I came across this article from The New York Times whilst skimming New York Magazine’s The Cut blog today. It was only a few days ago that women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to work in retail at lingerie stores – and only women. Before then, a woman working in retail was entirely banned, and women had to buy undergarments from men. I suppose I take for granted the ability to stroll into Victoria’s Secret and browse underwear with compliments or inappropriate phrases printed right on it, feeling pretty comfortable as I walk around the store. I never imagined having to buy undergarments in front of men, especially in a community that is as conservative as Saudi Arabia. Most women, as the article reported, would leave the country to purchase undergarments.
For many women, undergarments are not only a necessity, but also a fun way to express her self, privately. What would you do if you had to leave the country just to buy something special? Is there a sense of embarrassment? An invasion of privacy? An unwanted sense of intimacy? Despite that women can only sell to women, in female-specific retail stores, this is a step towards political and gender liberation. The Times reports that “more than 28,000 women applied for the jobs.”
Sexuality and gender are often objectified in the U.S., I think people often forget how it may be viewed in other societies. In Saudi Arabia women are forbidden from working in public as well as driving. It’s good to see, what The Cut calls, “baby steps.”