[BOOK] GIRLS OF RIYADH
This is the kind of novel that you don’t buy. Rather, this is the kind of novel that someone passes to you after a conversation about feminism or global politics. An Australian girl who was passing through Maui handed me the copy I’m currently reading. Girls of Riyadh is promoted as Saudi Arabia’s answer to Sex and the City. I disagree, partially due to my hatred of Sex and the City, and partially because of this novel’s inherent and profound sociopolitical subtexts. Sex and the City makes a statement; I’ll give it that. But Girls of Riyadh, in content and by the very fact that it exists, embraces the most egregious of Saudi society’s taboos. The narrative unfolds through a series of anonymous e-mails, which chronicle the love and sex lives of four upper-class Saudi women, all college-aged. They are often bold in their defiance of social constraints, going as far as cross-dressing in order to go out unchaperoned and taking down cell phone numbers of men they don’t know. The Saudi government banned this book upon its 2005 release, but its English language version is now available nationwide in the kingdom. I imagine I’ll be passing this one on to another young lady with whom I cross paths in the future.
This anonymous true account of life as a female Saudi royal is less Sex and the City than Cool Hand Luke with palaces, jumbo jets and no car-washing scene. The first of a trilogy, the book follows the story of “Sultana,” the Saudi princess who dictated the events of her life to journalist Jean Sasson. Aside from a few small victories and despite the most conspicuously lavish of lifestyles, it’s not pretty. Upon reaching adolescence, Sultana is forced into a life of servitude and becomes “a slave to the whims of her male masters.” While Sultana fights to escape her “gilded cage,” she sees her female friends and relatives fall victim to abusive husbands, brothers and fathers. The father of one teenaged girl, for example, drowns his daughter in his own pool upon finding out that she went out unescorted and made out with a guy. Some women are forced to marry abusive men three times their age, while others find themselves with “liberal” husbands who respect their wives’ “autonomy.” Whatever the case, this is obviously the kind of book that should make us appreciate the freedoms we do have despite the fact that the U.S. remains a patriarchy.
[BAND] The AccoLade
The above-mentioned titles demonstrate the countless restraints Saudi society has placed on women, but there is one thing that they are free to do: rock. All-girl Jeddah-based band The AccoLade rocks hard despite the fact that none of its members can legally drive a car. According to a November 2008 New York Times article, the band has to rehearse in secret and cannot play public shows. They’re heavily pierced, but have to cover their faces with scarves when they go out. They wear their abayas (the long, flowing robes Saudi women are required to wear outside the house and when men are present) open to expose the t-shirts and jeans they’re wearing underneath. Their MySpace page does not feature any photos of the band, and only one of their songs, “Pinnochio,” is posted. The tune is heavy and dark with deep female lead vocals. The lyrics are sung in English. While The AccoLade defies the brutal patriarchy that aims to confine women, they are also inadvertently helping to dispel myths about Saudi society by way of their fame. For one, they reveal their identities, as, contrary to what one might think, it is not illegal for women to play music within the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Check them out at myspace.com/accoladeofficial. MTW