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Thank goodness for my husband’s intellectual pursuits.  If it were up to me, I would be watching stupid TV and reading People magazine all day.  Unlike me, my husband watches Charlie Rose and reads the The New Yorker.  And since I hang out with him (that would be expected, right? :)), I sometimes pick up what ever he’s reading.  In this case the New Yorker issue from weeks December 23rd & 30th (a double whammy). In it was a fascinating article, “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf, about Saudi women and a first inkling of their independence.

In June 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decreed that women could, no, should, replace men in shops where female customers are seeking intimate items.  First the law referred to lingerie shops and then the law extended to other typical feminine spaces like apparel and cosmetics, and even into supermarket checkout counters.  For women who have not gone to college (and there are many), this is their first opening to a sort of financial independence.

To us Westerners, that should feel like a “no duh”, especially in a country with such rigid rules restricting contact between the sexes.  Wouldn’t you rather be told your true bra size from a woman than a man?! Ironically, there are many protesting such laws because they fear women (that is, the shop girls) will be in that much more contact with men.

The article certainly highlights the intimidation and family pressure many people receive once starting to work.  It ain’t easy.  But it also shows how much more confident and happy these shop girls are.  Instead of living secluded lives at home or maybe in the malls shopping, these women can learn a skill, broaden their social network and secure themselves against financial ruin (the divorce rate is high in Saudi Arabia and often women lose custody of their children because they can’t afford to care for them).

While so many of us independent, well-educated Western women love make-up and a cute bra or two, we would probably think the last place women would gain a sense of freedom and independence would be at a Victoria’s Secret shop or at the Macy’s make-up counter.  But in Saudi Arabia, these places may not only be wonderful, liberating places for women, but may actually prove to be the spark to set in motion so much more change.

Hear, hear for lingerie!  Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

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