirely right and could not imagine a genuine opposition from regular people. So, when you say "our" culture, are you saying that eventually everyone will agree that China's actions in Tibet are entirely bad or good OR are you saying that they'll reach some middle point?

To pull back from the derail, can the same be said for women's and immigrants rights in Saudia Arabia/the Middle East? Cause, since women's rights are...well rights, it's not something that can be compromised or done in piecemeal.
posted by FJT at 9:32 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not just IKEA. I remember back in Medieval times, when B-43 was on vacation at his Texas ranch. The Saudi prince came to visit. Unfortunately, the Air Traffic Controller at the ranch's landing stip was a woman--she was in the American air force, as I remember. The Saudi pilot refused to take landing instructions from a woman, so B-43 replaced her with a man. grrr. I would have been tempted to tell him to follow my ATC's landing instructions, or take it up with the creator in person when he ran out of fuel.

So, yeah, fuck IKEA, and the Saudi they rode in on.
posted by mule98J at 9:35 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I initially misread the FPP title and assumed that the Saudi's were doing the airbrushing. That IKEA is doing it for them is incredibly disappointing. I mean, from a strictly "let's make money" point of view, I understand it. But a large part of IKEA's marketing -- at least in the West -- has to do with how liberal and forward-thinking they are as a company. This disproves that.
posted by asnider at 9:46 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This makes me feel bad.

Should I as a woman living in the United States be allowed to feel bad about this? Some of you think not-- you think a) it is not my culture, b) this is trivial c) America does bad things too. My response is, I feel bad. I feel sad for the Saudi women who are not allowed to see their own sex reflected in everyday activities. I feel angry that a designer was not represented as a designer because she was born the wrong sex. I feel baffled because the Saudi Arabian culture has so marginalized their women that I have no idea how they are ever going to become full citizens-- women don't typically use violence to assert themselves and sometimes violence is necessary to make big cultural changes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:52 AM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


When IKEA starts selling them F-15s, let me know.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to build one of those using only an allen wrench?


Plus you have to use those dumb brackets to attach them to the wall. How useful is that?
posted by bendy at 9:56 AM on October 1, 2012


When society is no longer dependent on oil, Secret Life of Gravy. No one depended on South Africa for oil.
posted by tyllwin at 9:57 AM on October 1, 2012


we have people here who are essentially advocating that the status of women's rights in general in Saudi Arabia is none of our business, because we're not qualified to pass judgement on their culture

It's not necessary to argue either of those points to observe the fatuity of believing that boycotting IKEA is taking a stand against Islamic patriarchy.

Note that Dr. King did not call for a boycott of Montgomery bus advertisers.
posted by Egg Shen at 10:04 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you argue that boycotting IKEA is an ineffective step towards establishing fair treatment for the oppressed women of Saudi Arabia, and wastes energy that would be better spent elsewhere, I think I agree with you. My disagreement is with those who think it's not our place to interfere.
posted by tyllwin at 10:19 AM on October 1, 2012


Enough already from us Americans.

This is how wars start, how terrorism raises its ugly head over and over again : leave those people alone. We have become blinded by our desire to undo every fucking "wrong" on earth, at a mind blowing price.

Yesterday marked the 2000th American death in Afghanistan. Too much blood had been already spilt. These things are all connected. We need to mind our own.


I wanted to favorite this in some ways, but I can't.

Standing for right, vociferously, insistently, and constantly does not equal going to war. Taking care of our own, tirelessly pursuing equality and a moral stance toward all human beings in this nation by providing food, clothing, jobs, and healthcare in our own country to provide an example to other peoples does not equal going to war. Using examples of equality and morality in our media and through our dealings with the rest of the world is does not equal going to war. We can't, and shouldn't, try to undo every fucking "wrong" on earth, but we can vote with our voices, our money, and our censure toward countries that do wrong. First we need to look inward and care for our own. We need to stop waging war, and wage peace instead. How the hell we change the mindset of the war mongers here in the United States is beyond me. But we can't ignore the rest of the world, and after we clean up our own mess, then we can afford to offer a helping hand to people, not to governments, not with guns or money, but with education.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:20 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is exactly what I wanted to say but Legomancer says it better: "Fuck "respecting cultural differences". Pretending that half the people in the world is subhuman and should be invisible is not "problematic", it's ridiculous, and there's no reason it should be respected. It should be criticized and mocked, loudly and constantly, and if Saudi Arabia and other nations/cultures/political parties don't like it, they can grow the hell up"

If you do this shit, its basically telling the Saudi's you condone it. Fuck that. God damn, this makes me angry. The way women are treated by Islam and the god damn men who make the rules that dehumanize them makes my blood boil.
posted by aacheson at 10:53 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way women are treated by Islam and the god damn men who make the rules that dehumanize them makes my blood boil.

People who make prejudiced condemning statements against whole groups are pretty hard to take too. Righteous anger is dangerous.
posted by bongo_x at 11:03 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Getting madder about a problem does not make it easier to solve the problem. In fact, very much the opposite, because anger literally floods the brain with chemicals that make it harder to think clearly and see reality for what it is. I, too, don't think there's any excuse for what Ikea's done here, or for accommodating sexist beliefs and attitudes as a matter of policy or business practices.

But just "getting madder about it" is not an effective strategy for improving any situation.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2012


Frowner, the Arabic women ARE working for equal rights...but not all of them feel comfortable doing so and many are doing it in secrecy because...well, death by male relatives is one punishment that comes to mind. Of course there are many brave women fighting to bring these freedoms about...some of them are my Arabic friends here in Dearborn and I can tell you very confidently...they appreciate our support. What they don't appreciate are people who say "well, do it yourself or it's just not going to work." I will support it HOWEVER I CAN. Sometimes that means money, sometimes it means getting pissed at companies who roll over when half the population is airbrushed out of a catalog. By any means, man. ANY MEANS.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:37 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Now, getting other people madder about something so you can mobilize them toward a different agenda often works as a political tactic, but that's a different problem, and it's a tactic rarely used to good effect by politicians who actually share in the rage they peddle--the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis being a couple of examples of what appears to have been the latter that I can think of from recent history. Again, not to say one shouldn't vocally support the cause of Women's rights in Saudi Arabia; that's a moral imperative. Just doing it without being belligerent is more likely to actually do some lasting good.).
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2012


Standing for right, vociferously, insistently, and constantly does not equal going to war. 

There is nothing right or wrong about photoshopping women out of an IKEA catalog.

This is interference through moral judgment on a people's decision to live the way the want to. When outsiders interfere, war is created. History, especially in the middle east, serves this lesson over and over again.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:43 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My husband grew up on an oil company compound in Saudi Arabia. His grade school yearbooks, like all materials printed there, were overseen by censors. This led to black marks covering all pictures of the girls swim and soccer teams and one unfortunate long-haired boys legs. I imagine that if Ikea were to leave the catalog as is, the woman in the pictures (along with the furniture they are showcasing) would be covered with a black marker.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 11:49 AM on October 1, 2012


So I guess all of you on this thread who think this was ok, also thought it was ok when the Orthodox Jewish newspapers airbrushed Hillary Clinton out of the war room photo? Because IKEA is only a catalog, right? It's one thing to require a burka or a hijab to cover up the naughty bits so men don't become aroused, it's quite another to remove them as THOUGH THEY DIDN'T EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE. And yes, we really need to stop buying their oil and we need to quit all trade with them...because if they were oppressing Black people in this way, we would be huffing and puffing far more than we do now over women. And Kruger5...seriously? THE WAY THEY WANT TO? That is so reminiscent of the paternalistic old, white Southerners who claimed that Black folks wanted to be slaves, they were happy with being taken care of. Talk to Saudi women on a regular basis, do you?
posted by Kokopuff at 11:56 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


By any means, man. ANY MEANS.

"If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face--are you prepared to do that?"
posted by FJT at 12:03 PM on October 1, 2012


kokopuf :

The women in the IKEA mag would *not* have been displayed in acceptable Muslim dress. Not having women in the catalog does not remove women from Saudi society. Women can't be "extinguished" so simply.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:06 PM on October 1, 2012


all of you on this thread who think this was ok

I don't think this was directed at me, but I'm going to butt in anyway to ask if you can provide specific examples from this thread of people who've taken that position so we don't all waste our time on a topic digression addressing only one or two commenters' extreme minority positions?

On preview, maybe you should just memail Kruger5? (I'm having a really hard time finding any other examples of that argument, as prominently on display as some seem to be suggesting it is in this thread.)
posted by saulgoodman at 12:13 PM on October 1, 2012


I've been looking at the Swedish and Saudi catalogs side by side, and it doesn't get better.

Many of the pages are identical: same people, same items. But if there's a woman, she's removed or they just delete that product.

And sometimes, they delete all the asians.
posted by zippy at 12:56 PM on October 1, 2012


By any means, man. ANY MEANS.

"If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face--are you prepared to do that?"


Is the kid in the catalog?
posted by anti social order at 1:20 PM on October 1, 2012



This is interference through moral judgment on a people's decision to live the way the want to


For who "to live the way they want to?" Conservative Saudi men? Why does their desire to live the way they want to, supersede women, and further, ok the silencing of women because that's just what they like? I come from a Muslim background, though not Saudi, and this makes me mad as fucking hell. Mona Eltahawy sums up my thoughts. She says with regards to the niqab (though photoshopping women out of societal images is in the same vein):

"I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous. It comes from an ideology that basically wants to hide women away."

This is what you're talking about when you're ok with this kind of asinine move - you're supporting people who advocate eradicating women from a societal presence. They don't want to see women. They don't want to even hear about women. They cannot bear to look at a woman's face, or her cbody, or hear a woman's voice - so she must be erased, blocked, censored. Get her out of my sight. Just by being, just by existing, a woman's presence is offensive. And they justify female invisibility as near godliness. This is not a matter of difference of culture, or neo-colonialism, or how people do things or what they happen to like. This is a tremendously dangerous way of perceiving half of humankind, and it does have real, detrimental effects on half of humankind. Except the supporters of this kind of move don't see women as people - women are 'that which offends.' Frankly, I think it's severely troubling to not make a moral judgment on this.
posted by raztaj at 1:35 PM on October 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


If nothing else, can we please end the accusations that people are getting mad over this as a show of self-righteousness/academic exercise. This may be shocking, but some people actually are women (some of us are Muslim women!) and it hurts, saddens, and angers to know that your sex is a liability, or that throughout many cultures a significant number of people will not accept you as a supervisor in a factory or as an air traffic controller or a designer, &c. It's painful to acknowledge that men can use violence against you to make you invisible and impotent. It may seem silly to worry about a magazine, but as a trend of erasing women it's extremely troubling and contributes to an ideology of disfiguring, hiding, and killing women. I wish I could not get angry when I read things like this, but it truly is terrible.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, there seems to be a perception in this thread that there's no such thing as a Saudi feminist. There is such a thing.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:45 PM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


"So I guess all of you on this thread who think this was ok, also thought it was ok when the Orthodox Jewish newspapers airbrushed Hillary Clinton out of the war room photo? Because IKEA is only a catalog, right? It's one thing to require a burka or a hijab to cover up the naughty bits so men don't become aroused, it's quite another to remove them as THOUGH THEY DIDN'T EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE."

So, this might come as a shock, but the families depicted in the IKEA photos likely didn't exist either, likely neither did the homes being depicted, nor was that red sink likely even hooked up to water. When Der Tzitung edited out Clinton from that iconic photograph, they were altering a fundamental part of a seminal event in world history. When this furniture company neglected to include western dressed women in one of their furniture catalogs aimed at a country full of women and men with more conservative ideas of the amount of skin they are ok with seeing, it was not doing anything like saying that women don't exist.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:50 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let us be civilized. One fights offensive Photoshops with even more offensive Photoshops. The logical response is to edit the Ministers of Saudi Arabia so that they appear female.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:54 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


raztaj;

I believe you are battling an internal war with your co-religionists. America must not send her sons and daughters to die on your behalf, no matter how noble your struggle seems.
posted by Kruger5 at 2:10 PM on October 1, 2012


Kruger5 - Who said anything about sending people to wage war? Denouncing, criticizing, protesting, and speaking out against this batshittery doesn't necessitate a B-2.

Also, FYI, "co-religionists" and "America's sons and daughters" are not mutually exclusive categories - not that I'm advocating the use of violence to combat this kind of psychological violence (at the very least). The artificial boundaries of "us" and "them" and "my" and "your" are quickly becoming a thing of the past. It would do everyone good to start recognizing our mutuality instead of some made up binaries.
posted by raztaj at 2:20 PM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Over Americans 6000 dead, between 2 wars, both in Islamic lands. There is moral argument that laid the foundation for this adventurism , raztaj. It starts with the passionate calls for "Saving those women."
posted by Kruger5 at 3:23 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Incidentally,
"Inter IKEA Systems B.V., the worldwide IKEA Franchisor, regrets what has happened and understands that people are upset.
We have, during the course of the day, been in dialogue with Al Sulaiman, our franchisee operating IKEA stores in Saudi Arabia. It is not the local franchisee that has requested the retouch of the discussed pictures. The mistake happened during the work process occurring before presenting the draft catalogue for IKEA Saudi Arabia. We take full responsibility for the mistakes made.
We have reviewed several of the discussed pictures, for example the women in front of the bathroom mirror and the female designer of the PS2012 design collection. Those pictures could very well have been included in the Saudi Arabian catalogue.
We will naturally review our routines and working process, to ensure that this will not happen again. We deeply regret that mistakes have been made in this instance.
Ulrika Englesson Sandman Inter IKEA Systems B.V. "

posted by Blasdelb at 3:25 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]



Over Americans 6000 dead, between 2 wars, both in Islamic lands. There is moral argument that laid the foundation for this adventurism , raztaj. It starts with the passionate calls for "Saving those women."


Really? Because I don't think we set out to bomb the crap out of those two "Islamic lands" to save anyone at all in those regions. At least it didn't enter into reasoning after the previous 3 or 4 reasonings fell totally flat.
posted by raztaj at 3:44 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Really? Because I don't think we set out to bomb the crap out of those two "Islamic lands" to save anyone at all in those regions. At least it didn't enter into reasoning after the previous 3 or 4 reasonings fell totally flat.

With respect, you are woefully misinformed. Please take a look at policy papers, starting with Strauss, his students, and all the way to Pearle et Al. They also knew Americans would not stand by to a moral rallying cry. And they didn't. We don't.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:18 PM on October 1, 2012


[Folks, maybe take this derail to email or just wrap it up here?]
posted by jessamyn at 4:25 PM on October 1, 2012


So wait, what, Ikea 'fessed up and it was actually them apparently assuming that the Saudis just couldn't handle a regular Ikea catelogue and not the actual Saudi franchisee at all? So does this boil down to "Westerners in advertising stereotype Middle Easterners and assume that they're all rando woman-haters; other Westerners get flail a lot about how awful the Saudis are"? Is that what this was? This whole thing was Westerners projecting stuff? And here everyone was going all keyboard commando?

This - this - is precisely why it is important to ask the people directly impacted what they are experiencing before denouncing things.
posted by Frowner at 5:00 PM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Huh. I thought Ikea was a more modern company, that would have Photoshopped the women out instead. But they still use airbrushes?
posted by Bugbread at 5:09 PM on October 1, 2012


This - this - is precisely why it is important to ask the people directly impacted what they are experiencing before denouncing things.

Amen. Ironically, this seems like a case of Westerners thinking they know better that provoked a whole lot of reaction from other Westerners that also thought they knew better.

Turns out none of the Westerners actually knew better - and the whole mess could have been avoided if left in the hands of people from the actual culture concerned. A lesson for all, perhaps.
posted by smoke at 6:28 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand the latest comments because since I heard about it I've always blamed Ikea for it. It's another lesson in corporate irresponsibility and immorality. It was Ikea's sexism and racism behind the catalog, not any other entity.
posted by Danila at 6:52 PM on October 1, 2012


When a Saudi prince visits the US, he won't hire female drivers -- which causes an interesting lawsuit
posted by miyabo at 7:43 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


2manyusernames "Of course just because something is offensive and arrogant doesn't necessarily make it something that is not worthy."

Excellent point!!! If only more people were able to form and express nuanced views along these lines and organize their priorities accordingly, I suspect the world would be a much more pleasant place.

Also, it saddens me to hear people whose principles have been all but decimated by their hate for a certain type of American-style conservative who attempts to use human rights as an excuse to perpetuate aggression against other cultures. Most people who are defending the rights of women in situations like these are doing so earnestly. This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by gohabsgo at 8:51 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


gohanbsgo: This is why we can't have nice things.

Yeah, you bet. All that. I don't want to nuke the Saudis over this. I don't even want to nuke IKEA. Don't we take corporate hypocrasy more or less for granted? Well, I'm willing to make room for an exception if ever I run across one. But IKEA's hypocracy does tie in with the marginalization of women, regardless of the nation involved. I don't have to be culturally insensitive to not want that to catch on here.

Okay, too late for that, but we have come a long way since the days when women were forbidden by the constitution to have any political voice at all.

Being irate about marginalizing women is only one way to express agreement with any Saudi feminists who happen across the blue, no? Being irate in a public forum is a good idea. In this case, for me, a casual fuck you to IKEA more or less covers that ground. I don't expect them to drop their Saudi clients to satisfy me. I'm a just a tiny drop in the huge sea. It's a comfort to me to notice that a thread such as this, with so many conflicts over details, can still be seen to have a certain consonance. We can't have nice things. I guess we just have to buff the scuffs off the old shoes and drive on.
posted by mule98J at 12:00 AM on October 2, 2012


Also, it saddens me to hear people whose principles have been all but decimated by their hate for a certain type of American-style conservative who attempts to use human rights as an excuse to perpetuate aggression against other cultures.

gohabsgo, you've misread the viewpoint of some of us here. It isn't only American-style conservatives that have or will use human rights as the reason to engage in conflict. This sort of action has been going on for quite some time. You've never heard of "White man's burden"? And I'm using the phrase not to say only white people have engaged in this, but because it's the most popular example I can think of.
posted by FJT at 6:39 AM on October 2, 2012


Regressive gender bullshit is nothing new from IKEA. Remember that Let Your Wife Do The Shopping While You Play Foosball thing from just a few months ago?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:31 AM on October 2, 2012


I had lunch a while back with a woman who worked as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. She had a young son, perhaps eleven or so at the time I met them. While they were in Saudi Arabia, he was her legal guardian. She couldn't go anywhere without him, and he could, in theory, have had her punished for failing to obey him.

I think there's a point at which foreign cultures change from "different strokes" to "this is appalling", but she was the one who had decided to work there, and she didn't seem to think it was too bad.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:53 PM on October 2, 2012


Picturing women like this in a catalogue would offend the majority of people that read it in Saudi Arabia.

I think you'll find that you are woefully mistaken in that assumption. In my experience of Muslim countries there is a relatively small minority of people who are disproportionately vociferous about how offended they are, compared to the vast majority, who are amused or annoyed or both by censor boards and their idiocies.

e.g. I remember quite clearly our joy when my cousins and I were watching an episode of Faerie Tale Theatre on Pakistan Television, and they didn't censor the prince kissing the princess at the end. Also, when CNN initially began to be aired (late 80s, I think), the censoring was done via some kind of blocky masking, and so people spread the word that if you wanted to see the image, you could just hold up some loosely woven muslin. Trick worked, too. Not that hotel advertisements held any real pleasure for me. Just the fun of outsmarting the mullah.

The self-righteousness of mullahs is something that is caricatured so often in the literature of the Muslim world that the village imam is a stock comic character, the butt of many many jokes.

All of which is to say that while I don't feel as strongly about airbrushing women out of IKEA catalogues as I do about the fact that I had to have my husband sign a No Objection Certificate in order to get a driving license in the UAE, I'm pretty sure the vast majority of Saudi IKEA shoppers would have had no problem with seeing women in the catalogue. Whether they would admit this publicly or not would depend on a lot of factors, some of which Frowner illustrated nicely in that quotation that she linked to above.
posted by bardophile at 12:12 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


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