June 28, 2019
The Daily Mail published a piece about a book that talks about the lives of Saudi women in Saudi Arabia.
Do the women of Saudi Arabia feel like privileged, pampered princesses, or infantilised victims, controlled from birth to death by the whims of tyrannical men?
Is life getting any better for Saudi women since the driving ban was lifted in 2018? Could you or I bear to live there, even for a single day?
‘No’ is my firm answer to that third question, after reading this gripping, eye-opening book by Nicola Sutcliff, a writer who knows the country from the inside.
This is the book:
She taught at a women’s university there — a university surrounded by high walls and guarded by male security guards, from which no woman can ever go out unless accompanied by her male guardian — so a mother can never take her daughter out for lunch.
Sutcliff has interviewed 28 Saudi women from every walk of life, nearly all of whom have, at some point, been shouted at in a shopping mall by the religious police for not covering their faces properly.
‘Cover, cover, cover!’ is what you hear being barked all day long by the bearded religious prowlers in those malls.
As these women speak about their daily lives, you sense the overwhelming respect they’ve been brought up to feel for the Islamic traditions of their country.
In Saudi, the patriarchal family is sacrosanct. From the moment a girl menstruates, she is not allowed to fraternise with anyone of the opposite sex until the day of her marriage, which is usually an arranged one to someone she’s never met. You can even be jailed for having a cup of coffee with a boy.
These women revere and obey every word of the Koran — ‘It’s like a law book, a psychologist and a medical encyclopedia all in one,’ says one woman.
But, worryingly, and tellingly, they’ve asked to be anonymous in this book, to avoid getting into trouble from their male guardians for daring to make innocuous (but, actually, inflammatory) remarks, such as these:
‘If I’m honest, and my husband isn’t listening, I do miss the breeze on my face sometimes, especially in the evening.’
‘I hate wearing the niqab. You can smell your own breath in there.’
Ew, brush your teeth.
‘I’m always dreaming of renting a house on the coast, so my sisters and my girlfriends can take a little holiday. But I can’t because I don’t have a mahram [male guardian] to sign the papers.’
Unsupervised women are worse than unsupervised kids, so that’s also fair.
‘I think polygamy should be made illegal. It causes women to go into deep depressions.’
Translation: “My husband having choices stresses the fuck out of me. I need full control!”
‘A woman’s guardian is her abuser. It’s a mechanism of control.’
Of course it’s a mechanism of control.
If you don’t control women, this kind of stuff happens:
‘I long to visit my son, who’s in the U.S., but my husband would have to sign the permission papers.’
‘Women here — we’re just used — for cooking, for cleaning, for bed. They’ve lowered us to nothing.’
Women in the West are also just used — for sex, for sex, for sex, for sex, for sex and also for working. Also for sex.
Also also: sex.
The main difference is that women here are used by random strangers and by their bosses, while women in Saudi Arabia are used by their husbands and guardians.
Keep in mind that men are also used. For money, for attention, for security, for sex, to open jars, etc. Everyone uses everyone.
On and on it goes: a catalogue of oppression, suppression and repression, voiced quietly among the bland reassurances of happiness. Saudi women are indoctrinated to believe that they’re far luckier than the unfortunate women in the West, who are sexualised from a young age, expected to earn their own living, and don’t have the ‘privilege’ of a male guardian to ‘protect’ them from the cradle to the grave.
Women in the West are indoctrinated to believe that they’re far luckier than the unfortunate women in Saudi Arabia.
You can make women think whatever you want them to think if you control the social consensus apparatus (mass media, government, education, etc.).
Not that there aren’t some impressive pioneering career women here, as Sutcliff shows us. Women are now allowed to get jobs without their guardians’ permission.
We meet ‘Rana’, a fashion designer who designs abayas (the obligatory loose-fitting cloaks) and boasts, ‘Under my abaya, I wear clothes from designers all over the world!’
As these women chat about their amazing career success, they quietly slip in less palatable truths: Rana agreed to an arranged marriage, and says that if her husband dies young, she’ll be expected to ask her own son for permission to travel. From the age of 15, sons become their own mothers’ guardians if she doesn’t have a husband, father or brother.
‘But I would like people outside to know we’re very happy!’ Rana insists. ‘We have the great advantage of being looked after. Even if I earn a salary, I am under no obligation to support the household.’ (That’s the man’s job.)
The book review is pretty disrespectful towards Saudi women, as it says that they’re indoctrinated to believe that they’re happy.
If Saudi women say that they’re happy, why not believe them? Because “we know better”?
Isn’t that… misogyny?
This desert country, Sutcliff suggests, has gone ‘straight from tent to penthouse’ so fast that society hasn’t had time to catch up. There are many weird anomalies: the flashingly modern co-existing with the cruelly medieval.
Yeah, whoever thought that you should give money to Tuskens just because they happen to be sitting on a lot of fossil fuels made a mistake, okay?
We should have taken their lands and their resources.
For example, as soon as girls walk through the door into their all-women universities, ‘cloaks and veils are discarded to reveal a rainbow of hairstyles, piercings, false lashes and designer handbags’.
The average Saudi woman spends $3,000 (£2,368) a year on cosmetics. Behind closed doors, in all-female company, they’re plastering themselves with make-up and are all addicted to YouTube and Snapchat: Saudis are the most prolific users of these in the world.
That’s kind of disappointing. I expected more from Saudi men.
It’s not too late for them though. They could tighten the leash.
Yet if you’re caught having unlawful sexual intercourse, either before marriage or adulterously, you can expect to be sentenced to a year in prison and 100 lashes.
Having served your punishment, you can’t leave prison unless you’re collected by your male guardian — and he may be so ashamed of your behaviour that he won’t collect you and you’ll languish inside for years.
However, the 21st century is knocking at the door. The divorce rate has risen sharply — it’s up to 45 per cent — as women are waking up to the enlightened world they’ve seen on YouTube, and are refusing to stay with their abusive husbands (domestic abuse has at last been recognised as a crime), or to sit by as their husbands take on multiple wives (the legal limit is four).
That’s close to America’s divorce rate. Are women in America also “oppressed” and waking up to — wait — of course women in the West are oppressed.
Don’t forget the Patriarchy, cat-calling, swimsuit models and all of that stuff.
Women are really suffering here in white countries.