Monday, February 22, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

Photo Credit: Aldask,

The two week women's boycott of buying lingerie in Saudi Arabia has completed its first week, and I found it interesting that the only newpaper article I could find since the boycott began on February 13th was a negative one in the Arab News titled "'Unmanned' Lingerie Shops Face Problems," that only seemed to be making up excuses in favor of keeping things the same - which means continuing to force women here in Saudi Arabia to purchase their undies from salesMEN. A law was passed here in the desert kingdom several years ago allowing for the hiring of salesWOMEN to work in lingerie shops selling women's undergarments. However not much has happened since the "law" was enacted because it is optional and not mandatory that businesses comply. Historically, women in Saudi Arabia have been restricted from working in many arenas, like sales, because of the strict enforcement of forbidden co-mingling with the opposite sex. Therefore only a very small percentage of females here even work, and those that do are generally only found in the medical or education fields. So Saudi women are put into the uncomfortable position of being forced to purchase intimate apparel such as bras, panties, and sexy lingerie from salesMEN. Is there any other country in the world where men sell these products to women?

Okay, so what's the problem with hiring salesWOMEN for these jobs? Well, for starters, business owners claim that it would just cost too much. If only women are allowed into a shop, shop windows must prevent visibility into the shop. And then the business owners claim that they cannot have window displays which would attract customers if the windows have to be blocked. This seems like an easy enough problem to solve. Why can't the business owners have their attractive window displays and merely hang a curtain behind the display which would prevent people on the outside from seeing customers inside the store? This argument just seems like a very weak excuse that is easily rectified - and the cost of curtains and the hardware is minimal.

Business owners also complain that if they hired salesWOMEN, they would also have to hire a guard for protection to ensure that men stay out of the shop, which is an added expense as well. Which brings me to yet another flimsy excuse for not hiring salesWOMEN in lingerie shops - because of the strict segregation of the sexes here. Men and women are not allowed to mix socially in this society. I personally do not understand what all this hubbub is about - allowing both men and women into a shop at the same time? It happens everywhere in this country anyway. Both men and women shop together in grocery stores and malls. And why is it okay for women to make purchases from salesmen in stores, yet there's a big stink about men purchasing from saleswomen? What's the difference if a man purchases items from a woman, or a woman from a man? There is a certain amount of interaction either way. I just don't get this type of inconsistent reasoning.

Photo Credit: Hassan Ammar/APIntimate apparel business owners who have tried hiring salesWOMEN are also complaining that they've experienced a high turnover rate and that the saleswomen are incompetent. Rubbish! Poppycock! First of all, make it easier for women to get to work in the first place by allowing them to drive. Having to pay for a driver or a taxi unfairly cuts into a woman's salary. Train salesWOMEN to sell undergarments and just watch them flourish. If an uneducated man from Bangladesh can sell women's underwear, then don't try to tell me that a Saudi woman can't do the same thing! Any woman can sell underwear to other women WAY better than ANY man ever could simply because she WEARS these products and men have no clue! Many women in Saudi Arabia are ready, willing, and perfectly able to work. These are just imaginary roadblocks that business owners have come up with in order to keep women out of the work force here.

So to all relevant Saudi business owners, listen up: Women are uncomfortable buying underwear from strange men, plain and simple! Hell, I don't even like purchasing outer garments from men either, for that matter. Get with the program, Saudi Arabia! Stop putting women in embarassing situations like this! Do something about it now. All these lame excuses you are coming up with for why you shouldn't hire salesWOMEN are idiotic. The country is ready for this to happen. It shouldn't even be an issue. This whole nonsensical situation seems to be much ado about absolutely nothing.


  1. Would you apply? There are probably also issues about husbands "letting" their women work. What a vicious circle. Guess it would be easier to go braless. And who would know under that loose dowdy robe thing.

  2. Hi Gaelyn! If I wanted to work here, I would apply - why not? The whole situation is so absurd and gets me really riled up!!!

  3. If KSA is so worried about protecting women from sex crazed men, then wouldn't having a man handle women's underwear make him more sex crazed?

  4. Hi Angel - Not only that, but it puts a woman in a situation where the man is looking at her size and body to get her the right size. It's all so creepy! And it makes no sense to have that type of thing going on in this society!!!

  5. It is creepy! You would think the men who insist that their wives be veiled wouldn't stand for a strange man touching her undergarments. It all just seems so illogical!

  6. It is creepy! You would think the men who insist that their wives be veiled wouldn't stand for a strange man touching her undergarments. It all just seems so illogical!

  7. What an absurd and embarrassing situation.

  8. As I noted in my Veeds of Arabia blog on this subject, having a two week boycott (or "mancott") is a nice symbolic gesture but essentially toothless. I can almost hear the storeowners tut-tutting "Well now I suppose the ladies need a moment to get over their vapors and then we can proceed with business as usual."

    No, in order to make this protest of any value, you need to follow the old Arabian principle: actions follow consequences. OK I just made that up, but the point is, until store owners actually feel the pinch in their wallets, they won't do a darn thing to change.

    Now a month-long or...better yet...three-month-long mancott would really send a message.

    C'mon ladies! Don't you have enough unmentionables stored up that you could go three months without a new purchase? Or find one of the few places that do employ female clerks and load them up with riches as a reward for doing the right thing.

  9. You won't find me patronizing a lingerie shop with salesmen. I do my shopping at the lingerie shops in women only malls or the women's floor at the Kingdom Tower. One time I started to walk towards the opening of lingerie store and there was a salesman looking at me the wrong way, I turned around and never gave them my business.

  10. Hi Crystal - Logic doesn't always rule over here... especially where women are concerned.

    Hi LadyFi - Perfect words to describe this situation!

    Hi Veeds - I think a longer boycott would be more effective too. I've only been here 2 yrs, but I have never and will never buy lingerie here as long as men are the employees. I would just as soon go bra-less than have to buy my underwear from a man!

    Hi Tara - I find it extremely distasteful to place women in a position such as this. That it is even allowed in a country that disallows so many more minor contacts between men and women is totallyu mind boggling.

  11. This is absurd and totally against SA own rules!
    How stupid are those who are in power - stupid men!
    Because of men leaders there's so much misery in this world.
    Men are weak.
    That's why they've made stupid rules for women...

    How about burning all the bras like they did in sixties?

  12. You need to establish a back market run to Bahrain...have a posse of women make weekly trips with bra and panty orders...or just buy a bunch (but not enough to raise eyebrows...wondering why eyebrows woudl be raised over a suitcase full of undies..but then everything women do there raises eyebrows *sigh*)...and everyone can go longer than two weeks boycotting saudi shops.

    I agree with the commentor that said a month or more needs to pass before any lights go on. Not being able to pay a bill or unload stock is a great awareness poke.

    Good luck.

  13. In a country so rich in history, it is amazing that so much energy is expended in such an odd direction with absolutely NO CONSISTENCY! There is nothing more intimate in a sales situation then when a women purchases her personal undergarments. To have to deal with a man for this purchase is unacceptable. . . . & creepy. Lawana

  14. Actually, I think this behavior IS consistant with here. Here is all about controlling women....right down to their knickers apparently.

  15. Hey Susie...i miss ur blog...i've been working like a dog but luckily i have a break for a few days...
    Interesting post here...I just want to clarify a few things about the boycott ...the initial boycott idea started more than a year ago by my colleague, Ms. Reem Asaad, who is a lecturer at the Business and Finance department at Dar Al-Hekma college...Reem initiated her boycott after a thorough study of the situation and presented her papers to the officials in the chamber of commerce at Jeddah...there seemed to be some hope at the beginning, but the wave was too high...
    Preventing women from working as saleswomen is NOT because husbands refuse to let their wives's NOT a religious issue because women in KSA are working every where with men...a quick look at any hospital or company or clinic gives us a clear picture...
    the reason behind this resistance is the businessmen who are sly enough to make it appear as a religious issue...these men want to be in control of the lingerie market and are afraid to lose this power if women take over...they're not really concerned about the untrained women or about the incompetent women because anyone who lives in KSA knows very well that women are hard workers and more devoted than men and they might take a taxi to work or go on foot in order not to miss a day at work!
    Anyway..a solution for the ladies who live in Jeddah...there are certain places that sell French and other European lingerie stuff and they're all saleswomen...and by the way, the quality of their lingerie is far better than those in the places that have spread the word...Saudi women have already started to invest in lingerie without any man's permission ...

    Thanks Susie..hope i have clarified some points...

  16. The Montgomery Bus Boycott took over a year before changes began to be made. If the women of KSA really want change they will unite and make this Lingerie boycott work in their favor.

    I would hope that the women of KSA who want to make a change would take this opportunity to refuse to buy women's underwear from men for as long as it takes until men no longer are allowed to sell undergarments to women or at least until they are also required to hire women sales persons to sell underwear to women.

    A few weeks or months of boycott are not likely to make enough of an impact to effect change.

    In the US we have home sales which you probably have too. Women could sell lingerie at home gatherings and also have a good time visiting. Or women could go on buying safari's for their family and friends and buy at the stores that have women salespersons and then deliver or have the garments picked up. I bet women could come up with all kinds of alternate solutions if they really wanted to have the status quo change.

    And if you search around on the net you can find all kinds of pages that offer free patterns and show you how to sew your own underwear.

    It is creepy! And totally doesn't make any sense.

    Sorry, Susie, this is so long, go ahead and shorten it up if you want.

  17. It is like the Mad Tea Party over there my friend. Nothing makes sense.

  18. the way you described your husband,I honestly don't think he would let his wife work in sales where men would be in contact with her.
    You even wrote that he doesn't like you greating salesmen at shops

  19. Very powerful article Susie.It has a lot of common sense too .Thank you very much Susie .I support women across Saudi Arabia including my wife to boycott those shops until the minister wake up.

  20. ok .,.. this is all strange to me .. i live in the u.s. and i just go to the store and buy my underwear ... half the time it's a man running the checkout counter ... who cares???


  21. Hi BlogItse - Burning all the bras like in the 60s? It may come to that!!!

    Hi CoolRed - Or maybe we could have Oprah come in and do a show fitting women with the proper size and style - I saw a whole show she did on that! I agree with a longer boycott - two weeks won't have much of an impact...

    Hi Anon/Lawana & Sandy - I think what Lawana is saying is that it's inconsistent because women here are supposed to be so sheltered and protected from other men, yet they have no choice but to have to consult unrelated men about their bra & hip sizes. Controlling women here is definitely consistent though...

  22. Hi Maha - Your explanation makes much more sense than those poor excuses cited in the Arab News article. Thanks! I think lingerie house parties sounds like a great idea... in the US they sell everything from home decor to makeup to Tupperware to candles at these home parties - and it works and it's profitable.

    Hi Callie - Thanks for speaking up - a boycott until change happens is what's needed, definitely.

  23. Hey Susie- It is hypocritical. I've been to Debenhams and had a salesman hovering around me while I tried to select some undies, probably afraid that I would shoplift more than the desire to know what size I am since I had bags with me but it was still unnerving. I've been to an Evans where the two Filipino men were respectful and stayed away while I was in the lingerie section. You never know what experience you'll have. If I want a male guard while I shop then I'll bring my husband! If the businessmen of lingerie shops want to line their pockets with our money, they best listen to our protests :-)

  24. Hi Yoli - That's a great comparison!

    Hi Anon @9:18A - He's definitely changed since we moved here. In the states I worked for many years with men and it was never a problem. If I were going to work here - which I don't plan on doing - it probably wouldn't be selling lingerie...

    Hi FreeSpirit - I'm so glad you are on our side. I wish more Saudi men would see the light, like you.

    Hi Anon/Ellen - It's not at all the same thing. Many of the shops here are small and the salesmen can be very pushy and like to hover over women customers - it feels creepy and inappropriate. Maybe it's one of those things where you really have to experience it yourself...

  25. If this wasn't so sad and voyeuristic, it would almost be laughable. Little steps add up to big changes. It won't always be so. Women are too smart to be downtrodden much longer. (See Blogitse today!)

    As usual, you are a shining light.

  26. Idiocity at its best. I already told Chiara that I believe it's all in women's hands.

    I think men in KSA are hypocrites, and I am sorry but we are not just talking about buying panties, why do women wear big abayas, only to have men sizing them into "lingerie"? HUGE CONTRADICTION.

    Great post Susie.

  27. Hey Susie, nice to meet you :)

    I'm an expat Aussie living in India, and yes, men sell women's underwear there also. Ridiculous. Not as widespread and across the board as Saudi, but in the more traditional sections, yes. In modern department stores it's women, which is a relief.

    Interesting blog... :)

  28. There is also a definate racial issue here. Let me explain.

    If it was just about segregation of the sexes, why are Saudi women FORCED to spend a lot of time, often alone, with their male drivers?

    If it was just about segregation, why let men work in these types of stores?

    An underlaying reason is that there is a basic assumption that a Saudi woman would never consider doing anything "haram" with these workers because they are, for the most part, from places in Africa and the Indian sub-continent.

    So the racist assumption is not only that Saudi women are not possibly going to be attracted to such men, but from the male Saudi point of view, that these people are almost not even really men.

    There is no other way to explain why these people can evade the strict segregation between males and females.

    Ask yourself this, would these stores have employed Saudi men for these jobs, if Saudi men were willing to "lower" themselves to such jobs? If not.......why not?

    Would the average Saudi man let another Saudi man act as his driver? If not, why not? Why would Saudi families let their women be driven around by men, but not Saudi men?

    It is very clear that there is a huge racial side issue to the whole gender segregation issue.

  29. Hi Susie! I found the link to a young Saudi woman's blong on the
    web site of a newwpaper of my country, Italy. From there I found your blog.
    I was curious about how an american woman went to Saudi Arabia. I've read the
    biography of a British young woman, her mother British and her father Muslim,
    don't remember which country he was from. When his two daughters were old
    enough they were "sold" (Sold is the translation of the Italian title of
    the book) to some cousins the married them and brought them to their own
    country. It was not Saudi Arabia. In the end, one of the two daughters,
    the one that wrote the book, was able to escape with the help of a journalist
    and or her mother, while the other couldn't leave her children and remained
    there. So, with this terrible story in my mind, apparently just one of many,
    I landed on your blog.
    I went to Gulf seven years ago. At that time I had a boyfriend who was an officer
    of the Italian Navy, and for a short period (that became a very long one) he worked
    on an American base in Bahrain. I was there for three weeks, and I think it was
    something completely crazy I did. I had to study so I brought books with me, but
    actually I didn't do very much. Actually I coudn't do anything else than stay in the
    residence my boyfriend had: I didn't have a car so I couldn't go anywhere interesting,
    and no interesting places are in Bahrain except for swimming pools and shopping malls.
    So the rare times I went out were on weekends and when we got invitation for some
    party or we invited my boyfriends colleagues for dinner. In addition my English
    was very poor, so it was embarassing for me to participate to parties. And actually
    I was much younger than my boyfriend and his colleagues ans colleagues' wives.
    Sometimes we went to eat at restaurant. I still distinctly remember once, the
    first time I think, when a family came in I couldn't stop staring at those people.
    One man, maybe two, a couple of kids ans several black dressed women. Some young,
    some older, only their eyes visible.
    They were sat at the table looking at the men and the children eating. They couldn't
    because there were no curtains to protect them from the look of the other men in
    the restaurant. What shocked me so much was the big spread between rich and less
    rich. It was not unusual to see young women go out together for lunch, nothing on
    their hair (Bahrain is not conservative as Saudi Arabia, I could go with shorts
    and wear my bikini in the swimming pools with no problems), black dresses not closed
    so the short skirts were clearly visible
    together with their legs. I saw the long line of cars of men from Saudi Arabia
    that cross the Bahrain border in the weekends to go to bars and drink alcohol.
    Sometimes in bars of big hotels, with Philipine bands of women wearing barely
    a bikini.

    How is your son's life? Does he feel happy?

  30. This is so absurd, so silly, so amazingly absurd, how can anyone take Saudi Arabia seriously?

    Only because they sit on top of so much oil.

    What a silly law/regulation. It just doesn't make sense because it encourages the two sexes to mingle at the cash register.


    Will someone please, please, ask the King to change this silly, stupid, absurd law?


    ~Another anonymous.

  31. Susie when reading you I really got as angry as your are.

    But I would welcome your views on the comment made above by (name in Arabic) about the racial issue. That seems like an avenue worth exploring if you want the full picture.

  32. Wow, that would be problematic for the buyers. Thanks for the insight.

  33. I'm just having issues on the quality of the news articles in our newspapers! I feel they're very superficial and barely touch on the core of the problems.

    I do support the boycott, and I just find it ridiculous that men still sell intimate apparels to our females!

  34. Susie,
    Good luck with the boycott. This really is a Swiftian situation. But I guess if they start to apply logic to social mores in RSA, where does it all end?

    Have you thought about starting an on-line underwear shop in Saudi, owned and run by women?

  35. Susie
    I would have to agree on the racial issue that is what I believe supports the segregation issue in businesses.

    I don't hear the KSA say that they could replace all the foreign males salesman for foreign females in women's undies section. That would only allow the very Saudi males to decide Saudi women are not capable of buying their own underwear- so the men must/can/will go buy them off foreign feminine hands... then the boycott would truly turn against women in KSA: if that would become the option...don't discard it people- we hear stranger things from there.

    But money is a factor- question is how much would it take to bring these business to their knees? I am not sure women in KSA have that kind of buying power...

  36. @أبو سنان
    when was the last time you visited Saudi Arabia?
    In most of the big lingerie stores, there are young Saudi salesmen, who work as part timers, so race is not the issue here. From very reliable sources, I know that some businessmen believe that women working in such stores will hugely affect their interests. Businessmen have power over almost anything in Saudi Arabia, and doing something against their benefits might cause serious problems to those who oppose them. It's not race nor religion this time although it might appear to be so because the businessmen are shifting the focus to that area, and they have the influence and the authority to make the media cover up their nasty intentions.


  37. Oh, it seems they'll never learn. They enjoy recommending lingerie to women too much to let it go. I like the picture you have posted in this blog with the table of underwear piled in a public market. I definitely wouldn't have the guts to buy anything from there as I already have a hard enough time buying that sort of stuff at the mall with all the salesmen glaring at me to see which item I will choose.

  38. Hey Susie..I am back :)
    When I said that I don't want us all to be copies of each other, I meant "all nations"...
    anyway, I am in a hurry to respond to those who addressed me, but here is the link about the link to the topic about hijab as I promised you. Hope you find it useful.

    Be back soon :)


  39. Hey Susie..I am back :)
    When I said that I don't want us all to be copies of each other, I meant "all nations"...
    anyway, I am in a hurry to respond to those who addressed me, but here is the link about the link to the topic about hijab as I promised you. Hope you find it useful.

    Be back soon :)


  40. I don't know if i forgot to paste the here it is...

  41. To hear the story of Saudi Arabian and Somali British Muslim Girl, who's a loving follower of Susie of Arabia, and see saudi arabia through the eyes of a young girl, able to love and question, her people her beleifs, and just write about her life and interests,

  42. Imperfect said We Saudi me are hypocrites ..ooh .You tell a punch of Saudi men : You hypocrites ! and they wouldn't understand what you are saying.I think people of my country are kept away from learning and understanding the truth about the world for ages and ages especially the ladies.ladies are kept in the dark .We should be patient to bring back the light & truth to them.Thank you

  43. Susie
    This men selling female lingerie shops is as crab as this Female Shopping malls that is going on Saudi Arabia right

  44. This will never cease to amaze me. If I walked into a Victoria's Secret or a La Senza over here and found salesmen wandering around, I would immediately be moving along to a female-staffed shop (as would the majority of female shoppers). I definitely think there is ample opportunity for enterprising Saudi females to open up home lingerie parties where females can help females (as it should be...and in the privacy of home!).

  45. Ive never understood this mentality of men being the only ones to sell undergarments to women. First of all, it forces the men and women to interact, not to mention its embarassing for the woman who has to tell this complete stranger her bra or underwear size and then the man gets a mental image in his head of what the woman looks like.
    So sexist! Imagine if it was the other way around, it would never be allowed.
    I see nothing wrong with women selling other women undergarments, if anything thats how it should be. I was in morocco over the summer and its the same there. Sleezy men selling undergarments to women. So what happens is the husband is forced to go and buy the undergarments for his wife, but most times hes busy so they wife has to go and buy it herself.

  46. In India there's no distinction. Whoever has the job sells undergarments. Haven't noticed any hanky panky by the men yet. They go about it in a clinical fashion!

  47. interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

    تاجير السيارات السعودية

  48. power prash
    "Be carefull..the ones that make you smile are the same ones that can shatter your heart."