This Ramadan marked an era of nouveau-feminism in the Middle East, when Maria launched on the airwaves of Egyptian television. As the Mubarak era ended, a group of veiled women started Maria to claim their right to freedom of, uh, expression. Veiled women, dressed in the traditional niqab, run the station.
The station features only veiled broadcasters and pundits. If they can’t find a veiled pundit, they’ll just make her wear a veil. If she refuses, they’ll blur out her face, because they believe, that, well, niqab is a line in Islam that shouldn’t be crossed. (And that radio is too circa 1930 to really make a point.)
This mostly left me with a few unanswered questions: If they all look the same, how do they keep track of who is who? Do they use nametags as identification methods? How difficult is it to play hooky?
Over the weekend, another announcement interrupted my questions and echoed another layer of this nouveau-feminism. RT reported that Saudi Arabia announced plans for a women-only city. It was almost as if Saudi Arabia was in a dick-measuring competition with Egypt to see which country can have more outrageous lady-friendly movements. It’s kind of like when you tell your friend you were pickpocketed on the bus only to have them respond, “Well! I just got mugged at gunpoint at the ATM.”
The Saudi government says this will bring 5,000 new jobs while still complying with the strict Sharia law that only allows 15 percent of the workforce to be female. Planned construction for the women-only city, which will be the first of many, is set around The Eastern Province city of Hofuf.
This news is currently ricocheting around the internet with outrage. An op-ed appeared yesterday in The Guardian, likening the project to “separate but equal” racial segregation in the US before the Civil Rights Movement. I get it. Saudi Arabia is hardly any woman’s Mecca. It’s the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. DRIVING! Sarah Attar, the first Olympian out of the country, almost didn’t compete over an argument of which headdress she should wear.
This gives me the same feeling I have after I’ve slept in until noon—so satisfied but self-loathing at wasting half the day. If Saudi businesswomen started the project, because they wanted to increase the percentage of female graduates in the workforce, then shouldn’t we support them?
Before we pitchfork the Saudis, here are examples of no-penis-allowed institutions that we embrace on a day-to-day basis:
Women-Only Gyms: Although, a random creeper always manages to sneak into your neighborhood Curves and steal the thigh master from your grandmother, most of the time, women embrace these once-Arby’s spaces as a place to socialize, mingle and boost their heart rates. Why don’t you pick on the smell of crusty plastic and ab-curls? Who’s to say that the Saudis aren’t taking the Lucile Roberts’ or Curves’ business model to a larger scale?
Women-Only Colleges: Besides never having to wake up in the stench of beer and piss-soaked floors, collecting your clothes and your dignity after a night of questionable life choices, there are many other perks to getting a women-only education. I’m just not sure what they are. Something about a relaxed learning environment, running around without bras, and freely reciting The Vagina Monologues. I’ll get back to you on that.
Women-Only Vacation Packages: Go ahead, take a cheese and wine tour. Listen to every album Celine Dion ever put out. You’ve got the world at your hand, baby, and you’re just getting started. Put on your muumuu and run through the wheat fields. No one will judge you here.
Don't even get me started on hair salons and other gossip breeding grounds. Would I buy a membership to a women-only gym, attend a women-only college or take a women-only vacation? Maybe, no, and definitely not. But, that’s my choice. If Saudi businesswomen think this will help with the 78 percent unemployment rate of their female graduates, then who are we to say it won’t work? If the goal is positive then why are we all so negative?