Monday, October 1, 2012

Where are the women?

This article delighted me (being the twisted apologist that I am): it seems that IKEA has made two different versions of their catalogs, and not just differences in the language of the text. The version of the catalogue made for Saudi Arabia is completely devoid of women!

We don't know the motivations of IKEA behind the literal erasure of women from their catalogues. Maybe they were told to do so, maybe they thought of this as a pre-emptive strike, or maybe they thought it would be 'culturally-sensitive'. In any case, we can definitely enjoy the results and imagine what kind of society these photoshopped pictures portray.

Scenario #1: Father gets his children ready, bathing them. Toddler is independent enough to brush his teeth without Daddy or Mummy's help. Yay!

Scenario #2: Getting a pair of fabulous male designers to choose your furniture. Think Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan. Don't tell me this is not an absolutely smashing idea!

Scenario #3: Beds that make themselves without anyone's help!

On a more serious note, to quote the Swedish minister of trade Ewa Björling (not sure if this is even a quote, there sure are an awful lot of grammar mistakes):
"Women can not be retouch away in reality. If Saudi Arabia does not allow women to appear [in public] or work, they lose about half their intellectual capital", she told Metro.
"These pictures is sad example that shows that there is a long way to go in terms of equality between men and women in Saudi Arabia".
Oh Ewa and IKEA, you're missing the point here. Saudi Arabia does allow (limited parts of) women to be seen in public, women can and are allowed to work, and they also appear on state-sanctioned television comedies in various state of hijab (no hijab, hijab, niqab) and best of all, almost driving! (Forward to 21:12, 24:47 of this video for scenes of women getting in and out of the driver's seat, and 3:35, 9:46, 28:10 for actual driving!). Yes, there are a lot of restrictions in real life such as needing a male mahram all the time (even if you are there for your pilgrimage!) and women can't drive openly in real life.

But reality is a bit more complex than just "No women in magazines, therefore no women in public life". Here's an example of how the Saudis do it. On the website of an international school in Riyadh, there are about twice the number of photos of boys of various ages and in different poses, compared to girls. These are the boys you can see on the main pages of the school website:

And as for girls, you may show pictures of only pre-pubescent girls, or from a distance so you can't really see their faces.

As for older girls? Only with partially obscured faces.

Or stuff them into an obscure photo gallery buried several levels into the website. The website's only photo gallery is stuffed with all the photos of girls and young women they did not publish on the main pages of the website.

What do these pictures imply? Girls are okay for public viewing, but young women need to be obscured or conceptually hidden away. So where are the girls and women? They are around, but hidden. As for silly actions by IKEA, I think we can just look on the bright side of things: helpful fathers, interior designers, and technological beds!

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