June 6, 2007

The Kingdom Made Her Slouch

Megan Stack writes a fascinating account of her experiences as a woman in Saudi Arabia, stationed there for the last four years by the Los Angeles Times. If anyone wonders what being a woman in Saudi Arabia means, Stack gives a firsthand account of the demeaning and oppressive existence that all women -- Western or otherwise -- endure in the Kingdom. For Stack, the abaya that Saudi law required her to wear not only symbolized her oppression, but actually seeped into her psyche:

As I roamed in and out of Saudi Arabia, the abaya, or Islamic robe, eventually became the symbol of those shifting rules.

I always delayed until the last minute. When I felt the plane dip low over Riyadh, I'd reach furtively into my computer bag to fish out the black robe and scarf crumpled inside. I'd slip my arms into the sleeves without standing up. If I caught the eyes of any male passengers as my fingers fumbled with the snaps, I'd glare. Was I imagining the smug looks on their faces?

The sleeves, the length of it, always felt foreign, at first. But it never took long to work its alchemy, to plant the insecurity. After a day or two, the notion of appearing without the robe felt shocking. Stripped of the layers of curve-smothering cloth, my ordinary clothes suddenly felt revealing, even garish. To me, the abaya implied that a woman's body is a distraction and an interruption, a thing that must be hidden from view lest it haul the society into vice and disarray. The simple act of wearing the robe implanted that self-consciousness by osmosis.

In the depths of the robe, my posture suffered. I'd draw myself in and bumble along like those adolescent girls who seem to think they can roll their breasts back into their bodies if they curve their spines far enough. That was why, it hit me one day, I always seemed to come back from Saudi Arabia with a backache.

The kingdom made me slouch.

Like most people, I find the experiences of Westerners in foreign lands intriguing, and not just for the supposedly odd behaviors of the natives. It's interesting to see how Westerners bring their own assumptions and values to their travels, and how they mesh or clash with reality. After all, one hardly can have studied Saudi Arabia at all without knowing of the impulse to cover and hide women that the Saudis have, but knowing it is far from living it, as Stack discovered.

Just the act of covering herself created a cognitive dissonance for Stack. She had little awareness of exposing herself before traveling to Saudi Arabia, but when she was able to finally shed the abaya in public -- on the plane out of Riyadh -- she felt strangely immodest. Wearing the abaya on some level made her buy into the male fear of the feminine in Saudi Arabia, which might explain why so many Saudi women see nothing wrong with the tribal customs of total submission to males. They've lived an entire life under the abaya.

One passage struck me in particular as revealing. Stack met a couple who had traveled abroad and educated themselves in the West. When they lived outside of Saudi Arabia, the wife was independent, outgoing, and able to take care of herself. When they moved to Saudi Arabia, she could not do any of those things -- and the husband realized that she had become a dependent, an added burden. The system traps everyone, but no one seems ready to change it, and certainly not the religious police that Stack narrowly avoided on one occasion.

This also points out the dangers of moral relativism and multiculturalism. Obviously Stack objects strongly to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, and rightly so. However, a multiculturalist would probably criticize that objection as a result of Western projection -- especially since it was Stack who went to Saudi Arabia. She could find herself accused of American cultural imperialism, and in fact had that experience when talking with some of the women. Yet, Stack was expected to abide by that culture while in Saudi Arabia, while some Muslims who emigrate to the West demand that we respect that culture when they arrive here, arguing for multiculturalism that doesn't exist in their homelands (and that's not limited to Muslims, either).

Be sure to read the entire article. I doubt the Los Angeles Times will want to send another woman to Saudi Arabia for a lengthy assignment after reading this -- but would that conflict with our own cultural norms and legal requirements?


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» An American Women in the Kingdom from Athena's Wisdom
Captain’s Quarters has a great post on an LA Times editorial from a female journalist who spent nearly four years reporting from Saudi Arabia. Be sure to check out “The Kingdom Made Her Slouch.” Rebellion and sadness pour out of [Read More]


» Female like me from Public Secrets: from the files of the Irishspy
Megan Stack of the LA Times spent nearly four years as a reporter in Saudi Arabia. In that time, whenever in public, her appearance and conduct was governed by the medieval, misogynistic sharia code of Islamic law. Needless to say, [Read More]

Comments (32)

Posted by Mikey NTH | June 6, 2007 9:32 AM

"They've lived an entire life under the abaya."

It's all about how a fish doesn't think about water, or an Islamist doesn't think about how oppressive all this is. And it also why our best weapon is there greatest fear - throwing as much of our culture at them so that people there begin to ask questions.

Posted by Sue | June 6, 2007 9:33 AM

This is a subject that has mystified me but it fits in with a theory that's I've thought of, certainly not the first to do that, that something awful happened in the sex and Muslims. Nay, many people on the planet, but especially the Muslims under Islam. Dig deep enough into the culture of obedience or violence and soon enough it all goes back to the lack of sexual freedom for the human. That may not always be a good thing, Paris Hilton comes to mind, but, it is a necessary human function. If, as it appears, Islam has forced it so deep so that it cannot find expression in compassion, love, kindness and hope, then the hope of 72 virgins makes sense to me for the males and submission for the women.

Posted by Jim C | June 6, 2007 9:44 AM

Sexual freedom is all well and good, but don't you think that we've carried it to extremes here in America? PLEASE understand, I'm not defending the oppresive and horrible treatment of women by islamists. However, I do believe that sexual freedom also comes with cultural responsibility.

Jim C

Posted by lexhamfox | June 6, 2007 9:45 AM

I disagree with the notion that multiculturalism forces us to accept everything in a certain culture. The United States under Kennedy wanted access to Saudi oil reserves but insisted that they abandon legal slavery as part fo the deal. Chinese culture is sophisticated and interesting but enough of a fuss was made over footbinding that it was driven out of practice. The American Jim Crow culture of racial segregation in the South was not accepted and ridiculed by Europeans when US troops were stationed there during WW2 and after a long struggle was abandeoned as a cultural item in the American South. I enjoy Indian food, music, and culture but I think their caste system is evil and I have no problem voicing that opinion to adherents of that system in India or elsewhere.

Multiculturalism is not a problem or a zero sum formula. As Ed himself points out, the real problem in many of these places is the absence of multiculturalism.

Posted by syn | June 6, 2007 10:00 AM

Meanwhile in Amhearst Mass the educators offer a night of Saudi lifestyle by separating little boys from little girls, and having little girls romantise how lovely it is to be covered from head to toe.

Separation of church and state in America is being to mean something along the lines of what Hilter basically said ... Christians are getting in the way of getting rid of the Jews so let's get rid of the Christians by embracing the Jihadists.

Posted by Nomennovum | June 6, 2007 10:01 AM

"Stack who went to Saudi Arabia. She could find herself accused of American cultural imperialism, and in fact had that experience when talking with some of the women. Yet, Stack was expected to abide by that culture while in Saudi Arabia, while some Muslims who emigrate to the West demand that we respect that culture when they arrive here ...."

Multiculturalism has always been a one-way street.

Lexhamfox, you understanding of multiculturalism is rather naive. You appear to be confusing multiculuralism with "enlightenment" when you say, "[T]he real problem in many of these places is the absence of multiculturalism." Nor is multiculturalism the same thing (or a version of) cultural assimilation or the "melting pot."

Remember, multiculturalism is entirely a Western construct. No other society in the history of the world has had such a view of society. Indeed, to adhere to multiculturalism in its purest form is cultural suicide.

Posted by David M | June 6, 2007 10:08 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/06/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by LarryD | June 6, 2007 10:16 AM

Lexhamfox is also confusing what multiculturalism is claimed to be, and what it is in practice.

In practice, it is always "no one is allowed to defend Western Civ. even on it's home grounds" . Another way of saying it is "All cultures are equal, except for Western Civ, which is inferior and doesn't deserve to exist."

Even the assertion that all cultures are equal, is challengeable.

Posted by thedude | June 6, 2007 10:26 AM

I've found it interesting that the same feminist dogma that states that woman who supported the cultural norms of the 50's were convinced by a corrupt society to accept their own slavery does not apply the same standard to radical Islam. Instead they seem to largely support the subjegation of women under the guise of "the women don't see it as wrong".

Whatever happened to lifting the veils of an oppressive culture. Oh, that's right, the disappeared in the 2000 election.

Posted by calsh | June 6, 2007 10:31 AM

I have spent quite a bit of time in the ME, first in Iran in 1976, then SA then Qatar. Over a long period I have noticed that what was once a secularized Iran is now ultra-conservative. When I used to fly into SA or Qatar all of the native women were in western clothes and waited to the last minute to throw on the abaya, they did so because they had to. Now you see the Abaya on the streets of Western Europe, how strange to import a repressive and regressive culture into a progressive liberal Western culture without speaking out against it.

Posted by vet66 | June 6, 2007 11:00 AM

I wonder how the women under the abaya feel about the 72 brown-eyed virgins awaiting their husbands and sons who die for Allah?

The hypocrisy of these males who fly to a Moroccan pleasure palace and leave their wives confined at home is pathetic. Apparently it is okay to fool around with an apostate, infidel, or non-believer as long as it is conducted outside the short-sighted view of Allah and the local mosque.

Take away the woman's dignity and replace it with shame is an incredible waste of female talent and societal contribution.

Posted by lexhamfox | June 6, 2007 11:00 AM

Larry, Multiculturalism does not preclude defense of Western values or civilization. Nommenuvum, you need to decide if multiculturalism is anti-western or a component of modern western culture. I do not see it as anti-Western at all. Are you suggesting that monoculturalism is more American? Look up the definition... it is pretty clear.

Multiculturalism does not force us to tolerate everything in any given culture which was my original point.

Posted by bilbo | June 6, 2007 11:15 AM

"male fear of the feminine in Saudi Arabia"

Nice shaming language.

The Saudis know that you must control your women or you end up with shit culture like the USA.

Take a look at the slut culture of America and how American culture is absolutely the worst shit culture in the world. Slut feminism is running rampant. Study the HPV rates for college age kids these days. Take a look at what's on TV.

Seriously, continue catering to the feminists and to women.

America would do well to remove women's right to vote. Of course, we know that's impossible. We'll simply wait for the collapse, rebuild, and make sure women don't have the right to vote.

If you think American Women don't play any significant role in the destruction of this cuntry, you're sadly mistaken.

Get me out of Femerica!

”Woman is a violent and uncontrolled animal, and it is useless to let go the reins and then expect her not to kick over the traces. You must keep her on a tight rein . . . Women want total freedom or rather - to call things by their names - total licence. If you allow them to achieve complete equality with men, do you think they will be easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters . . .” — Cato the Elder 234-149 B.C. quoted in Livy’s ‘History of Rome’.

Posted by NahnCee | June 6, 2007 11:34 AM

Bilbo - thank you so much for confirming finally and totally that not only are you an idiot, but you are also a jerk. Saves me ever having to read or try to understand any of your posts ever again.

If you don't like feminism and America, there's a perfect solution for souls such as yours - hie your bearded little body off to Saudi Arabia. You'll simply *love* it there!

Posted by CatoRenasci | June 6, 2007 11:38 AM

bilbo.... the mistake was letting women wear shoes, wasn't it... if you don't keep them barefoot, they can run away, and then you can't keep them pregnant. And, if you can't keep them pregnant and cooking and cleaning up after you and a big brood o' brats, they'll want to learn to read and write. The road to Sodom and Gomorrah can't be far behind - how can you keep 'em down on the farm, after they've heard about Paree? Can a life as Jezebel be far behind? No, siree! All for giving women shoes.....

Posted by Jerry | June 6, 2007 11:46 AM


I think you are confusing the terms multicultural and multiethnic.

Multiculturalism is a multitude of groups all thinking the same thing (Socialism)

Multiethnic refers to one national culture with each ethnic group maintaining some links to their cultural past. (Pluralism)

Posted by lexhamfox | June 6, 2007 12:31 PM

Jerry. I think you are making things up as you go. Look up the definition of Multiculturalism.

Posted by Okonkolo | June 6, 2007 12:49 PM

A great article, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Bilbo, was the spelling of the word "cuntry" a knuckle-dragging slur, a Freudian slip, or a typo? I've never really heard an American rant that America was so awful because of its women (and the way women are, well, men couldn't possibly have any influence in that, could they?). At any rate, have a nice 19th-century day.

Posted by Nomennovum | June 6, 2007 1:04 PM

"Nommenuvum, you need to decide if multiculturalism is anti-western or a component of modern western culture." - Lexhamfox

It is both. It is a Western invention. It is imposed on the West by Westerners. The non-West simply borrows it and uses it as a convenient tool with which to beat the West. Although it is ostensibly neutral ("all cultures are equally valid"), it is in pratice used as a means to promote non-Western cultures to the detriment of Western cultures. It celebrates, for example, native American "naturism" over Western technology-based society; Eastern mysticism (including Islam) over Western religious thought (I include my daughters' Catholic schooling in this); stone-age cultural backwardness and collectivsim over Western science and commerce. In general, it decries non-Western victimization by the West.

Multiculuralism is a form of collective self-abnegation and cultural suicide.

Posted by Jerry | June 6, 2007 1:04 PM


If you want to get technical, I am merely deconstructing multiculturalism based upon its origins in Post-Modern thought.

Multiculuralism is a product of the Paul De Man intellectual tradition, i.e, it is derived from Fascism.

Posted by firedup | June 6, 2007 1:06 PM

To bilbo:

Re "We'll simply wait for the collapse, rebuild, and make sure women don't have the right to vote."

There are other countries ready-made for you, so get your butt out of the U.S.A. It makes me laugh that a nerdy keyboard coward like you imagines denying American women the right to vote... but, it's a little bit scary too.....

I think I've seen you post at FR.

Posted by Nomennovum | June 6, 2007 1:14 PM


I don't think bilbo is serious. If he is, his writing style clearly indicates he is not American. Besides, isn't a bilbo just of tiny, little, undersized sex toy?

Posted by NoDonkey | June 6, 2007 1:19 PM

After experiencing 6 months in Saudi Arabia, I believe all Saudis should wear the sack. Makes it easier to identify and thus avoid them.

True story - during the Gulf War, two Saudi religious police set upon a large breasted, "dark green" Marine who was moving cargo in her uniform t-shirt.

Our Marine hero beat the living crap out of the two scrawny Saudis. Said when she saw them coming at her with the little whips they have, she was afraid that she'd never see her family again. So she did what she had to do.

She was sent straight back to the states soon after, but I'm sure once she got back, she received accolades from her superiors. We'd all completely had it with the treatment we had while over in the most god-foresaken, ugly country that we'd ever seen or experienced.

There's a reason those people are so miserable and why their religion is a death cult - they have nothing enjoyable in their lives.

Posted by firedup | June 6, 2007 1:28 PM

To Novennovum:

Most likely, 'bilbo' and its/his bilge doesn't originate in the good ol' U.S. of A. (but consider that slight possibility...)

Anyway, it wants out of here and that is good.

Posted by docjim505 | June 6, 2007 5:29 PM

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By "patriotism" I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseperable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality. [emphasis original]

George Orwell
"Notes on Nationalism"

Substitute "islamist" for nationalist and I think we can see the point.

As to the argument about what "multiculturalism" actually means, I'd say that many people on the right (including me) and even the few rational people on the left recognize "multiculturalism" in the same way as LarryD:

... [I]t is always "no one is allowed to defend Western Civ. even on it's home grounds" . Another way of saying it is "All cultures are equal, except for Western Civ, which is inferior and doesn't deserve to exist."

To claim that multiculturalism is something neutral and benign is, in my opinion, like claiming that the KKK is merely an organization of people who like to celebrate white, Anglo-Saxon culture.

Personally, I like the multiculturalist attitude expressed by Gen. Sir Charles James Napier when he was the British CinC in India a couple of centuries ago. When told that it was the custom of Indians to burn widows on their husbands' funeral pyres (suttee), Napier is quoted as saying:

You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours. (1)


(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_James_Napier#_note-quote

Posted by lexhamfox | June 6, 2007 6:11 PM

Jerry, I think most people would agree that fascism is much closer to monoculturalism/nationalism rather than multiculturalism.

Nomonnovum, Multiculturalism is imposed? I appreciate the irony of muslims insisting that we respect their religion and culture here in the US while most Islamic nations reject multiculturalism but we are a nation that prides itself on religious freedom so I'm not sure what response you are hoping to see. Islam itself is not a an 'eastern mystic religion' although one of it's sects, sufism is mystic. Catholicism itself has a number of mystic traditions. Islam is a levantine religion and part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Multiculturalism, if anything, avoids the subjectivity and normative tendencies you imply it has.

Docjim, I'm a big fan of Western culture and don't see the best aspects of western culture as being incompatible with multiculturalism. I think western culture is the best in many ways but I also like the framework that multiculturalism offers for coexistance, freedom, and the rule of law. Multiculturalism is not anti-western at all.
Napier was a pretty amazing man. If you are interested in him and other men of his ilk there is an excellent book published by Norton called 'Queen Victoria's Little Wars' by Farwell. It's a really fun read and well researched without getting bogged down in details.

Posted by docjim505 | June 6, 2007 7:33 PM


Thanks for the tip. I'll have to look into "Little Wars".

If by "multiculturalism" you mean (as you seem to) simply respecting other peoples' beliefs and customs, then I agree with you. I love America and being an American, but I realized a few years ago that - incredibly - people from other countries might love their native land as much as I love mine. That's cool. I also recognize that other countries and cultures have some admirable traits and characteristics, while the United States and American culture have some traits and characteristics that aren't so admirable (Paris Hilton. 'nuff said!).

What sticks in my craw, however, is the rabid "multiculturalist" who sees absolutely nothing good about Western culture in general and America in particular. You know the kind: you talk about George Washington and they respond with an indignant, "But he owned SLAVES!" You talk about the Constitution and they rant about exploitation, or the Indians, or slavery, or whatever else bothers them. To the extent that I could force myself to read it, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" is a perfect example. After reading the first chapter, I felt like asking in exasperation, "Haven't we ever done ANYTHING right or decent???"

Again, let me cite Orwell:

In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion -- that is , the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware -- will not allow him to do so. Most of the people surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack -- all the overthrown idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not recognized for what they are they can be worshipped with a good conscience. Transferred nationalism, like the use of scapegoats, is a way of attaining salvation without altering one's conduct.

George Orwell
"Notes on Nationalism"

Simple replace "God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack " with their American equivalents and I think that this sums up the real motives and aims of "multiculturalists": they champion other cultures not because they really like or even truly understand them, but simply because they loathe their own.

Posted by lexhamfox | June 6, 2007 8:57 PM

Doc... I think what you might be referring to is someone who is anti-american rather than a multiculturalist... if you are a multiculturalist you would need to show the same respect for American culture as you would for any other... right?? I know what you are getting at but I think the attacks on 'multiculturalism' itself are misplaced. Americans are products of multiculturalism... we no longer have laws which are predisposed to support one culture at the cost of others. That's what we all love about America (I would hope). As I mentioned earlier... multiculturalism does not preclude being critical of other cultures. There really can't be such a thing as a rabid multiculturalist and we should not allow them to wear the cloak of 'multiculturalist' if they are saying that nothing good has come from the West or America... that would stress anyone. Pick apart their own argument if they get like that and use their ideals to do it. Then watch them grind to a halt or change the topic.

Posted by Jerry | June 6, 2007 10:11 PM


Mussolini, the inventor of Fascism, would strongly disagree with you. Mussolini, unlike say Hitler didn't believe in a Master Race. He believed in a Romanized world where the new Roman's, i.e, him, would rule over the Mediterranean world and leave the constituent cultures intact. He was the consummate multiculturist. Since Fascism was Il Duce’s creation I will take his view of what it is over yours.

Mussolini, unlike Hitler, Lenin or Stalin, was not a mere thug. He was a highly educated one. He was actually capable of writing serious political theory and whether it turns you on or not, he is worth reading. The term Fascism was “Stalinized” after Hitler came to power. Before 1933 the Bolsheviks treated Mussolini’s political ideas as merely a nationalist deviation from proper socialism. They had no other problems with him. Why do you think Stalin had no problem with making a separate peace with Italy in 1943? Fascism became the enemy only after Hitler came to power with a competing view of world domination to communism.

If you want to know the origins of multiculturalism I suggest you read "Signs of the Times, Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man” by David Lehman. It traces the origin of Post-Modernism from Sorel, Mussolini, Heidegger and modern American academia and details de Man’s role in the rehabilitation of Hitler’s unrepentant Minister of Education Martin Heidegger. The scandal that caused “The Fall” was the unmasking of de Man as a member of the Belgian Nazi party in the Second World War. A graduate student doing his dissertation on de Man discovered a series of virulently anti-Semitic articles published in a Nazi controlled Belgian newspaper. Paul de Man only quit the paper when another writer was murdered by the underground. After the war the Belgian government decided that de Man was too small a fish to prosecute. Like all good Nazis he emmigrated to South America after the war and after covering up his past came to the United States and eventually becoming he head of the Yale Comparative Literature department and the most influence figure in the humanities in the United States. Edward Said was his most important student.

Posted by Dale Michaud | June 7, 2007 3:47 AM

At one time being liberal meant you were against fascists. Today, it appears liberals are in leage with them.

Posted by docjim505 | June 7, 2007 5:57 AM


I think we're arguing past each other. I'd say that we both agree in the main regarding the general propriety of respecting (or at least tolerating) other cultures, and not trying to foist one culture on people who don't want it. I'll stipulate that your definition of "multiculturalism" is correct in a narrow, "dictionary" sense.

I do stand by my assertion, however, about people in the West for whom "multiculturalism" really does mean "anti-Westernism" and, generally, "anti-Americanism". My guess is that the same people who profess admiration and respect for "Muslim" culture (which, of course, varies just as does "Christian" culture) or "Middle Eastern" culture or what have you, would have no trouble sneering at "American culture".

I wonder if the multiculturalists who make schoolchildren dress and behave like people from other countries in the name of "multiculturalism" would for ONE INSTANT also make them wear jeans and a John Deere cap, attend a Southern Baptist church service, watch NASCAR, and practice shooting deer, all of which are common pasttimes in MY local culture.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Posted by Asmodai | June 7, 2007 6:01 AM

Lex, I believe doc is speaking of the self hating "multiculturalists" like Micheal Moore and Rosie O'Donnel.
Doc, The Union Jack is the American Representative. It is an all blue flag with 50 stars representing our beloved 50 states. American Warships fly this when they are in port.