Maureen Dowd: ‘A Girl’s Guide to Saudi Arabia’

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  07.07.10 | 1:41 PM ET

In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, the longtime New York Times columnist heads to Saudi Arabia to explore the country’s slowly growing tourism scene from a woman’s perspective. The story’s not online, but this VF Daily preview described it as “one part travel romp and one part history lesson—with a healthy dash of moxie thrown in.”

It’s already stirring up criticism—the comments on the preview are uniformly negative, questioning everything from the story’s tone to its accuracy regarding legal restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia. Dowd spoke to NPR about the experience earlier this week. A slideshow from the trip is also available online.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

4 Comments for Maureen Dowd: ‘A Girl’s Guide to Saudi Arabia’

Nicole Brun-Mercer 07.09.10 | 6:27 AM ET

I personally don’t see the point to a “guide” written by someone who goes to a country for only ten days and with the intention of stirring up controversy, to see what she can get away with. It’s like trying to see what you can sneak through security at the airport. Sure, it is an exhilarating challenge, but what do you get out of it? It is much more interesting, in my experience, to “go native” and see what YOU learn, not what you “teach” others by being dogmatic.

Karin Maree 07.09.10 | 11:05 AM ET

As a journalist who has also travelled to Saudi Arabia, I am very disappointed by Maureen Dowd’s patronising tone in this interview. It is all too easy to go to Saudi Arabia and criticise. It is more difficult to come away with a real understanding of the country’s complex social fabric and the different forces that are at work there. So while King Abdullah is indeed pro-women, he faces opposition from more conserative elements within Saudi society. This means that any change to the status of women in the country is likely to be incremental.

The kingdom does want to grow its tourism industry. However, it is not seeking to do so on the same scale as Egypt or Dubai, for example. As far as I am aware, to visit the kingdom as a tourist, you must go as part of a group of at least four people with a Saudi tour operator. My own experience of Saudi Arabia was truly eye-opening and I would not hesitate to recommend it as a destination for the intelligent traveller.

I must also point out that I have never been asked to wear a abaya inside a hotel. In Jeddah, which is the most liberal city in the kingdom, women of all nationalities walk around shopping malls with their heads uncovered. Men and women sit together in restaurants and women are often seen smoking shishas (water pipes) in public.

Finally, Ms Dowd likens Madain Saleh to Petra. In fact , both were built by the same civilsation - the Nabateans - who made Madain Saleh their southern capital.

Dubai Hotels 07.14.10 | 7:31 AM ET

Enjoyed your Ksa Guise and would love to see a similar Girls guide for the city if Dubai

Martin 07.31.10 | 11:29 PM ET

I thought Maureen Dowd’s article was hillarious.  I laughed all the way through.  I guess it will take at least a few centuries for Saudi Arabia to change its Dark Ages mentalities and become a modern nation.  Countries can modernize only when men and women are citizens of equal status and can not be any other way, period!

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