Michael-Nicholas J. Gould
April 16th, 2013
Daily Life in RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA
There are many misconceptions in the West about what life is like for women in Saudi Arabia, perhaps almost as many misconceptions as there are among Saudis about people who live in the West. Life for most Saudi people in America includes dealing with the fallout from nasty prejudices and popular misconceptions. Most people in the West, naturally enough, get their ideas about Saudi life from the media. They learn that women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive, that they must be almost completely covered up when they appear in public, and that unmarried women and girls can’t appear in public unaccompanied by family members. All of this is more or less true, but it omits the reality that, for the average middle class Saudi woman who comes from a healthy family background, life is pretty good.
When everything is in place, a Saudi woman can live a comfortable life. A respectable husband is arranged for her to marry; she typically has a driver, servants and an extended family ready to give her financial and emotional support. All that’s really expected of her is to grow the family and fulfill social obligations. Don’t get me wrong: The reporting by international media on the comparative lack of rights for Saudi women is true. Thanks to a communications revolution and an unstoppable globalization, that is forcing all of us to confront painful cultural conflicts, the world is growing smaller by the day.
And most Saudis want to keep the best of their traditions, yet they must come to terms with the changes that the good things of modern life and progress can bring. That is a problem people in Saudi Arabia face every day. Take the case of Manal al-Sharif, who posted an online video of herself driving. Though she took pains in the video to proclaim her loyalty to king and country, her assurances were no comfort. Conservative religious leaders condemned her as promiscuous and immoral;...