A Rebuttal to an Irking Article

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Recently, there has been a lot of buzz in some of the Kuwaiti and Middle Eastern newspapers about the perceived measures Saudi Arabia is making towards boosting women's rights in the country.  An article by Shamael Al-Sharikh in the Kuwait Times yesterday entitled "A Girl's Night out in Riyadh" struck my attention the most.  

I actually applaud many of Kuwait's efforts towards women's rights, especially pertaining towards voting rights, empowerment of working women and the relative freedom women have to move around the city.  While Kuwait seems like it still has a long way to go, the country leads the way in comparison to many of its neighbors, most notoriously Saudi Arabia.

This is why I expect more from a women writer in Kuwait writing about women in Saudi Arabia.Ms Al-Sharikh describes a hotel/spa haven in Riyadh called  Luthan, which has just marked its first anniversary as the only women-only resort in Saudi Arabia--or as the website puts it: "a sanctuary for women by women".  I am just going to bullet point my main problems with the article, which are all in the last three, opinionated paragraphs:

Antepenultimate Paragraph:

"The lack of men at certain spas can make women less insecure about body image. After all, when there are no men around, no one cares if the humidity in the sauna turned your perfectly-blow dried hair into a Jackson 5-type Afro. Furthermore, poolside fun is more enjoyable because you can splash away in the water, without having your 'imperfections' exposed to ogling teenagers, and as a Middle Eastern woman, I can assure you that every single one of us has plenty of imperfections." 

My Response:
It is fair enough for women to feel self-conscious about their body image, but for some reason, this extract contradicts itself.  It is one thing for an insecure female to not want to flaunt their imperfections, particularly in the presence of males, but it is another to feel on display to "ogling teenagers" (for which I assume she means male adolescents) looking for bikinis at the poolside.  Her fear seems to come from two mutually-exclusive reasons.

Penultimate Paragraph:
"I have personally traveled on international business trips extensively, but I have never stayed at a hotel room in the Middle East on my own, for the simple reason that I never felt safe doing that. The social stigma of a young woman riding the elevator in a hotel alone is still present, even in the most open cities in the Middle East, and sometimes, it is quite creepy to walk down a hotel corridor alone, even if there nothing to worry about. The Luthan is not just a great idea for Saudi Arabia, but also for other destinations like Dubai or even Kuwait."

My response: Pray tell me, if you have never stayed at a hotel room in the Middle East on your own, how do you know its not safe?  The truth is, many hotels and resorts in the Middle East are Western-style, elite enclaves outside the city that normally require several levels of metal detector searches.  Again, this reinforces the (in my view) derogatory and self-deluding notion that all men are preying, lurking sexual predators in the dark rather than hotel workers interested in doing their jobs well or fellow travelors.  I know a family here in Kuwait, for example, that would not allow their 15 year old daughter to walk accross the street in broad daylight to meet us in a restaurant next door.   The idea was that it was not "safe" for a female.  Having lived in some major cities that were truly unsafe compared to Kuwait City, I find these fears paranoid, only serving a vicious cycle of mistrust maladaptation between the sexes.  As I wrote earlier, this reinforces a demeaning stereotype of men and it generates a negative image "by women for women" that females are helpless, weak blobs.  The truth is, at least when they are not in their cars, I find men here in Kuwait quite respectful of women, and women here in Kuwait perfectly capable of having the strength and acumen to retort with a shaming comeback if an ogling teenager did get fresh.  Of course, there are incidences of graver cases of rape, kidnapping and crime, but Kuwaiti women are not the most vulnerable in society, and often these happen to many of the female migrant workers in the country, often along roads late at night as these women wait after work for public transportation or taxis--not in luxury hotel elevators.

Ultimate Paragraph:
"We already have women-only glamorous weddings, women-only spas, and women-only health clubs, so why not transport the women-only concept to hotels? If not to get a tan at the pool ogling-free, it can be a great place for moms to escape from their family life for the weekend or for a group of friends to have a girls' night out. Kuwaiti men have their diwaniyas and we can have our women-only hotel, because in the end, what is good for the gander is good for the goose."

My response: The most dangerous aspect of this article is the overall voice.  The article lauds a "seperate but equal" approach to women's rights, that is a stone-age notion of civil rights.  And truth is, even if one created female-only hospitals, schools, ministries-a whole parralel society in fact-there will still be problems of equal funding, equal expertise, equal access to the law to run these institutions.  Lastly, and the saddest instance of a lost facts in this article is that the design and nature of men and women is for co-existence, through a mutually-beneficial, harmonious and co-dependent relationship.  This is not a pro or anti-feminist statement, but a fundamental truth.  With segregation in every aspect of living, this bond becomes stunted, underdeveloped and immature, which is why all men will always seem to be "ogling teenagers" to this writer as long as she is scared to ride in an elevator alone.

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