The kingdom made me slouch.
June 7, 2007 8:54 AM   Subscribe

A view from behind the veil. L.A. Times reporter Megan Stack writes of her experiences in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "I spent my days in Saudi Arabia struggling unhappily between a lifetime of being taught to respect foreign cultures and the realization that this culture judged me a lesser being."
posted by bitmage (21 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Posted already in yesterday's thread. -- cortex

posted yesterday as part of this thread.
posted by quonsar at 8:58 AM on June 7, 2007

And she was surprised by her experience in Saudi Arabia ..... why?
posted by blucevalo at 8:59 AM on June 7, 2007

An article from behind the registration page.
posted by Bort at 9:04 AM on June 7, 2007

The moral: Don't go to Saudi Arabia.
posted by Artw at 9:08 AM on June 7, 2007

Argh. Did a search on her name and the url. Dangit.

blucevalo, I don't know if anyone is really prepared to be considered a lesser being, unwashed, to be kept separate from others. You can read about it, but the direct experience and realizing that everyone around you agrees with it has got to be a shock.

In any case, I don't think she's writing to express her surprise. She's giving the view of how it feels to be a Western-cultured woman visiting one of the closest allies of the U.S.
posted by bitmage at 9:08 AM on June 7, 2007

The principle that "We must respect other cultures" is such a foolish idea.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:21 AM on June 7, 2007

And she was surprised by her experience in Saudi Arabia ..... why?
posted by blucevalo

Didn't read the article, did you?

That's like reading a post about the book Black Like Me and asking. "And he was surprised by his experience in The South...why?"
posted by leftcoastbob at 9:27 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Fascinating article, thank you.

In my opinion, responses such as "So?" or "Big surprise there" really miss the point.

As a woman, it is deeply disturbing that these places exist, even somewhere else. That rights we take for granted - personhood, self-determination, equality - are not dependent on our person, but simply a function of place. Change the coordinates, and everything you know about yourself is erased.

It's terrifying to wonder how long you could sustain your own self-identity in that environment. How long you could continue to think of yourself as fully human when no one else does.

I don't think anyone would really be immune to that. Some people just haven't been forced to consider it yet.
posted by crackingdes at 9:32 AM on June 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

I grew up as a military brat in the fifties and the sixties, and as a bonus, spent six years living in the South. The tales from Saudi are not unfamiliar to me. The double standard for behavior, the constant down-talk about women's inadequacies, were my constant diet. I was told that women couldn't be pilots, because of menstruation, or good Doctors, or serve in any position that required emotional stability, or responsibility. I was shown that being pretty and accommodating was most important. Learning the skills to please a man meant a life time living. Being smart, meant that it was important to be quiet. Any word that any man said, was important to attend to, and I should appear to be entranced by even the most primitive yokel. I was expected to fully embody, and profess the beliefs, prejudices, hatreds, or cultural biases of my family, or any extended member. The threat for deviating from this plan was physical retribution, or abandonment. This was how the world worked then, and still does now, for many girls in this nation. There is an upsurge of this thinking in the religious right.

There are far worse things than abandonment, and in my case, they couldn't catch up with me, to abandon me.

Women in this nation owe a great debt to the women that came before them, who took on the task of making it possible for us to live our lives in the Western world. Keep Saudi in mind, when hearing anti-feminist ranting inside our nation, when home based religious pundits attempt to legislate sexual discrimination.

I have recently read that most Ivy League women, are returning to home making after college, that pricey college entrance for females, has been relegated to being an insurance policy for finding wealthy mates. This has to do with the shift in wealth, where males who do and say the right things for corporations, can afford full time staff.

I think the Saudis are doing us a big favor, by holding down the low end, on female human rights. Surely by keeping their lifestyle in full view, none of us can be convinced that extreme patriarchy is desirable.

Yeah, sure.
posted by Oyéah at 9:38 AM on June 7, 2007 [8 favorites]

My father, sister and mom lived and worked in Riyad in the early eighties. I visited them twice. Mom and sis had to leave after 3 years, they couldn't take it. No driving, No unaccomanied anything. They lived on commpounds that (secretly) allowed almost anything, including homebrew. But that started feeling like a prison. Westerners put up with it for the adventure and the money.
posted by xjudson at 9:38 AM on June 7, 2007

Read the article yesterday; it's really pretty interesting, especially how she has trouble getting over the time she spent their, like being in Saudi Arabia has left a permanent scar. It reminded me a bit of the book Nine Parts of Desire, also by a reporter.
posted by chunking express at 9:48 AM on June 7, 2007

This is utterly fascinating and depressing. I am very grateful to live where I do.
posted by desjardins at 10:00 AM on June 7, 2007

I've also read Nine Parts of Desire---I think that the Middle Eastern attitude toward women is for shit regardless of faith. Say all you like that Islam teaches that women should be treated with respect--how can one respect someone one thinks is inferior? There's a big disconnect between the faith and the culture.

It has been men from that region, South Asians, Mediterraneans and Latinos who have most often harassed me. And reasking this question, is anyone now able to translate it or the "krs" root?
posted by brujita at 10:34 AM on June 7, 2007

blucevalo, I don't know if anyone is really prepared to be considered a lesser being, unwashed, to be kept separate from others. You can read about it, but the direct experience and realizing that everyone around you agrees with it has got to be a shock.

Very unnecessary asinine kneejerk response on my part. I stand corrected (and embarrassed).
posted by blucevalo at 10:35 AM on June 7, 2007

Didn't read the article, did you?

I did read the article, but I still nonetheless proceeded to insert foot in mouth. An unfortunate tendency that I must keep in check.
posted by blucevalo at 10:36 AM on June 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

For some reason, the thing that really got me was the part where she's waiting outside the bank for her friend. The guard comes out to make her move away from the windows: "Go! Go! You can't stand here! The men can SEE! The men can SEE!"

Not only can women not go anywhere unaccompanied, not only can they not vote, or drive, or go into a fucking Starbucks, they have to be invisible, too, lest they corrupt men by their ridiculous audacity to be visible.

It feels weird to say "they", since I am a woman, but I'm of course referring to women there. Although sometimes right here in the good ole USofA it feels like men would prefer that women be invisible.
posted by rtha at 10:50 AM on June 7, 2007

Great article. When I started it, my kneejerk reaction was like blucevalo's (classy apology, by the way), but by the time I finished I felt I'd had my eyes opened even though I "knew" that stuff already. Anecdotes like the one rtha mentions are far more powerful than bare facts. Thanks for the post.

(Anyone interested in the topic should read Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel, a wonderful and scary little novel.)
posted by languagehat at 11:04 AM on June 7, 2007

If you just denounce them flatly then you're really no better than them. It could be there are some aspects of their culture that are superior and you could take a page from, and vice versa. But to write them off wholesale is not helping anything.

I would just like to denounce any culture that executes homosexuals. Oooh, look at me being all judgmental and intolerant!
posted by chlorus at 11:10 AM on June 7, 2007

Oyéah, the practice of getting a degreee or going to college to bag a husband has been around for some time - it's called "Getting your MRS" for Mrs. John Smith.

When I was going for my engineering degree, the attitude towards the women was that they were trying to get smart husbands - not that we wanted to have our own lives or careers.

So that's how I first learned the nmenomic for reading resistors was "Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls, but Violet Gave Willingly". The professor then said that the first word used to be "Black", but he coudnl't say that anymore.

posted by lysdexic at 11:15 AM on June 7, 2007

"Maybe you don't want to vote," I said. "But wouldn't you like to make that choice yourself?"

"I don't need to," she said calmly, blinking slowly and deliberately. "If I have a father or a husband, why do I need to vote? Why should I need to work? They will take care of everything."

*bangs head on desk*
posted by lysdexic at 11:25 AM on June 7, 2007

I'm looking forward to reading it. There was a variety of discussion about our experiences with this stuff in another thread a while ago, and I agree with what desjardins said. It ain't always a bowl of cherries, but travel has shown me that as a woman I am profoundly thankful to have been born in America. It's criminal what many women around the world have to endure just for being female. Makes me feel really helpless.

BTW, I do recommend Carmen bin Laden's book "Inside the Kingdom." I found it an easy read & pretty interesting... it made me aware of quite a few things I hadn't thought about prior to reading it or seeing things for myself.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:28 AM on June 7, 2007

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