Fashionable Protests: The Unexpected Source of Saudi Women’s Independence

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With the glut of oil and rising Sunni – Shia tensions in Saudi Arabia, I’m sure all of us have been wondering,”what happens if the Saudi regime actually falls?”  The impact will be dramatic, no doubt.  The region will be in that much more turmoil. But I can’t help imagine what would happen after all the potential catastrophe.  In particular, how would society change — the social strata and gender dynamics? After so many years of limitations, could Saudi women actually fulfill the independence they so deserve? This question reminds me of a post I wrote a year ago based on a New Yorker article about Saudi women called “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf.  This story shows a glimmer of women’s liberation.  What’s interesting is that these seeds of independence aren’t starting in the schools or the home but in the beauty and fashion subcultures.  Read below for the edited down version.

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.

What strikes me about this story is how people will find interesting and unexpected ways to assert themselves.  For some it’s beauty for others it may be music or sports.  Let’s not think that just because some people are pushed down by society that they can’t find ways to rebel and eventually fulfill their dreams for a better life.  The key is to open our eyes, look for those sparks and help ignite them further.

Weekend Observations: W Might Have Found Perfect Wake Up Call to Naysayers of Global Warming

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Despite how dorky I look, I do it everyday from May until November.  I douse my face with sunscreen and wear a big straw hat visor.  There is no way I’m going to grow old and wrinkly without a fight.

One of the key things that scared me into sun-protection-submission is the website, In20Years.  I warn you, it can be harsh.  Basically you post a current picture of your face and then the “magic formula” adds 20 years to it based off your lifestyle.  Yikes!

Now imagine yourself 20 years from now PLUS a ton of sun damage.  Yike 10X!

But then it dawned on me.  Maybe this fear of sun damage can be a real source of change.

Global warming is undeniable. And yet there is a large contingent in this country who deny it.  When scientific data didn’t impress these naysayers, we then played into a fear of business failure thanks to the effects of climate change.  And when THAT didn’t work, there was arguments made by the military that our dependence on the ozone-depleting energy source, gasoline, were harmful to the success of military efforts too.

It seems nothing is working.

But maybe we can change that.  What if we used yet another tactic?  What if we preyed on people’s vanity?  What if we showed how people would look, not in 20 years, but, say, 5 years thanks to the increasing thinning of the ozone layer.  The math is easy: more sun = more wrinkles, sun spots and leathery skin.

You may say most people aren’t as vain as me (though, remember, I walk around in a dorky hat everyday so how vain can I be?).  Or you may say aren’t we demeaning the severity of the issue by connecting it to beauty?

I’m not the only one who has taken this route.  Let’s look at anti-smoking campaigns for a sec.

Like global warming, cigarette smoking is SUPER dangerous.  And no one can deny it’s a killer.  But it also kills your skin cells and libido. After years of trying to scare Americans’ with messages about early and horrible death, the FDA recently changed course.  They now prey on people’s vanity.  Campaigns turned from death to limp dicks, blackened teeth and ugly skin.

So maybe we have an opportunity here.  I’m not discounting the other arguments.  I only WISH people were affected by them.  But when we’re in a situation where nothing seems to work sometimes the seemingly frivolous is the answer.  In this case losing our beauty may just be the impetus we need to get people scared enough to change their minds.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking like a dork.  Or maybe I’ll just start a new trend!

 

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women's Independence?

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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!

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women’s Independence?

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.48.35 AM

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!

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

  • What’s Your Virtue: A beauty brand not based on sexuality but inner beauty.  Think it will sell?

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/5/prweb9529728.htm

  • How Sephora is truly taking advantage of the digital space

http://www.webpronews.com/how-beauty-chain-sephora-is-taking-retail-digital-2012-05

  • Another example of how the world of beauty has a greater role to play in society

http://thechronicleherald.ca/canada/98495-video-from-beauty-queen-to-civil-rights-advocate

  • Feminine beauty on the Knokke Seafront

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/feminine-beauty-on-the-knokke-seafront-2012-05-21

Anymore stories to add?  Comment or tweet us @Beautyskew