Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Not "Lady-Like!"

n investigation is underway regarding a shocking and controversial sporting competition that was held recently here in Jeddah. Shocking? Yes - because the event was for females (for shame!) and the event organizers failed to obtain prior approval from the Ministry of Education. Which begs the question: Are male sporting events subject to the same restrictions? Somehow I doubt it. Female sports here in Saudi Arabia are practically non-existent because girls’ athletics are frowned upon by religious clerics and many old-fashioned Saudi men as being “unlady-like,” among other ridiculous reasons.

The illegal and contentious sporting event – thought to be the first of its kind in the Kingdom - was held on December 8th at Effat University and included competition in such unlady-like sports such as swimming, basketball, and badminton for some 200 young high school women representing six different Jeddah girls’ schools.

In the aftermath of the tournament, a member of the Board of Directors of one of the participating schools claims they had received more than 60 “anonymous” complaints about girls participating in sports.

All this commotion comes at the heels of another report out of Iran where a Muslim cleric condemned women’s sports and forbade Iranian females from participating in the Asian Games. He was quoted as saying that women’s sports are a product of the West’s “dirty” culture and should be shunned. I want to know, exactly what is “dirty” about women’s sports?

This is 2010, almost 2011. It is common knowledge in this day and age that regular exercise promotes good health, weight control, and a sense of well-being. Yet for the girls and women of the kingdom, these facts don’t matter and aren’t considered important.

Last year I wrote about how the government cracked down on women’s gyms across Saudi Arabia, closing down countless women’s facilities if they were not properly licensed and if they were not affiliated with a hospital, while there are no such restrictions placed on men’s gyms. The closing of these facilities drove up membership costs and made it impossible for many Saudi women to be able to afford going to a gym. And it’s already hard enough for women to try to exercise in this country as it is. Women here are forbidden from swimming (well they can, if they are fully covered), riding bicycles (too provocative as it reveals the female's behind), or playing sports in public. Saudi Arabia has been long criticized for denying Saudi women from particpating in the Olympics and other sporting events.

Physical Education classes in girls’ schools are a very low priority. You won’t believe some of the ludicrous reasons given for why girls shouldn’t be allowed to participate in sports or exercise in school: The female hymen might break during exercise so the girl wouldn’t be considered a virgin anymore. “Good girls” would never disrobe outside their own home, not even to change into gym clothes at school. If girls did disrobe in front of other girls at school, they might get turned on and have nasty thoughts that they may want to act upon. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!

All this craziness aside, women’s obesity is becoming a major health crisis here in Saudi Arabia, evident in the dramatic increases in diabetes, hypertension, depression, and other weight-related health issues. For the most part, women here lead a very sedentary lifestyle – many don’t even do any physical household chores because they have maids.

This antiquated mindset of restricting women from exercise and sports places Saudi Arabia way behind the times in promoting women’s health and well-being.


  1. TERRIBLE! I am so glad I don't live there! What would the clerics say about the women at Waikiki Beach?

  2. A Canadian ReaderDec 22, 2010, 2:12:00 AM

    Oh good grief. Misogyny is truly alive and well and emprisoning a nationful of women in Saudi Arabia.

    Thanks for the information, Susie, depressing as it is.

  3. I think women's physical activity should should be promoted there. I don't understand why a man would want his wife overweight. I mean my husband is emirati (UAE) and I moved there for 4 months and GAINED 23 POUNDS! I felt like crap it was terrible...good thing I am back in Canada and I lost that 23 plus some more so I am feeling like myself again. The lifestyle is not healthy and it was depressing not having my outlet and exercise does so much for you. When I move there again in June I am definetly joining a gym. Most women are slim and then they get married and balloon it is not good!

  4. Kudos to the amazing women in Iran who ARE playing basketball. Bravo for following your beliefs and your hearts ;)
    Jette Ferguson

  5. That's why I always point if Islamic law are really against everything that might "disturb" or "stimulate" men's eyes regarding women's body, then if Islam becomes dominant and the fundamentalists of it have the strongest grip on it, we won't be able to see the flourishing or the existence of any other cultures that are expressed in artistic expression like dancing, performing and sport. Phewwww...!!!

  6. Yikes! First, women should cover so as to not provoke lust in if a woman undresses in a gym locker room in front of a woman, that would be bad for the same reason (could provoke lust! OMG!)...we can't win, can we? I only hope that this nonsense about changing in front of the same sex is also frowned upon for the guys in the KSA too.

  7. Confining movements of little girls is the worst attack on a civilisation and i am sad it is happening in front of our own eyes. Play is a basic birth right of every child and i wonder what is wrong in this case where girls play in a girls only environment. I have gained more than 15 kgs in my 3 years in Saudi Arabia, which doesnt sound nice, how much ever i jog on my tread mill, i dont seem to lose the flab. Some outdoor activities might help, but after the crackdown on women only gyms, afraid to try a gym too. Its just pathetic to sit at home and bloat:(

  8. I think my mind would be boggled...if boggling on an inter-gender website were not forbidden.

  9. Looks like some change is necessary. Everything I read on health says exercise, exercise, exercise. In my opinion a true lady is in good shape.

  10. Hi Gigi - I bet if Muslim clerics were at Waikiki, they would be able to control their manly urges - but not so here.

    Hi CanadianReader - It's sad, isn't it? Thanks for your comment.

    Hi UmmKhaled - I have a treadmill in an empty room here and I absolutely hate using it. It's nowhere near as enjoyable as being able to play tennis or softball or whatever.

    Hi Jette - Thanks!

  11. Hi Observer - I see nothing wrong with dancing, performing, or sports. The problem is that many Islamic fundamentalists see "sex" in everything and anything, when it is not intended. Thanks.

    Hi Mel - I remember changing and shoering in front of other girls in gym class, and I NEVER had any untoward thoughts. They take "prevention" way too far in this society...

    Hi CloudNine - I totally agree. I grew up with four brothers and played with them and their friends all the time. I never had any problems as far as sexual harassment or whatever. Thanks for your comment.

    Hi Veeds - LOL!!!

    Hi djd - It's like they are against women being in good shape and being healthy here... grrrr

  12. Bad women! How dare they want to be healthy and not want to die of diabetes. How dare they try to preserve the life Allah gave them........sickening.

  13. Sounds like it's hard to be a person there --- if you're a woman...

  14. These poor girls. I'm shocked to read about this veto at all...

  15. Hi Susie,

    This has to be way beyond the realm of living as a human being. This is terrible, really. I looked at the young lady in the swimming attire and that is just crazy.

  16. I keep saying you must love your husband dearly. This is against everything we consider as basic human dignity. To make women pay for men's own weakness to the point of endangering their health is beyond obcene.

    Just stopping by to wish you a Merry Christmas dear Susie. Do not worry about stopping more often I know you are a very busy lady. My door and heart is always open to your friendship.

  17. Sports for women are considered haram by the same men who "allow" their women to cook, clean house chase after the children, and in rural areas do heavy outside work?

    I can remember back in the day when we had to wear dresses to school and there were no girls sports teams.Times have changed here in the U.S

    Sounds like KSA is starting to change some too.

  18. There are many blessing coming from you living ins in the Kingdom. It really helps women all over the work better appreciate what we have but also diagrams how much in the "dark ages" Sadi Arabia is. I am sending my love and hope for you and the ENTIRE COUNTRY. It just has to get better. Lawana

  19. Saudi Arabia is on a real roll in the way it markets itself. It is most obvious that they have no regard for the negative image that is created. One thing is more absurd than the next. Anyone who knows what the word freedom stands for must find it extremely difficult to live there. Too bad our opinions don't mount to a hill of beans. How can a culture be so blind and indifferent?

  20. hi susie, i like your blog. i would love to follow you.


  21. It is basically a health issue. At one time ordinary living demanded a lot of physical work, today it doesn't and all people, both men and women, need exercise. Sports is a good way of getting that exercise. The idea that it is immoral is just absurd.

  22. HI Susie,
    Fascinating post. When I lived in Dhahran in late 70s early 80s, no exercise clubs at all but a neighbor would jog daily on the campus of hte University of Petroleum and Mineral. She ran barefoot, hair covered, her abaya flaring open to jeans. Nothing political about it, just a girl doing what she felt like doing.

    Note that Moroccan Nawal el Moutawakii was the first Arab woman to win an Olympic gold medal--in 1984 at the gmes in California. All the Moroccans I met while I was a tourist there were so proud of her. Maybe it just takes one courageous WINNER.

    best, Jean Grant

  23. The whole thing is ridiculous... It saddens me that girls can't enjoy physical activities due to the ridiculous mentality of some men on some seriously high horses.

  24. Well, I am Muslim and I see no reason why girls should not participate in sports, especially if it is going to give them exercise and keep them physically fit....

  25. Seems this can happen only here in Saudi Arabia: women move one step forward, conservatives bring them one hundred steps backward. Play is every child's passion, what has gender got to do with it??? :(

  26. Let me be the 'other' voice and say that if someone really wants to be active, they can manage to do so.

    I live in Jeddah and go to Gold's Gym. Maybe you should go there sometimes and interview the women who come for a different point of view. There are young girls, older ladies, big and skinny ones.
    They have a tennis court, basketball court, a very nice swimming pool etc.

    You really make it seem like everything here is negative and even if something is 'neutral' you manage to turn it into a negative thing.

    Often you will also see women walking outside...on Corniche or try the Nawras park where there are many people walking for health reasons. And no, not all of them wear face veils and are totally covered...they just wear loose clothing and jogging shoes. Maybe you should go there and check it out sometimes.

    Some of my friends also go horseback riding, including their daughters. There is also plenty of swimming opportunities in the various istirahas or private pools.

    Just wanted to give a bit of a 'balanced' view!

  27. To Anon @ 3:09 AM - The point of this post is that I don't agree that women here should be denied participating in sports just because some men don't feel that it's lady-like or that it's immoral. Playing sports is much more fun than using a treadmill in an empty room at my apt. If women are involved in a sport, they are much more likely to continue with it which means their health benefits will to.
    My husband will not pay for a membership for me at a gym. I have no income. I don't think I am the only woman here in Jeddah in my same shoes. You are fortunate that you can go to a gym, but I am writing from my own personal experience.
    You infer that I turn everything here into something negative. When there are good things to write about, I do. Seems like you are choosing to ignore the nice things I have written about my experiences here - and there have been plenty. I have written about a beautiful ladies spa here and about Trio Ranch, about the Pink Ribbon Guinness Record, and about making rose water. Do you want me to go on?
    It's easy to see that women's experiences here can be very different, but I will continue to call a spade a spade from my own personal experiences.

  28. Luckily I live in a country where islam and mysoginy are not being acculturated.
    Ancient arabs buried their daughters alive, and now even when they have religions, they still use it as they want to oppressed woman.
    I will defenitely share this and will follow you :)
    Nice post :D

  29. *but I will continue to call a spade a spade from my own personal experiences. *

    Right on Susie!

    ''Sport is not lady like'' Ridiculous. Aisha rode horses and practiced archery, if she lived now she would probably have played football.
    They are probably scared of women gaining some physical strength.
    The more I read about Saudi men the more whimpy and sissy they seem to be.

  30. I haven't read the comments, but I do know there's talk of the International Olympic Committee banning SKA from future participation as women are not allowed to play.

  31. I wonder if these women have any idea how ridiculous and stupid they look in the medieval serf’s hood with their baggy, impractical “sporting” clothes?

    Quite frankly Susie, I have stopped having any sort of sympathy for Muslimas, especially Saudi women. If they really wanted their freedom they would rise up. These women seem to like to be restricted and “protected.” That way, they don’t have to get off their ample behinds. Evidently health and well-being is not anyone’s concern. Of course, when they do get ill they have no shame about using western medicine and drugs. Even the royal house of Saud comes to the west for medical treatment.

    A Gulf newspaper had an article recently about the high levels of obesity and disease in Saudi. According to the article, “Over 25 percent of deaths in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf are caused by cardiovascular disease. In fact, recent studies show that more than half of the Gulf population suffers from abnormal cholesterol levels, a quarter has high blood pressure and 15 to 25 percent have diabetes.

    Susie says: ‘ “Good girls” would never disrobe outside their own home, not even to change into gym clothes at school. If girls did disrobe in front of other girls at school, they might get turned on and have nasty thoughts that they may want to act upon. ’

    It appears that “nasty thoughts” is all that KSA is about. My theory is that they are obsessed with sex because they do not have enough work to do.

    That statement reminded me of something. During university days there were a number of heavily made-up ME women in one of my gym classes. They refused to disrobe or shower. Their caked makeup looked like it had been on for a week. You couldn’t get within 10 feet of these women because they reeked! Finally, after many students complained, the prof insisted that they change into gym clothes and shower after the class. Every one of them dropped the class.

    Cleanliness is supposed to be next to godliness, at least in some places. ;)

    Today such a request would probably initiate a law suit against the prof, who would of course be accused of “Islamophobia” and “racism.” Remember that Muslim woman who sued Disney because she wanted to wear hijab instead of the costume that she was supposed to wear being a Disney employee? Odd that she chose to work there for well over a year without hijab.

    Susie, the more I read your blog, the more I think that people in KSA are just plain crazy as well as lazy. Doesn’t the Saudi society have anything else to do but obsess about sex and “protecting” women from their lecherous men?

    Susie: ”*but I will continue to call a spade a spade from my own personal experiences. *”

    Writing about kindly shopkeepers is nice, however. . .

    Can you find anything positive to post that these people are producing to make the world a better place and their nation self-sufficient? The image of Saudi Arabia as well as that of other Islamic nations is getting worse and worse.

    I can’t understand why anyone would voluntarily live in KSA at any time for any reason. What we do for love.

    Happy New Year! I hope your wishes and dreams come true.

  32. @Miranda,
    i don't think those women look any more ridiculous that some of what passes as "sports" attire in the west. And I have seen many western women in full makeup to work out.

    Of course it's convenient sitting in your comfy free life to blame the women for being oppressed and for looking ridiculous when they try to do something about it. Anyway, I don't very much they'll miss the sympathy of a small minded "expert" such as yourself anyways.

  33. @Sandy

    I think that Miranda has a point. Those women do look ridiculous because, they are not actually covering much. Which is precisely why the mullahs object. To me, showing off the whole body while covering the hair because it supposedly emits “waves” that might make a Muslim male go nuts, is ridiculous. It is rather like the alcohol rules of certain regions in the U. S. No booze before 1 p.m. on Sundays (south) or no two drinks on the table (Mormons) are pretty ridiculous too. These are all hypocritical rules to control people while still making money. Everyone knows that all too many Muslims are all about controlling and enslaving their women. The claim that Muslim women and men have freedom and equality is so much Bull! Susie shows that constantly, by highlighting how little freedom people have in a religious theocracy. An adult woman being treated like an imbecile child who must ask permission for doing virtually anything is really outrageous. What right do Saudi men have to treat their women in such a disrespectful manner?

    Western women made it their business to free themselves from the yoke of men and many suffered mightily for it by being imprisoned, beaten, force-fed, ostracized, etc. Muslim women will have to do the same to get their freedom—if they want it that is. (Although, many in KSA claim they do not want it because then, they might have to work.) No one can do it for them. Besides, no Islamic country wants interference from the rest of the world, especially not the west, since they consider all of our women whores because they are not imprisoned in their houses, producing children by the dozen and forced to wear what men want. Don’t think so? Ask an imam sometime how he really feels about unveiled women in western dress. He might let his guard down and tell you the truth.

    Most westerners couldn’t care less whether Muslim women ever get equality or justice as long as they do not seek to impose the discriminatory practices of the subjugation of women in the free world because that is against equal treatment under the law. There are plenty of laws being made against the veil and other discriminatory Islamic practices. That will continue as long as Muslims insist on special treatment because of their faith.

  34. Sorry I still disagree. Those women by "looking ridiculous" are making it possible for women to participate in sport. They are dressing that way so that they may participate in an activity that has been discouraged for them. Good for them I say.

    You seem to forget many women themselves believe they must dress this way. But that does not mean they should accept a life of no sports and total oppression.

    I don't know why you are going on about how there is not real equality in Saudi. Who said their was? Miranda essentially said these women look ridiculous when all they are doing is attempting to push the envelope and not sit home as victims.

    And no, Saudi's do not think all our women are whores, though I am sure some do. Many do not, so don't buy into every stereotypical thing you read. And I don't need to ask an Imam to know that, and Imam's are not all Saudi men- though people with their narrow mindset have a disproportionate degree of influence over government policy. Unfortunately there isn't time, nor do I have the inclination to explain to you the history and power structure of Saudi rule. But suffice it to say it is more complicated than the average westerner seems to understand.

    Miranda and you do not need to care if Muslim women get equality or justice. But it isn't very nice to call the women who try to do more as looking "ridiculous".

  35. Are these girls Saudi Arabian? They're really pretty.

  36. David - I found these photos online so I cannot vouch for the girls' nationalities, however I can tell you that Saudi women are very beautiful.

  37. Here is a great gym. I read it has very high quality equipment!

  38. Love for God should be inherently drilled in ones heart, then all these lust & evil thoughts can easily be ignored, then sports for women & all such things will doesn't make any sense for men, everybody can happily live in this world.For example if glass of water which is half filled, one will say half empty & one says half is full, it is your way of thinking which should be changed.