A Western Woman in Saudi Arabia: ‘The Rules Are Different Here’
Travel Blog • Julia Ross • 06.06.07 | 4:12 PM ET
As a woman, I relish the freedom of traveling alone but admit there are times and places where gender matters. Just last week, on my first trip to Vietnam, I found myself fending off aggressive touts and motorcycle taxis on every street corner in Hanoi while male tourists walked by unnoticed. An annoyance, but nothing on par with Los Angeles Times reporter Megan Stack’s experiences in Saudi Arabia. In a riveting story, Stack recounts, in very personal terms, the rising anger she felt at being treated as a “lesser being” during four years of covering the kingdom as the paper’s Cairo bureau chief.
She’s told she has to sit in the roped off “family section” at Starbucks and struggles to evade the religious police while interviewing a male government official. But it’s having to wear traditional Islamic dress that stirs her resentment most.
“By the time I boarded the plane, I was in a temper. I yanked at the clasps, shrugged off the abaya like a rejected embrace. I crumpled it up and tossed it childishly into the airplane seat,” she writes. “Then I was just standing there, feeling stripped in my jeans and blouse. My limbs felt light, and modesty flashed through me. I was aware of the skin of my wrists and forearms, the triangle of naked neck. I scanned the eyes behind me, looking for a challenge. But none came. The Saudi passengers had watched my tantrum impassively.”Alan Light via Flickr, (Creative Commons).