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readers' comments

Love on Girls’ Side of the Saudi Divide

 

The separation between the sexes in Saudi Arabia is so extreme that it is difficult to overstate.

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RSS All Comments - Editors' Selections

NYTimes.com editors aim to highlight the most interesting and thoughtful comments that represent a range of views.

1 - 13 of 13 Show:

 

12.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 8:08 am

These young women are such perfect examples of the Stockholm Syndrome--the captives identifying with the captors.
This is one of the saddest articles I have read in a while.

— brendan, nyc

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14.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 8:10 am

It would be interesting to compare and contrast a muslim society like Saudi Arabia's - which is really enabled by oil money - with a muslim society where people have to work for a living. I still can't comprehend how a fundamentalist/conservative muslim society could function in a modern world. And compete in the global economy. I mean, as a country you are going up against societies that use 100% of their population for work, not 50%. Even saying that women can work seperately in little cottage industries, or female-oriented shops, etc, that doesn't really cut it in the modern economy that most countries want. You need knowledge workers. I don't know if you're going to find too many educated women who would be happy with such restrictions on their freedom and comfort. I say this to be constructive and perhaps suggest a future article. I'll mostly refrain from saying how completely bizarre I find it that there are still societies like this in the world today. And yet, they still watch American TV, and sort of know how we live! How can they stand the contradicitions? Incomprehensible.

— David M., Philadelphia

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19.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 8:11 am

As a non-Muslim young woman who has lived in predominantly Muslim places, I would just like to offer that the veil and the separation of the sexes is not necessarily about oppressing women, as I used to assume, but can be a sign of societal respect for women and a way to honor their privacy. It's nice to be able to move through your day free of men's ogling, and I've sometimes wished we had a comparable option in the U.S. (I think any young woman who's been subjected to unwelcome leering by a sketchy stranger when she's just going about her business could understand this feeling.) It's also a way of marking public and private spaces in a way that makes a certain kind of sense: my friends' not wearing the hijab inside their homes, when they had me over, made me feel special, like I was close enough to them to get to be in that "at home" space with them; and then their covering when we went out to market also made sense, as the flip side of that public/private divide. Of course, choice is a key issue, and my experience is drawn only from places where these practices are not law, so my friends who covered were able to choose this, and were not barred from specific everyday activities (such as driving). Still, I'd discourage non-Muslim readers from applying any blanket judgments here; I'd also recommend Fatima Mernissi's _Dreams of Trespass_ for a thorough, balanced, and personal account of the the division of the sexes in Islamic societies (Morocco, in her case).

— Meg, Ann Arbor, MI

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51.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 8:52 am

Yes, the cultural differences are staggering, but how about the human heart? It's fascinating that Jane Austen speaks to these young women, to middle-aged Western women like me, and to a whole lot of others in between. Who is Mr. Big if not Mr. Darcy?

— Annie, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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57.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 9:15 am

What I find fascinating is the effect of technology on this culture. For instance, the extent to which Bluetooth technology will or will not change the rituals between the SA sexes, and whether a cell phone and/or email/Facebook are acceptable are issues which the now commercial, consumer-oriented Saudi culture will have to deal. It is all so bizarre to us the US.

As many commentators have remarked, were it not for our thirst for the one commodity their country makes that we want (oil), we probably would only read about these people in National Geographic.

— Sam, Concord, NH

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62.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 9:23 am

These women are little more than prisoners. In the United States, household pets have more freedom and status. At least in the US, if a pet runs away and gets pregnant, it is not stoned to death.

— Linda, Walla Walla

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63.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 9:24 am

My third year in college, I moved into a small apartment building with a number of Muslim friends from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. There were four apartments on our floor, three for the guys, and one for the women (mostly my friends' sisters), which we were not allowed to enter. I would like to refer to Meg's commentary (# 19); the arrangement of Muslim society is based on a deep sense of respect for women, the family, and God. We removed our shoes before coming inside because the apartment was a place of daily prayer. We could talk to the girls in the hallways, a public place, just like the dining hall where we all ate together with other students. The girls wore hijabs, and it made me regard them and their families with a sense of honor; it even engendered a sense of obligation in me towards them since their brothers were my roommates, making me part of their community. On the guys side, the older guys always took care of the underclassmen, especially mentoring the first-years, helping them choose classes, helping with problem sets, sharing cars and food with them, and making sure they were respectful to the girls and older guys.

Many other commentators deplore the lack of choice that women have in Saudi Arabia, which is the key difference between Saudi and the American university. Their reaction is only exacerbated by the strange sense of otherness with which many of the readers here respond to the depiction of muslim life. Muslims share many "traditional American" values: respect for women, strong families, and devotion to God. By developing personal relationships with people in other communities, we move from reactionary judgement to mutual understanding.

— Jakob, University of Chicago

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77.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 10:17 am

One of the young women in this article was in her first year of law school, but I find myself wondering why.

If a woman must be accompanied by a male relative or guardian to go out of the house, how could a young female lawyer practice law? How could she file documents with the court if she can't go out in public? How could she try a case in court if she can't speak to an unrelated male? Perhaps she could work in an all-female firm dedicated to helping women or to "family law" (whatever that may be in KSA), but how could women clients reach her if women need to get a man to bring them to the office?

It seems like a cruel circular logic... (1) tell women (and the world) that their society and religion honors them, then (2) open opportunities for women to attend college and pursue knowledge, then (3) constrain them from doing anything with their education by telling them their religion and society forbid it (for their own honor and protection, of course).

I find it sad (and somewhat amazing) that the women don't contest this. As an earlier poster pointed out, it's the Stockholm Syndrome indeed.

— LB, Leesburg, VA

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83.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 10:31 am

I just finished reading this article as well as yesterday's article about men and love in Saudi Arabia. Once I was finished, I proceeded to read the comments about both articles. I must say that I am appalled by the effect biased reporting can have on the mind of people.

I am a 30-year-old female from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I have lived 22 years of my life in Riyadh. I am also from the same tribe that the two young men were from in the previous article Young Saudis, Vexed and Entranced by Loves Rules; the Al Motairi tribe. The two young men in the article were from a poor community, fairly uneducated and extremely traditional. They are not a depiction of the general Saudi or the general Saudi lifestyle. I can give you an untainted view into the way of Saudi life.

This article was biased but not untrue. There are people in Saudi Arabia who do live this way and are happy to live this way. However, this is not the general population. Just as there are people here in the US who choose to practice polygamy, choose to be swingers, choose to be Evangelical Christians and so on, there are also people in Saudi Arabia who choose a certain way of life that is pleasing to them as well. To each there own, who are we as individuals to judge. This is not law, this is choice!

I am curious as to why the journalist did not interview some of my many many many friends who have married for love in accordance with Islamic law. It is almost as if the journalist chose to seek out the most conservative people of Saudi Arabia. And by the way, Islamic law DOES NOT forbid a male and female from getting to know one another years before they decide to get married. Islamic law DOES NOT forbid a male and female from seeing one another before marriage as long as there is a parent present in the house. This article only showed one side of Saudi society and forgot about the other 27 million people living in the Kingdom.

I am also curious as to why the journalist did not find someone to interview like me who married for love and is very happy at that. There are many people in the Kingdom who are married, happily I might add. It is not fair that an article like this can mislead the readers and forget to show the other side of the story. Again, the scenario in this article is real as the scenario in the other article was real as well; however, these scenarios are not the general rule.

My sister just got engaged to her boyfriend of 7 years. My father knew she was dating him. Of course the dating was not in the traditional sense of the word; however, they saw each other before their engagement many times, they spoke on the phone every single day openly with my father fully aware, they exchanged gifts and they love each other to death. This way of dating has its benefits as well. It allows a couple to get to know one another on an emotional and mental level without the physical baggage of sex. This is the way of life we are proud of and are very happy with.
 

— Sarah Al Motairi, New York

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92.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 10:52 am

I think what is most painful here is the idea that these women do not have freedom of choice. If they are free to choose the veils and the social sequestering and it somehow pleases or fulfills them to do so, then I suppose it's no business of mine. What does bother me is the undeniable fact that they are not (for the most part) free to choose. I also find the relativistic socioreligious arguments very frustrating: I'm not trying to export my ideas about human nature (that we should value freedom of choice, for example, or that equality of the sexes is an inherent human right), but I just can't stomach the thought that these women are so severely constrained within their own society. It is utterly depressing to realize that we inhabit a world filled with such boundless misogyny and this deeply horrifying oppression of women.

— LMF, Brooklyn, NY

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122.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 11:46 am

It's nice to be able to move through your day free of men's ogling...

I get your point, and believe me, I yearn for the ability to walk down the street without construction workers whistling or leering. But the solution to this nearly universal social phenomenon is NOT to hide women. The solution is to change the behavior of men, to bring up boys to NOT see abusing and harassing women as a sign of malehood, and for men to put pressure on other men to treat women with respect. Punishing the victim for the crime only ensures that there will be more victims.

— LEB, Austin, TX

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142.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 12:17 pm

please do not confuse the teachings of islam and traditional tribal customs. the majority of examples given in the article are saudi and gulf arab traditional customs which are non-islamic. look to southeast asia, lebanon, syria, tunisia to see a more 'modern' non-traditional islam. it's no different than assuming the hassedic jewish community defines judism, or mormans define christinaity......

— mirwan, nyc

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150.

EDITORS' SELECTIONS (what's this?)

May 13th, 2008 1:00 pm

Honestly, less than a century ago our culture (to the extent that we have a monolithic one), regarded women with an equally perverse denial of agency, it just had a very different manifestation. It disturbs me how many comments here are appalled at the otherness of this treatment... It's a particularly tragic manifestation of denying women agency within a social structure, but is that really all that rare in the history of all civilizations? (and how tragic is *that*?)

— de.Corday, Brooklyn 

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