Guest post: Class and gender in Saudi Arabia

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on No unaccompanied women allowed.

Clearly men are allowed to ogle.

Not really. It’s more like complete separation. When I was in Saudi, in one restaurant, I got up to go to the bathroom and started to walk the wrong way – apparently heading towards the women’s section. I was quickly blocked and herded the right way; apparently it’s a pretty serious offense if you’re a single male and go into the women’s section.

I am not in any way attempting to downplay the general misogyny on display in Saudi. The net effect is totalitarian across all genders; everyone must bend in accordance with the rules cooked up by the parasitic wankers who get to make everyone jump through hoops to acclimate them to the monarchy, and to vindicate the monarchy’s existence. Undoubtedly, women have it worse, though everyone has it bad unless they are part of the royal family, or a wealthy citizen (most of the people in Saudi are not citizens, they are merely servants allowed to exist there as arbeiters for the citizens)

I was treated with rare levels of access, including dining in a Saudi’s home and meeting his children. His wife stayed in the kitchen, behind a screen, and listened to the conversation but did not participate, though I heard a brief smatter of applause when I correctly read off the spices that were in the main course she had made (apparently this shocked some of the guys, that a man would know how to cook) One of the lines of casual questioning I followed was dating and marriage customs. It sucks for both parties; marriages are arranged by a prospective couple’s parents on both sides of the equation and neither party has much choice if there is a significant difference in financial status, etc. My overall impression is a totalitarian society that is misogynistic, yes, but also extremely classist. The main axis of oppression is class, first, then gender – which means women get the worst of it both ways since they have no class mobility at all whereas for men there are slim opportunities to get a rung up now and then, though the key path to class is hereditary in all cases. One of the comments that really rocked me back was “It’s a pretty good thing to be born a Saudi princess” followed by a description that could just as easily have fit a Kobe beef cow: a pampered life with nearly no self-determination.

I have never spent time in India, but it matches the descriptions I’ve heard of the way class hierarchy and gender hierarchy intertwine to form a complex trap that makes sure that the rich stay rich and the poor shovel the rich’s poop, forever, always. It’s not bad being a Saudi man, compared to being a Saudi woman, but pretty much the only Saudi anyone would want to be is a Saudi prince — assuming that they wanted to live a luxurious life as a complete asshole. But that’s the birthright equivalent of being born in the top tier of America’s 1% – the 1% of the 1%, and it’s more or less the same.

One thing that also horrified me about Saudi society is that women, basically, cannot work. The fellow I was working with was considered to be extremely progressive and was trying to arrange a way of having a floor in his office building that was women-only, so he could actually hire some women to work for the company, at all. In Saudi, citizens can attend university for free, so the women there are some of the world’s best educated (if they are upper class) many of them holding multiple doctorates that they cannot actually do anything with. It’s a gigantic waste in terms of human capital; the whole kingdom is.


  1. Sea Monster says

    The human resource thing interests me a lot. I first noticed it at Uni and it then at work. Loud mouth blokes wouldn’t hear a good idea if was uttered by a woman.

    If I repeated it (sorry did you just say…) they would hear it.

    I’ve mentored two successful projects at work where the winning ideas came from women. One of the projects received industry accolades.

    Again when the ideas came from women the blokes never heard them. When I debriefed the team (did anyone notice…) there were ashen faces around the table when they realised the importance of what they had ignored. The loud mouths were decent enough to apologise on that occasion.

    In the Anglophone world we’ve undergone a shift over the last few decades from calling managing people ‘Personnel’ to calling it ‘Human Resources’. The idea is we’re supposed to be extracting the value from the resource. And we need all hands on deck, in my opinion. We’re facing big challenges. We need to get at all the innovative and creative thinking we can get at. We need it to be diverse and not groupthink or echo chamber.

    The Saudis have elected to lock up so much human resource. They don’t want to extract it. And it seems its not only locked up in women’s minds.

    What your AEI types and your Gamergaters and your Dawkins and your Hoff-Summers don’t realise is that we in the West also lock up human resource by excluding women even if it is more subtle ways. Ignoring women’s input. Wearing that shirt. We’re ignoring good ideas. In management speak we’re leaving money on the table. What they don’t get is that affirmative action or assisted childcare (and the rest) is about extracting human resources. What they don’t realise is that making special allowances for women’s issues is actually congruent with their market capitalism. It produces better outcomes.


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